Editorial: Bus improvements a sign of forward progress

The 14th Street Busway. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

It’s a better time to be a bus rider in New York City. No, seriously.

After years of taking a back seat to other forms of public transportation, the MTA and city Department of Transportation are finally getting serious about pushing ahead with efforts to speed things up on bus lines in every corner of this city.

Even so, there are many challenges which the MTA must address on the road ahead — and, not surprisingly, it comes down to dollars and cents.

First, the good news. The 14th Street Busway implemented this month has been, in the words of New York City Transit President Andy Byford, “sailing along.” Buses are moving faster now that they have six blocks of Manhattan to themselves; more people are also using the route because of its increased speed. 

The Busway is a pilot program, an 18-month experiment, as the city described it. Yet the early results are so promising that City Council Speaker Corey Johnson indicated support for potentially creating Busways elsewhere in New York City, including 34th and 42nd Streets in congested Midtown Manhattan.

Then on Tuesday, the MTA unveiled a redesign of the Bronx bus network, an effort aimed at not just speeding things up but also connecting more riders to subway lines and other major destinations across the borough. Similar retooling efforts of the bus route networks are currently underway in Queens, and on the verge of getting started in Brooklyn.

And all of these efforts make sense.

The city and MTA lack the massive amount of funding necessary to build and expand a subway system in dire need of greater maintenance and modernization. We can’t expect more trains, but we ought to expect better and more bus service.

Yet plenty of challenges lie ahead toward achieving those goals. 

While the MTA moves ahead with rearranging bus networks, there’s concerns about service cutbacks elsewhere, such as the B46 in Brooklyn. The Bronx restructuring, considered a cost-neutral change, has come under fire because it’s not immediately coupled with a pledge to increase overall bus service.

Changing street regulations to accommodate more buses, and redrawing the bus route map, can only go so far. The MTA needs to find the cash to insure the buses keep moving.

It’s great to see the MTA and city paying attention to bus service at last. But without financial investments, it’s nothing but rearranging deck chairs.