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Ridership down on MTA buses. MTA bus ridership is declining.

NEW YORK CITY—After Monday’s attempted suicide bombing in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, New York City’s public transportation system is back to normal. This requires different public entities cooperating to tackle the ongoing challenges of providing Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus, subway and railway services to a 2.7 billion annual ridership.

In Part I of “Rethinking NYC’s Public Transportation,” Globest.com reviewed the Regional Plan Association’s recommendations for the subway system. In Part II, today’s article looks at New York City comptroller Scott Stringer’s Nov. 27 report, “The Other Transit Crisis: How to Improve the NYC Bus System,” and transportation entities’ responses.

Stringer indicates that similar to being the neglected stepchild, the MTA bus system is overlooked, as subways, commuter rails and bridges “enjoy more attention and resources.”

The report describes bus routes as “slow, unreliable, long, meandering, confusing, congested and poorly connected.” It calls the MTA buses old and the shelters deficient. It points out that the bus system has lost 100 million passengers from 2008 to 2016.

The comptroller notes buses travel a dismal 7.4 hours miles per hour along local, Select Bus Service (SBS) and express routes, being the slowest among the largest bus companies in the country. The report criticizes the SBS performance, lack of enforcement of bus-only lanes, and the existence of far fewer dedicated lanes than in other major cities.

Midtown bus MTA bus in Midtown on Tues. evening

The report says the Transit Signal Priority (TSP) technology that coordinates communication of MTA buses to DOT traffic lights is active at only 260 intersections along only five of the bus routes. This technology reduces time waiting at stop lights. 

Stringer points out that New Yorkers with lower incomes, people of color and immigrants statistically depend more upon buses and are hurt the most by the services’ shortcomings.

The report on page 8 provides 19 recommendations.

MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota responded to Stringer’s report saying traffic congestion and New York City’s consistent inability to manage traffic flow and enforce existing traffic laws is what’s harming bus services. “The proper and progressive way to deal with the scourge of traffic is for everyone to support a responsible congestion pricing plan,” says Lhota. “Traffic congestion is keeping the most reliable and advanced fleet in recent history from moving as efficiently as it can and should.”

City Hall has refused to support congestion pricing.

The MTA notes that city government is responsible for many of the factors impacting bus performance including traffic congestion. According to the MTA, the city builds the bus-only lanes, enforces violations of cars blocking or using these lanes, performs traffic studies, modifies the street signals essential for the TSP technology, and installs and maintains the bus stop shelters.

The MTA tells GlobeSt.com that it has already implemented or begun work on several of the comptroller’s recommendations. It contends that the current fleet of buses is the most reliable and advanced in recent history with the mean distance between failures twice what it was in 2011 (6,400 miles compared to 3,307). It credits aggressively enhanced maintenance for these improvements.

Advanced safety and security systems are being installed and the entire fleet is wheelchair accessible. A pilot program is testing wider use of electric buses and clean energy buses are part of the fleet. The MTA received 277 new buses in 2017 as part of its 2015-2019 capital program and is slated to receive another 1,700.

With SBS, the MTA is developing a new fare payment system to facilitate all-door boarding.

Betsy Kim

Betsy Kim is the bureau chief, East Coast, and New York City reporter for Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. As a lawyer and journalist, Betsy has worked as the director of editorial and content for LexisNexis Lawyers.com, a TV/multi-media journalist for NBC and CBS affiliated TV stations in the Midwest, and an associate producer at Court TV.

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