The New York buses are, for better or worse, a begrudgingly accepted part of the transit landscape. Their schedules are unreliable and service is painfully slow on a good day. But as buses go, the last few weeks have been rather momentous.
First, we saw the roll-out of the MTA’s new Select Bus Service. With pre-boarding fare-payment schemes and dedicated bus lanes, New York’s form of bus rapid transit could revitalize a much-maligned mode of transit. The early returns are promising.
Last week, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog featured an early test-run of the BRT system. Veronica Vanterpool, TSTC’s associate director, noted that the BRT measures shaved 17 minutes off of her cross-Bronx commute. While enforcement efforts and pre-boarding confusion plagued the ride, Vanterpool believes that, as the system matures, it will become even more efficient. Score one for the good news.
Concurrently, Streetblog’s Brad Aaron pondered how New York City should beef up BRT enforcement. While we have blamed David Gantt for shooting down camera-enforced lanes, Aaron argues that New York should follow Europe’s lead and implement dedicated lines by way of concrete dividers. As these dividers have done with the 9th Ave. bike lane, permanent concrete structures will keep drivers out for good, cameras or not. Sign me up.
And then, on Friday, New York City Transit sneaked out another bus-related story while no one was paying attention. The agency released the Express Bus Rider Report Cards, and as riders were wont to do with the subways, bus service received a C grade. As you might expect, bus riders were most critical of the wait times between buses, the accuracy of schedules and seat availability. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, all the details are availabe here as a PDF.
I don’t believe these bus grades can come as a surprise. Bus service across the board is unreliable in the city at best. Buses run at the whim of traffic, and the posted schedules are reliable only as a tool to help potential riders determine how long it should be between buses. The Express Bus service is supposed to be more reliable than the local service, and when the regular bus line report cards hit, I’m sure riders will have similar complaints.
Right now, New Yorkers could use a good bus service, but it seems that buses are viewed as a measure of last resort. If it’s raining, take the bus but only if it’s there. Friends of mine who are new to the city never really learn the bus system, and even life-long New Yorkers use the buses reluctantly. The Select Bus Service is a start, but as the rider report card results show, MTA Bus, now under the umbrella of NYC Transit, has a long way to go.