Lookin’ out their back door: Transit advocates want MTA to bring all-door boarding to local buses

The 181st Street busway in Washington Heights.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority should allow riders to board buses through the back door to speed up travel time, transit advocates demanded at a rally uptown on Monday.

Now that all city buses are equipped with MTA’s tap-paying fare system OMNY, the agency should not wait years to allow passengers to get on faster, according to the activists.

“The buses are ready, the OMNY readers are at the back door, now it is time for Governor Cuomo and the MTA to deliver for bus riders. Let us board at the back door and make our trips faster and more reliable,” said Ben Fried, a spokesman for the group TransitCenter at the 181st Street busway in Washington Heights on June 21.

The MTA installed OMNY readers on all of its buses and subway turnstiles by the end of 2020 and riders can now pay their fare using smartphones or bank cards in addition to the old fashioned way of swiping their MetroCard.

The digital readers have been installed at both entrances of buses, but the screens at the back direct straphangers to the front door. The advocates claimed that allowing people to board at both could cut in half the time buses wait for people to get on, known as dwell time.

OMNY readers direct riders to the front of local buses.TransitCenter

All-door boarding is already available on Select Bus Service routes, as it was before the roll out of OMNY, but not on local buses, where commuters are still slowly front-loaded. 

For five months during the pandemic until August, the MTA moved boarding to the back door and didn’t collect fares on its buses to prevent the spread of COVID-19, closing off most of the front area on buses. 

At the recently-opened 181st Street busway, riders on local buses such as the Bx36 could shave off up to 20 minutes a week from their commutes with all-door boarding, according to one public transportation advocate.

“At 181st Street the city has put in a busway, [now] the MTA needs to play catch up with them,” Danny Pearlstein, of Riders Alliance, told amNewYork Metro. “You have these high speed high capacity lanes but the buses are still waiting to board all passengers.”

The MTA originally promised to implement all-door boarding at the same time of the OMNY roll-out as part of its Fast Forward plan under previous New York City Transit Chief and “Train Daddy” Andy Byford.

But now the agency might wait until 2022, NYCT Interim President Sarah Feinberg said earlier this year. 

An MTA spokeswoman did not confirm an exact timeline, but said that the transit guru wants all-door boarding to come to local routes “soon.”

“NYC Transit Interim President Feinberg has said that all door boarding, which the MTA has long embraced for all buses, will be coming soon to local routes,” said Meredith Daniels in a statement. “We thank the advocates for their support of speeding bus service. As they know, the MTA has strongly supported busways, bus lanes, enforcement cameras and signal priority, all of which have increased speed and reduced bus riders’ travel time.”