NYCT looking to improve bus rapid transit service

By · Published in 2007

Parts of the bus rapid transit plan shown here in Ecuador may soon come to New York. (Photo courtesy of Transportation Alternatives)

Let’s leave the tunnels of the subway for a brief foray onto the busy, crowded streets of Manhattan. The straphangers among us used to the relatively high-speed subway service think of Manhattan’s intricate bus network with little more than disdain. The buses, maddeningly inefficient, combat gridlock, cab drivers, double parked cars and inept MetroCard users as they crawl through the City.

But if all goes according to the MTA’s new plan, bus service in New York could rapidly improve. Bobby Cuza, NY1’s transit man on the street (and apparent NYC heartthrob, if you ask some of the right people), reports on a pilot program designed to improve bus transit that the City will implement with or without congestion pricing. While bus rapid-transit service has been a major selling point with the congestion fee plan, it’s a relief to see the MTA’s willingness to move forward with BRT plans while the fate of the congestion pricing is still up in the air.

Cuza sat down with Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to hear more about a plan already in place in many cities across the globe. He reported:

Imagine how much faster buses could move without the long, slow procession of riders waiting to dip their MetroCards. On at least one bus route by this time next year, that’ll be a thing of the past with bus stops configured to allow riders to pay before they board …

The city had originally planned to implement bus rapid transit along two routes by this fall. But they’re now going back and looking at ways to revamp the program using even more dramatic measures to increase bus speeds. One of those measures is signal prioritization, which uses technology to alter traffic lights.”When a bus hits an intersection, it gets a green light, when the rest of the traffic is given a red light. So it goes through an intersection first,” says Sadik-Khan.

Since this plan would benefit mass transit in New York City, as you could guess, I’m all in favor of it. In terms of enforcement, the MTA and the city want to install license-plate cameras on the front of buses to capture the IDs of those who would dare to block the BRT lanes. While, as you can see from the photo above, other countries have used concrete barriers to protect BRT lanes, the NYC lanes would be painted a distinct color to warn drivers of their importance.

Currently, the city plans to test these new measures along five routes, one per borough. The biggest beneficiaries would be the Manhattan routes up and down 1st and 2nd Aves. If BRT lanes were to speed up bus service along these traffic-choked streets, I think, it would work anywhere.

So be prepared for a time in the not-too-distant future when you swipe your MetroCard while you wait for the bus. Be prepared for a time when buses get the right-of-way they deserve along the City streets. Be prepared for traffic enforcement in dedicated bus lanes, enforcement sorely missing now. Seeing as how Sadik-Kahn’s DOT gets things done quickly, there’s every reason to believe we will be seeing these BRT improvements soon.

As Sadik-Kahn said to Cuza, “Every day, over two million New Yorkers are using the bus system, so we are trying to find ways to improve that service.”

Categories : Buses

8 Responses to “NYCT looking to improve bus rapid transit service”

  1. DioNYC says:

    Question, a little off topic but if buses have the technology to change traffic lights how come emergency vehicles don’t ?

    • Austin (Guest) says:

      They do, in order for that to work though they need to have newer updated traffic lights which for large city’s may not be possible because they have 1000’s of traffic lights which would need to be replaced.

  2. Gary says:

    BRT is a step in the right direction.

    And as for Bobby Cuza, it’s true: one of my wife’s friends has a TV crush on the intrepid transit reporter.

  3. Angus Grieve-Smith says:

    Just to clarify, the current plans for “BRT” are a pale shadow of the Ecuadorian busway in your photo. So far I’ve read the plans for all the boroughs except Staten Island, and (as you note) none of them include any kind of barriers. They don’t include median busways like this, either.

    Motorists would be able to park in the curbside lanes and double-park in the “interior” lanes, just as they currently do in bus lanes. The on-bus enforcement cameras you mentioned would be a big help, but it remains to be seen whether legislation allowing these cameras will be passed in Albany. It’s included in the PlaNYC bill introduced in the Senate, but so far no one in the Assembly has introduced anything.

    It’s possible that Assemblymember Brodsky will make a civil-liberties issue of it, while continuing to remain silent on the civil-liberties implications of the fact that transit riders are tracked by Metrocard usage, and the fact that intercity bus and train riders are required to show ID and tracked.

    I’d love to see one of these Ecuadorian busways installed on Second Avenue, but apparently that’s too far out for New York, and the “BRT” we get will be a relatively small improvement over the current route.

    Here are the MTA documents on the BRT program:



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  2. […] of express bus service. In reading the two articles as well as Friday’s post here about the potential arrival of bus rapid transit service, it becomes quite clear why New York needs the money from the federal government and the income […]

  3. […] The New York City buses are the under-appreciated and oft-maligned part of the City’s vibrant public transportation network. Some people swear by the bus system, especially those that run crosstown, while others bemoan the slower-than-walking speeds and unreliable service as evils of the bus system. Still others would like to see the MTA be more aggressive with the buses by working with the Department of Transportation to set up dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lanes. […]

  4. […] wrote about these BRT lanes in July, and my feelings still hold today. If the MTA is going to improve bus service through the use of […]

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