Op-Ed: My Commute on the M14 Bus is a Dehumanizing Disaster

Just another day on the M14. Photo: Richard Hutt
Just another day on the M14. Photo: Richard Hutt
Richard Hutt
Richard Hutt

I commute daily from my home in the East Village to my job on the Upper East Side. I walk, I take the subway and then to finish things off, I take the 14D crosstown bus. I “catch” the 14D at Union Square and my true ordeal begins. I have used public transportation all over New York, not just Manhattan, where I spend most of my time, but also the other boroughs — and I can tell you unequivocally that nothing compares to the experience that is the 14D bus.

It is the de facto mode to get home for residents in on the Lower East Side. Leaving behind the commerce of 14th Street, it serves a largely residential population that consists o, hipsters gentrifying the area, occupants of the many brownstone buildings in Alphabet City and also a huge swath of public housing that runs the length of Avenue D and beyond.

Although there is a schedule posted at every stop, this bus appears to follow no set timetable. It is common for buses to not show up for more than 20 minutes and then arrive three at a time. But it isn’t its erratic timekeeping that makes the 14D bus so memorable — it is the sheer volume of passengers that make the experience unforgettable.

It reaches full throttle by early evening, starting even before Union Square passengers cram themselves into the limited space. To simply get on is your mission and not everyone succeeds. Some drivers stick to the “stand behind the white line” rule while others allow any space to be used. I have often been pressed, illegally, against the front windshield for most of the journey.

As with any situation where you cram together a large volume of people, most after a working day, patience and tempers are short. Given the erratic timing of buses, you have a recipe for commuting disaster. Fights of various types are frequent. It only takes one push, the wrong word, a look, or a misplaced bag and all hell breaks loose. Everyone becomes involved, voicing an opinion — even if the opinion is just, “Shut up and let’s all get home.”

An uneventful journey is rare and there is no exaggeration in the volume of commuters packed into each bus. That is a constant. Even with the occurrence of two eastbound D buses arriving together the congestion remains the same such is the ridership of the service.

Sometimes I arrive at Union Square and find 75 people waiting at the stop. On those nights, I give up all hope and walk the 25 minutes home — often not passed by a single bus. Why should I walk? The 14D bus should take me home with a modicum of dignity. Not like a cattle truck. Where else can a bus ride be part boxing match, part cabaret, and part impossible all in one ride?

Richard Hutt is a transplant from the UK who writes and photographs life in NYC.