I’ve had a very tough time in recent months reconciling the attitudes of Staten Islanders with regards to transit, and whenever I point out on Twitter the inherent contradictions, SI natives get very defensive. To me, it seems that Staten Island politicians want to have their cake and eat it too. They want better transit, but then they complain when transit improvements don’t come around as they see fit through whatever narrow lens they view the transit world. Ultimately, they end up getting nothing, and it’s their own doing.
As you may recall, one of the leaders in the fight against better transit is Senator Andrew Lanza. He killed the Select Bus Service vehicles’ flashing blue lights because of trumped up complaints over confusion, and he has shown explicit derision toward the efforts to get the lights restored albeit in a more neutral color. During Tom Prendergast’s confirmation hearings, he took the floor for a lengthy diatribe on SBS while barely letting the MTA’s then-future CEO and Chairman say anything. It was an amazing display of misguided hubris and misplaced anger.
Now, Lanza’s back, and with the passion he’s shown in his quixotic fight against Select Bus Service improvements, you’d think one of these buses had ran over his childhood dog 45 years ago. He now wants to do away with basically all SBS improvements. Dana Rubinstein reports:
Staten Island State Senator Andrew Lanza, whose distaste for Select Bus Service is by this point well-established, is now trying to strip Staten Island’s only rapid bus line of what is arguably its most distinguishing feature. Lanza has introduced a bill that would bar the city from enforcing a bus-only lane on the Hylan Boulevard and Richmond Avenue Select Bus Service line, arguing that the service has been a “failure.”
Approached for comment on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, Lanza produced a litany of complaints about the bus service, which relies on fewer bus stops spaced farther apart, bus-only lanes, and camera and police enforcement to provide faster bus service along a 15-mile stretch of Staten Island…
The Staten Island senator … thinks the Staten Island Select Bus Service line has created nothing more than “speed traps.” “Hylan Boulevard is worse than ever since they’ve done this,” he said. Also, he thinks the terracotta-colored bus lanes are ugly. “I don’t know if it’s water paint, I don’t know if it’s come from a kindergarten class,” he said, but it looks like “street graffiti,” is “pathetic” and “adds to the confusion.” Lanza’s bill would not eliminate the bus route, but it would eliminate the bus-only lane. Which is kind of a distinction without a difference.
The MTA has noted that SBS service along Hylan Boulevard has led to an 11 percent jump in ridership while bus speeds have increased by 13-19 percent depending upon the time of day. Lanza has no need for “facts” or “improvements.” He just wants them gone because buses, I assume, help improve mobility for people who aren’t going to vote for Andrew Lanza.
But again, I’m struck by these contradictions. In a similar vein, Nicole Malliotakis is spearheading an effort to put pressure on the MTA to restore the X18 bus service. This bus had an average weekday ridership of 303 in the last full year before it was eliminated, and officials estimate it would cost around $500-$600,000 to bring it back. On average, then, it cost around $8 per passenger to operate this bus. Now, the MTA can afford 600 grand, but should it be in the business of operating loss leaders? (That’s a very philosophical question about public transit’s role in society, and there’s probably no wrong answer. But I digress.)
I bring this up because while Malliotakis is agitating for a bus that she, and very few other people, used to ride, she has protested other transit improvements for her constituents. She whined about camera enforcement of bus lanes last summer and found some senior citizens who couldn’t figure out what a bus lane meant. (She also couldn’t figure out how to parse MTA’s public budget documents.)
This all leads to a very incoherent picture of transit. Staten Islanders have threatened to throw up roadblocks if the city were to extend the 7 train to New Jersey before sending the 1 or R to Staten Island even if ridership demands would warrant a Jersey extension well ahead of an underground route to Staten Island. They yearn for faster rides and better connections, but when given them, they balk. Now, I don’t mean to pick on Staten Island; it’s certainly drawn the short end of the transit straw. But the borough’s elected officials and those who continue to vote for them can’t have it both ways. If this keeps up, they’ll just have it no way at all instead.