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Port Authority Must Reopen Crucial Bus Lane, Riders And Advocates Say 

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. Photo: Port Authority

To paraphrase "Hamilton," everything is sleazy in New Jersey.

Advocates are demanding that the Port Authority reopen a dedicated bus lane that carries thousands of bus riders daily from New Jersey into Manhattan — which the agency ceased during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — now that car traffic is returning like a plague on commuters who rely on public transit. 

On March 25, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced it would close the Exclusive Bus Lane, also known as the XBL, which runs for 2.5 miles from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel on weekday mornings — typically carrying 1,850 buses a day and more than 18.5 million passengers a year — because of low ridership due to the pandemic. But thousands of people, especially essential workers and low-income communities and communities of color, are still dependent on buses to get to work, and need fast and reliable commutes, transit advocates say.

“As traffic begins to increase again, these bus lanes should be operational so that essential workers and people returning to work via transit can have a quick and easy commute,” said Liam Blank of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. 

The Port Authority created the New York-bound express lane in 1970 to help tens of thousands of transit commuters. The lane, which operates weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., has been hailed as a success by saving riders an average of up to 20 minutes. On its history page, the Port Authority calls the XBL "an innovative plan to increase capacity of the bus network that had great impact and is still successful today."

But now, the Port Authority claims there's not enough demand in bus ridership compared to the number of cars on the road to require a dedicated bus lane — total traffic to the Lincoln Tunnel was still only about 55 percent of normal in May, and only about 62 percent of normal on buses, according to Port Authority data.

    • In April 2019, 186,473 buses and 1,292,726 cars (or 1,567,347 total motor vehicles) crossed through the Lincoln Tunnel.
    • In April 2020, 59,029 buses and 383,971 cars (a total of 477,458 motor vehicles) used the Lincoln Tunnel, a decrease of 70 percent from the April, 2019 benchmark.
    • By May 2020, 72,462 buses and 609,548 cars (or 726,692 total motor vehicles) used the Lincoln Tunnel, an increase of 52 percent from just one month earlier.

The Port did not provide data on bus times before and after the removal of the XBL, but riders say they're fed up sitting in traffic and are demanding the bus lane be re-opened.

A rep for the Port Authority said "the XBL is dependent on usage and traffic assessments” and that it's currently conducting a survey about usage, which will help determine if, and when, the express lane will reopen.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Transit, whose customers are suffering as a result of Port Authority policy, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about any potential impacts to its riders, but a rep said that ridership now is still only about 30 percent of normal compared to pre-covid levels.

Oh, and there's this, too:

Update: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that NJ transit ridership is about 70 percent of normal; it's actually down 70 percent and is about 30 percent of normal. 

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