Thoughts on integrating the city into its own transit networkBy
In a sense, I offered up yesterday’s post on the progress on the Penn Station Access project on its own when, in reality, it came out of the larger context of a City Council hearing on intra-city mobility. Noting that reverse commuting and non-Manhattan-based job centers are growing, the Council’s Transportation Committee wanted to know what exactly the MTA was doing to help improve access throughout the city. After all, while Manhattan is the biggest driver of jobs, other areas are growing rapidly.
“More workers are commuting from Brooklyn to Queens, from the Bronx to Westchester, from Staten Island to New Jersey or Brooklyn than ever before and yet our city’s transit infrastructure has not kept pace,” Transportation Committee Chairman James Vacca said. “If it means that a person is going to take three buses, that person is likely to get into a car.”
In response to Vacca’s question, officials from the MTA took the opportunity to talk up the plans to beef up Metro-North service in the Bronx. Already, the commuter rail line is seeing rampant growth, and while we may have to wait the better part of a decade if we’re lucky, adding more stations will further help New Yorkers get where they need to be. It’s not really enough though, and it’s definitely not a fast enough solution.
First, Metro-North isn’t intended to be an intra-city transportation network. It’s designed to bring commuters from the suburbs to the city’s job and entertainment centers. Fares are significantly higher on Metro-North than on the subways, and stations are much further apart. Adding more stations in the Bronx may help the locals, but it be a disservice for the core Metro-North commuters trying to reach Midtown. The MTA may have to consider overhauling the City Ticket system and the entire fare structure if it intends for Metro-North to serve as urban transportation.
Second, promising Metro-North improvements some time after East Side Access is completed in 2019 isn’t fast enough. The city’s job patterns are showing decentralized growth now, today in 2012, and they have been for more than a few years. We can’t wait another seven or 10 or 15 years for Metro-North to amble its way through four or six stations in the Bronx.
The answer, despite my lukewarm embrace of it, is a faster and more creative approach toward Select Bus Service. For reasons unknown, the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation have treated borough borders as though they are immutable and uncrossable. Select Bus Service routes currently in service and on the drawing board rather cross from one borough into the next. They serve to deliver isolated commutes to the subway faster, but they don’t bring people to job centers. Where’s the SBS route from the far reaches of Brooklyn to JFK? Where are the radial routes from Jamaica Hospital? Where’s the bus from the Bronx to LaGuardia?
If the City and MTA want to bring more Metro-North stations to the Bronx, by all means, they should do so. It shouldn’t be the only solution to new job patterns and commuter demands. Buses can offer a flexible long-term solution, and it can be an interim one. Those bus routes could one day be replaced with a higher-capacity rail system. For now, though, we’re suffering from a strange borough-based territoriality and a lack of drive, urgency and creativity when it comes to adjusting our public transit system to new commuting patterns.