Staten Island express bus service overhaul launches

Staten Island commuters board a new express bus from the Eltingville Transit Center on Sunday afternoon.
Staten Island commuters board a new express bus from the Eltingville Transit Center on Sunday afternoon. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Terry Fincher

Staten Island’s overhauled express bus service launched Sunday, in what MTA officials pledged would be the first in a series of drastic changes to the city’s struggling transit system.

After first taking on the project in 2015, the MTA has streamlined routes, removed stations and tweaked destinations in an effort to make buses faster and more reliable. The result is a network of 21 routes — there were 26, previously — and stops spaced roughly .4 miles apart on average, compared to about .25 miles of separation in the old network.

NYC Transit president Andy Byford spoke with workers at the Eltingville Transit Center Sunday afternoon, where he heralded the project as the first major piece of his transit improvement plan Fast Forward.

“Today, really, it marks the first piece in the jigsaw of the Fast Forward plan that will completely modernize all aspects of what we do across our bus, subway and our accessible network,” Byford said. “The reason I’m so excited about today is because this express network is the forerunner for what we’re going to do now for all five boroughs. We’re going to completely redesign and re-imagine our bus network to get people back riding the buses.”

Since 2014, commuters have been ditching bus service for other options, with service increasingly slow and unevenly spaced. Bus ridership across the city has fallen by 8.5 percent since 2010, according to the city’s recent mobility report. In May of this year, there were about 1.8 million weekday bus riders, on average, a drop from about 2 million in May 2016.

Byford, who joined the MTA in 2018 as the Staten Island redesign was in full effect, said he’ll be completely overhauling networks in each borough within three years. The authority will be looking at individual borough networks with a “blank sheet of paper.”

He added that, through Staten Island, the MTA learned the value of consulting with the public and gaining political support to make changes that are unpopular with some riders.

Mara Scuotto, of the South Shore, was distressed to learn Sunday that she would go from having two express bus routes serving her neighborhood to just one — and that a weekend service adjustment would mean that she wouldn’t be able to walk to an express bus stop.

“This doesn’t make my life easier,” said Scuotto, who planned to give herself an extra hour of commute time Monday morning — the first true test of the new service.

Byford predicted that any major change would upset some commuters, but stressed that the overhaul would provide better service for the majority of riders.

“You can’t please everyone,” Byford said. “What we’ve aimed to do here is to provide a new network, a re-imagined network, that benefits the vast majority. I believe that we’ve done that.”

The transit president credited Borough President James Oddo, who had shepherded in the changes. Both Byford and Oddo said that tweaks could be made if some elements of the service didn’t work.

“I instigated & pushed @MTA to change SI’s express bus routes in pursuit of a better commute for Staten Islanders,” Oddo tweeted ahead of the service launch. “While this still is a fluid process, I want to say before the first bus rolling out that I own this. Improved service or a commuting abomination, this one is on me.”