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Op-ed | Bringing NYC Transit back up to speed with the city

Acting MTA New York City Transit President Craig Cipriano
Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

With the school year now well underway and more New Yorkers returning to the office, the transit system is hitting new ridership milestones what seems like every week.

Our latest numbers show the buses, subways and paratransit system are back to carrying more than 4.6 million customers daily, or 55% of our pre-pandemic base. This is great news. 

We know that to keep the momentum going we need to provide the best service we can. Accordingly, the Transit team has taken aggressive action to address the crew shortages that have caused some delays (and headaches for our customers!) recently.

There are currently 300 future train operators and conductors now in training classes. Of that number, we expect 91 conductor trainees to graduate before the end of the year. The operator classes take a bit longer since they are more intensive, but 47 graduates should be on the rails by New Year’s, with more set to finish in the first quarter of 2022.  

In the meantime, we’ve been reaching out to recent retirees to try and fill the gaps. So far, nearly 60 former employees have graciously volunteered to come back while we continue to staff up.  We also remain focused on making the most efficient use of existing resources in our schedules and assignment of extra board employees.

On the buses and paratransit side, 900 operators have completed their training, and we’re looking to bring on hundreds more by year’s end. Additionally, we have expanded our broker capacity, dedicated operator hiring and continue to provide 85% direct trips to our customers.

But it’s not enough to just hire new colleagues. As traffic returns, we need to make sure that when they’re on the roads, operators have all the tools they need to deliver safe and efficient trips, and well-enforced bus priority is the single best gift we could give them. 

Our dedicated busways and bus lanes continue to see improved speeds compared to 2019 on almost all corridors and time periods. Take the busway on Main Street in Flushing for example — since it opened last January, speeds have increased by up to 51% in the afternoon rush, which is when traffic is generally the heaviest. And on 181st Street in Manhattan, they’ve shot up by 42% in the same time frame. This isn’t a coincidence; it’s smart transit policy in action. 

Following these successes, we’re looking forward to opening new busways on Archer Avenue and Jamaica Avenue this month. And there’s more to come after that, too. Back in August, the city set a goal of adding up to 20 miles of new or improved bus lanes — including up to five new busways — and we can’t wait to fully deliver on that promise.

New Yorkers have long known that mass transit is the best way to get around town, and today’s congested streets have made that fact clearer than ever.

Craig Cipriano is acting MTA New York City Transit president.

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