While MTA Waffles on Proven Solutions, New Yorkers Continue to Abandon the Bus

MTA ridership numbers for 2016 are in, and it’s clear that New Yorkers continue to abandon slow, unreliable bus service. If the MTA and NYC DOT don’t act urgently to improve bus speeds and reliability, warn transit advocates, they risk “a downward spiral of increasing congestion, slower travel speeds, and a slower New York.”

Last year a group of advocates under the banner of the Bus Turnaround Coalition put forward a comprehensive strategy to reverse the 16 percent drop in ridership between 2002 and 2015. The MTA balked and said it was doing enough for buses already.

The new figures from the MTA show the problem is only intensifying: Weekday bus ridership declined another 1.3 percent in 2016.

In a statement today, the coalition cited the 2016 drop in bus ridership as cause for immediate action on these three priorities:

– Implement transit signal priority on key routes across the system. At the October 6, 2016 New York City Council hearing on buses, the MTA committed to beginning implementation of transit signal priority in 2018. With bus travel time improvements of up to 30% made possible with the use of this tool, we should not wait. We call on the MTA and DOT to expedite deployment of transit signal priority, ensuring buses citywide use TSP by the first quarter of 2018.

– Put technology and policy in place now to speed up buses via all-door boarding when the new fare payment system is rolled out. Buses now spend around 20% of their operating time at bus stops while riders board. Getting riders onto the bus more quickly would mean faster trips for riders and allow the agency to provide more service with its existing fleet. We want a guarantee from the MTA that any new fare payment system will incorporate all-door boarding.

Prioritize transit on our streets with new bus lanes, bus bulbs and boarding islands, optimized traffic signals and intersection “queue-jumps.” Recently, the Bus Turnaround coalition put out an analysis of the top 10 streets in need of bus priority. We call on the DOT to speed up commutes for 250,000 riders by making these commonsense changes to targeted local streets in 2017.

MTA officials reacted defensively last year when the coalition called on the agency to commit to fare technology that enables all-door boarding and a citywide overhaul of bus routes, many of which haven’t changed since the streetcar era. DOT has been more amenable to the recommendations but will need to act faster to attain the timetable for improvements outlined by the Bus Turnaround Coalition.