BY JACKSON CHEN | The Metropolitan Transit Authority is looking to bring select bus service (SBS) to the M79, a route that serves 18,000 passengers every day with what riders describe as lackluster service, by spring of next year.
The M79 route that traverses 79th Street from East End Avenue to Riverside Drive is often plagued with congested intersections and travel lanes blocked due to double-parkers, delivery trucks, and queues from turning vehicles, according to a presentation by the MTA and the city’s Department of Transportation.
The agencies acknowledged that the M79 only travels smoothly 43 percent of the time on its crosstown route. The remainder of the time, their presentation made clear, riders face long boarding lines at bus stops, travel averaging less than 2.5 miles per hour, and other general delays.
With select bus service, the route would benefit from dedicated bus lanes with traffic signals prioritized for them. Instead of waiting on long lines to board the bus, SBS passengers pay at sidewalk kiosks and then board through any door, provided they have a fare receipt.
Under the new SBS plan, the bus stop at West 81st Street and Amsterdam Avenue would be discontinued due to low ridership, its proximity to a nearby West 79th Street stop, and the sidewalk’s inability to accommodate the new fare machines.
The Bus Turnaround Campaign, a group of transit advocates looking to improve the city’s bus service, released report cards for every single bus line. The M79 clocked in at an average speed of 4.3 miles per hour, with more than eight percent of its buses bunched up. In 2014, the route won the “Pokey Award” from the Straphangers Campaign for the 3.2 miles per hour average speed that group found.
To address what he sees as a wider problem of dismal service, City Councilmember Ben Kallos, in April, had requested that the MTA and DOT expand Select Bus Service to the M66 and the M96, in addition to the M79.
The agencies visited Community Boards 7 and 8, the two areas through which the M79 travels, and members of both boards agreed that SBS was sorely needed for the route.
“There’s slow movement, declining ridership because of that, and it gets caught up in certain places due to long boarding times,” Andrew Albert, CB7’s Transportation Committee co-chair, said. “So we think [SBS] is going to be a great improvement to the route.”
Albert told the transportation agencies that they may want to reconsider the ridership figures behind the 81st Street and Amsterdam Avenue stop. The stop, he said, was obstructed for several months because of a construction project, which may have affected ridership numbers.
“We’ve got [SBS] on 86th Street, we definitely should have it on 79th Street,” Jim Clynes, the Community Board 8 chair said. “It’s a major crosstown thoroughfare, and it should be equally treated like 86th Street.”
Clynes added that the DOT and the MTA would return to CB8 in November with more information about the M79 changes.
The agencies are now focused on finalizing their traffic analysis and developing a street design and service plan, and will begin installation of the off-board fare machines this fall. They will present their draft plan for the M79 SBS to the community boards in December, prior to its launch in spring 2017.