Transit Advocates Push to Reform Flagging Bus System

Natasha Saunders speaks at the Bus Turnaround Coalition’s press conference before the Council Transportation meeting. She has been taking the buses in Queens for 36 years and said in the past decade the services have decreased significantly.

Speaking into the microphone on Broadway Ave. outside City Hall, Natasha Saunders, a 36-year-old real estate agent, was frustrated. A Queens resident, she’s ridden buses all her life. But over the past few years she’s had to give up her twice-daily bus ride to the subway station, taking an Uber, Lyft or Dollar Van instead.

“I’m spending all this extra money,” Saunders said during a press conference organized by bus-rider advocates. “It’s like you just can’t depend on buses anymore.”

After noticing fewer and fewer riders on City buses, the TransitCenter, Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign combined forces to study the NYC bus system. The resulting report, released in July by the TransitCenter, a non profit that studies and advocates for public transit, noted that City buses have become more inconsistent, and have been slowing down over the past decade. NYC buses run an average speed of 7.4 miles per hour, 10 percent slower than 25 years ago.

There has also been a significant drop in the number of bus riders. Since 2002, 16 percent of riders abandoned buses in favor of the subway and other transportation, even as the population grew.

At the meeting, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials stated plans to have all buses have a three to four second head start with traffic lights by 2018. City officials announced plans to extend the Select Bus Services (SBS), the bus rapid transit service that runs on the City’s longer, busier corridors, and add 11 miles of bus lanes to help speed up the buses. New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg noted that the ridership on faster SBS routes, which makes up 12 percent of bus trips, has increased by at least 10 percent.

Danson Ndonye drives the M4 bus and said the buses are slowed down by passengers fumbling to pay with their metro card, and cars that block bus lanes.

“My opinion. the way they do the select bus, [passengers] get your fare outside and walk on, really speed[s] up the process,” Ndonye said.

Commissioner Trottenberg advocated for installing technology where passengers can pay by tapping their electronic fare-card to a reader at either bus door, a plan outlined in the TransitCenter report. San Francisco’s bus fleet has had all-door boarding and tap-and-go payment since 2012, and boarding speed at the busiest stops has increased by about 40 percent, according to the TransitCenter report. One area of concern of the MTA is that this type of boarding could lead to fare evasion, but San Francisco found that fare evasion decreased under the new system.

Tabitha Decker, the Director of the NYC program at TransitCenter, said she hoped the City would follow through with the Center’s recommendations on fare collection, traffic signals, and breaking up long routes.

“I think that in order for us to see a turnaround in the state of our service, we’re going to need much more proactive measures than we heard from the MTA,” Decker said.

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