Get NYC buses moving again

NYC bus riders are on average older, have lower incomes, and are more likely to be immigrants and people of color.
NYC bus riders are on average older, have lower incomes, and are more likely to be immigrants and people of color. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

NYC Transit President Andy Byford inherited a bus system in crisis: Riders suffer slowest-in-the-country average speeds. Wait times are long and unpredictable. No wonder ridership has been in free fall for years.

Bus service is a vital element of NYC’s public transit network. Buses connect more than two million riders — who are on average older, have lower incomes, and are more likely to be immigrants and people of color — to the opportunities of our city. Buses run where subways don’t and provide accessible transit to those who use wheelchairs and walkers because only 23 percent of subway stations are accessible.

Byford says improving bus reliability and working with the city to make way for buses on crowded streets are of equal importance to fixing the subways. He wants to address the root causes of delay. He asked, “What interventions might arrest that decline?”

A few suggestions:

1. Transform how we get on the bus

When the MTA replaces the MetroCard in the coming years, Byford can help to dramatically speed up boarding by allowing riders to enter buses through all doors, paying the fare by tapping readers available at every door.

2. Design streets to prioritize buses

Dedicated bus lanes with enforcement, transit signal priority, queue jumps and boarding islands are tools that speed up bus trips. The city controls the streets. Byford and Mayor Bill de Blasio need to stand up for bus riders and turn around bus service by affording it more of our public space.

3. Redesign the network

NYC’s changed a lot in 50 years but bus routes haven’t. Byford needs to meet New Yorkers’ current travel needs by adding bus routes, increasing frequencies, and eliminating unnecessary stops and turns. The MTA proposed a Staten Island Express Bus redesign last summer but bus riders there are still waiting for that to happen.

4. Adopt better methods to keep buses on schedule

NYC’s buses too often come in bunches, stranding other riders, who then endure long waits for the bus. To end bunching, Byford should direct dispatchers to ensure that buses leave the terminal on time and intervene early whenever the spacing between buses becomes unbalanced.

Select Bus Service has proven that faster and more reliable buses are within reach.

With our transit system in crisis, more New Yorkers than ever could benefit from better buses. About 225,000 L train riders will need reliable transit during next year’s shutdown. Bus service must be as efficient and seamless as possible to pick up the slack.

Byford proved himself in transit systems around the world. Ours is his biggest challenge yet.

Reliable bus service is about more than mobility. It’s a matter of equity — access both to basic needs and to all that our city offers. With New York’s riders still gridlocked, we look to Byford to get us moving again.

Tabitha Decker is deputy executive director of TransitCenter. Stephanie Burgos-Veras is senior organizer at the Riders Alliance.

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