MTA unveils bus action plan

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Proposal calls for updated route network, expanded traffic enforcement and tech upgrades to speed up boarding and travel times


  • New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s plan to transform the city’s bus system includes a pilot program to test new double-decker buses on some express routes. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

“First and foremost, New York City has to address congestion in a concerted way.”

MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool

In response to a growing crisis on the city’s bus network — which has seen ridership drop 32 percent in Manhattan since 2007 and is the slowest of any major system in the world — the MTA announced this week an ambitious set of proposals intended to reshape bus service in New York, a comprehensive plan that New York City Transit President Andy Byford called “the first piece in the jigsaw toward the full scale modernization of New York City Transit.”

The plan aims to reverse the trend of declining bus ridership by providing faster, more reliable service through steps including technology upgrades to reduce the time buses spend at red lights and picking up passengers, a new command center to open next year that will improve communication and dispatching, and updates to the route network to respond to demographic changes and rider feedback.

“It’s very important that we understand the root causes of what is taking people off our bus networks and to take positive action to get them on the bus network once more,” Byford said.

The plan endorses a number of measures bus advocates have long called for, including all-door boarding using a new “tap reader” fare payment system to shorten dwell time at stops and expanded use of Transit Signal Priority systems that allow buses to extend a green light or shorten a red light as they approach intersections.

Darryl Irick, the MTA’s head of buses, said the plan “builds upon the success of programs like [Select Bus Service], the positive results of which are the clearest evidence that travel times have a strong correlation to ridership.”

Some measures, such as the new boarding procedures, can be implemented unilaterally by the MTA. Others will require collaborative action on the part of legislators and other government agencies — particularly measures aimed at addressing congestion, which Byford has identified as the biggest obstacle facing the bus system.

The MTA will advocate for enhanced traffic enforcement to keep bus lanes and stops clear of unauthorized vehicles, through improved NYPD monitoring and the expanded use of bus-mounted cameras that automatically identify violations and issue tickets (currently, the MTA is permitted under state law to use the cameras only on Select Bus Service routes).

“First and foremost, New York City has to address congestion in a concerted way,” MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool said. Vanterpool called on the NYPD to “step up,” and said there is “no excuse for some of the most egregious violations” of bus lane rules to be committed by police vehicles, but said that automated enforcement must be expanded.

“It is absurd that we are solely expecting our police department to deploy its very valuable resources to monitor bus lanes when we have this technology,” she said.

Polly Trottenberg, who sits on the MTA board and is the commissioner of the city’s Transportation Department, praised the plan and said that her department is supportive of efforts to step up camera enforcement of bus lanes.

Additionally, the MTA will evaluate new bus designs to increase capacity and improve capacity and passenger flow, and will begin testing the feasibility of double-decker buses on Staten Island this year. The plan also calls for the MTA reexamine its entire route network to identify and remove closely spaced and underutilized stops, as well as for expanded off-peak service on certain routes.

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