MTA pressured by City Council, advocates to fix failing bus system

The City Council and other advocates are pressuring the MTA to make traffic and technology fixes.
The City Council and other advocates are pressuring the MTA to make traffic and technology fixes. Photo Credit: NASA

As city buses continue to hemorrhage ridership, the City Council’s transit committee held an oversight hearing on Thursday with the MTA and the city’s Department of Transportation to address the traffic and technology problems plaguing the world’s largest bus system.

But instead of getting concrete plans for system-wide improvements from the city and state-run agencies in charge of managing the bus, council members and advocates said they were left with the same old small fixes to patch up bus service.

“From the MTA, we’re still hearing about pretty piece meal efforts in limited areas of the city,” said Tabitha Decker, director of research and learning at the nonprofit TransitCenter, after the hearing. “Those efforts are good, but they’re not going to transform our system.”

TransitCenter joined other advocacy groups, including Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Straphangers Campaign, this summer to launch the Bus Turnaround Campaign and rally to save what they describe as a “bus system in crisis.”

That system dropped 46 million annual trips between 2010 and 2015, according to a recent DOT report, despite steady population and job growth during that same period. To revive ridership, advocates are calling for the implementation of traffic signal priority for buses; an increase in bus lanes and ways to enforce them; and a thorough redesign of routes to make them more efficient.

The campaign had inspired Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, the Transit Committee chair, to host a hearing on bus improvements. While the DOT is the agency that oversees bus projects like painting dedicated lanes and building complementing infrastructure, it was the MTA that attracted the most scorn from advocates.

“I’d like to see the MTA commit to doing more for riders in the short term and start doing some long-range planning,” said Nick Sifuentes, Deputy Director of Riders Alliance. “The number one thing we need is a comprehensive, long-range approach to our buses.”

Rodriguez pressed the MTA on the same points.

“Does the MTA have like a five-, or 10-year plan for improving bus service in New York City,” he asked, “so that we have a better vision for improvements?”

The short answer from Craig Cipriano, the MTA’s NYCT executive vice-president, was no, there’s not a specific plan. The long answer was that there is not a specific plan or approach that could be applied broadly across the network, according to the MTA.

“On a system this big through so many different areas, all of which present different street surface challenges, there is no single bold, holistic approach to better bus service,” said Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, in an email. “Rather, different routes and different areas, require different approaches.

“The future of the City’s bus service depends on pushing forward initiatives that provide transit service enhancements as well as relief from road congestion,” Ortiz continued. “This includes the increased prioritization of buses on roads through bus lanes and bus lane enforcement.”

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