Home MTA Politics A glimpse into Albany’s approach on transit

A glimpse into Albany’s approach on transit

by Benjamin Kabak

As transit rank-and-file go, few workers are more vulnerable than bus drivers. For years, they sat behind the wheel with no protection between them and their passengers as New Yorkers of all stripes filed past. They weren’t asked to actively put themselves at risk, but to fare jumpers, disrespectful riders and those looking to do more damage, bus drivers were sitting ducks.

A few years ago, the MTA, under pressure from its unions, started installing partitions, and many — but not all — buses now afford their drivers some protection. Plans include an aggressive roll-out of partitions in the future, and with BusTime and the technology upgrades, the MTA is primed to protect its drivers and respond quickly to emergencies. You would think the New York State Senate would appreciate — or at least know of — these efforts, but instead, they’ve taken an interesting approach.

Earlier this week, the New York State Senate passed a bill requiring that the MTA install partitions in every busy by 2019 and ensure that all buses have a GPS system that can synchronize with alarm by 2016. The bill, which you can read right here, now awaits Assembly action, but it is an amazing example of shutting the barn door after the horse escapes. The State Senate has, in effect, ordered the MTA to do something that, with regards to GPS, it has already accomplished and, with regards to partitions, it is well on its way toward wrapping up.

Now you can accuse me of skepticism; I am, after all, no fan of the way Albany treats transit. Plus, this legislation, if it passes the Assembly and earns Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, could protect future bus drivers as well. But to me, this is indicative of the way Albany reacts to transit. That is, they don’t. They latch onto something the MTA is doing on its own, mandate that it happen, and then try to take credit for the solution. Instead of examining the city’s traffic issues, transit’s funding problems or future growth, State Senators are content to put a good face on nothing. What a shame.

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25 comments

Bolwerk June 4, 2014 - 11:18 pm

It drives home a point I like to bleat about: within reason, they can mandate almost any reform they want.

But really, I wish they responded differently. Instead of mandating partitions, how about mandating POP? Most of the problems for drivers go away if they don’t have to do collections.

And, speaking of collections, isn’t the partition going to make it harder for them to do collections?

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sonicboy678 June 5, 2014 - 4:54 am

Nope. The fareboxes are outside of said partitions rather.

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Bolwerk June 5, 2014 - 11:17 am

Which is where they’re not.

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Chris June 5, 2014 - 1:19 am

We need to secede. We send much more money upstate than they send back, and we get nothing useful in return. NYC should be an independent state, and I don’t understand why no one ever talks about this.

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Ralfff June 5, 2014 - 4:33 am

The sponsor and co-sponsors of this bill are from New York City.

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Jim D. June 5, 2014 - 8:25 am

You’re aware that the governor is from Queens, the Assembly is ruled with an iron fist by a guy from the Lower East Side, and the Senate leadership is from Rockville Center (Skelos) and the Bronx (Klein), right?

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Mike June 5, 2014 - 1:03 pm

Yes. It’s our own locally-elected politicians who are screwing us up in Albany for their own political gain and to stroke their giant egos – it comes from years of being re-elected to the same office over and over again. Seceding from New York State will NOT solve that problem. Not re-electing the same corrupt, incompetent boobs again and again MAY solve it (key word there is MAY).

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Bolwerk June 5, 2014 - 2:44 pm

That doesn’t say much. The Democrats’ center of power is in the city, and the Republikans’ center of power is on Long Island. So of course those places are where leaders are going to come from. Upstate (other than Democratic cities) and some suburbs are vaguely long-term competitive for both parties, and each panders to those areas because they have a (probably completely irrational) fear of any kind of sea change that would ostracize them from the party.

Democrats have the added fear of a repeat of the Sampson-era NYS Senate internecine warring, where the GOP just sat there as an obstructionist bloc while they Dems fought over the playground. Silver, say what you want about him, seems to keep a lid on that, but there appears to be no Democratic leader in the state’s Senate who can pull that off. (Of course, Silver works with a supermajority, so he can afford to throw some members under the bus now and then.)

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Erik June 5, 2014 - 8:59 am

Such is the nature of politics. Transit is not alone in this trend. Neither is New York.

Real action is difficult and risk and may cost money and lost votes or campaign contributions.

Claiming credit for work already done? Perfect!

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Roger W June 5, 2014 - 9:44 am

There is a petition to stop the placement of partitions on express buses which is foolish:

http://www.gopetition.com/peti.....buses.html

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sonicboy678 June 5, 2014 - 11:51 am

This guy can’t be serious.

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Bolwerk June 5, 2014 - 2:56 pm

I’m serious: we shouldn’t be doing this anywhere. I want to be able to talk to the bus driver if necessary, including asking questions. If s/he acts like a fucker, I want to clearly see a name and badge too. It’s now harder to hear them or read their lips.

The need for that might be obviated on BRT or light rail when there are clearly marked, totally obvious fixed stations.

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Christopher June 5, 2014 - 7:14 pm

I’ve ridden bus systems for 20 years from Chicago to Chattanooga to SF to Oakland to DC to NY. I’ve never once had to talk to the driver. I guess I could see a reason which could easily be solved with LED displays of street names like other bus systems have had since the 1990s.

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Bolwerk June 5, 2014 - 9:38 pm

I ride buses erratically, so I often like to clarify where a stop is. Naturally, the NYCTA drivers often can’t be arsed to answer such questions.

I don’t suppose I need to do that, but it’s certainly helpful. And, unlike trains, buses by nature have somebody who can do that kind of customer facing, so why not?

sonicboy678 June 5, 2014 - 8:18 pm

If we didn’t have to worry about bozos trying to assault bus drivers for bullshit, we wouldn’t need them.

I’ve actually spoken with some bus drivers, partition or no. They typically remain professional; the general public, on the other hand, often gets into shit. Really, the only lazy, noisome, or otherwise unprofessional employee I’ve dealt with or seen had nothing to do with the buses.

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Bolwerk June 5, 2014 - 9:46 pm

It’s usually about money. It can be prevented by taking bus drivers off collection duty. Bonus: faster boarding times for us!

Most bus drivers are fine, but some are pretty noxious. It seems to vary widely by line, so it might be that different depots just have different cultures. I run into a toxic assholes on the M103 frequently. In Brooklyn and Queens buses I take that happens much more rarely.

Edward June 5, 2014 - 12:53 pm

No that foolish really. As a former rider of Staten Island-Manhattan express buses, I can attest to a sense of camaraderie between the driver and bus riders. I cannot once remember a time when an express bus driver was even remotely threatened by a passenger, and many times the driver/riders would share stories and a good laugh after a hard day at the office. On my first ride on the X12 bus in the early ’90s the bus was decorated with streamers and a lovely woman passenger was handing out coffee/donuts because the driver was retiring at the end of his run that day. You don’t see that on local city buses, that’s for sure!

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sonicboy678 June 5, 2014 - 8:20 pm

Great; at the same time, that is also more hazardous if the bus is in motion. That’s likely used as some incentive to install the partitions in the first place. If it’s not strictly business, don’t talk to them unless the bus is stopped at a bus stop. I’ve excluded traffic lights because the driver may fail to notice the light change if talking to someone.

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Edward June 5, 2014 - 8:49 pm

Ugh. So when you’re driving a car you don’t talk to passengers or sing a tune on the radio? Why don’t we just legislate the fun out of every damned thing we do every second of every day? Bus drivers are humans, not automatons.

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Bolwerk June 5, 2014 - 11:37 pm

He’s sort of right about that. Technically, drivers should not be talking to anyone unless it’s strictly business.

In practice, it’s probably harmless at low-stress times on quieter routes. The MTA Bus route (Q39) I take seem to have a lot more of the culture you describe. These were private coaches until recently, and the drivers often have known their customers for decades and are friendly with them.

lawhawk June 5, 2014 - 1:30 pm

It’s not an approach on transit.

It’s a response on transit.

There isn’t a proactive group looking to build new infrastructure or secure funding for transit and infrastructure on an ongoing basis. They’re responding to each crisis as it happens instead of setting the agenda.

Now, if the legislature was putting up the funds to do the partitions, rather than foisting an unfunded mandate, that’s a different situation. But that’s not the case here. They’re requesting the partitions be installed (which the MTA was doing anyways), and not delivering the funds that would free up the MTA to do other things.

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sonicboy678 June 5, 2014 - 8:21 pm

Shortsighted as always. Albany, ladies & gentlemen.

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Chris C June 5, 2014 - 7:16 pm

The population of New York State is larger than many countries yet the apparent priority of legislators is not the economy, crime, education or expanding transit to meet unmet needs but to install screens on buses and the colour of lights on the read ends of buses.

No wonder people are turning off politics and politicians.

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Jros June 6, 2014 - 8:37 am

You hit the nail on the head!

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sonicboy678 June 6, 2014 - 10:51 pm

Actually, the screens are supposed to cut down on crime. The problem is that this is literally useless legislature because the initiative was already taken by the MTA to do this.

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