Once more unto the buses we go. Today’s bus story comes to us via the old reliable Straphangers Campaign. The transit advocacy group has released a report accusing bus service of lagging behind ridership demands, and the MTA isn’t happy about it.

In short, the Straphangers believe that bus riders are getting short-shrifted. “Crushed by crowds? Have to wait for more than one bus to go by? It’s not your imagination, transit officials have never caught up to the waves of new bus riders,” Gene Russianoff, Straphangers Campaign lawyer, said.

Their findings — with raw data available as a PDF table and map — were as follows:

Gains in service lagged behind increases in ridership in three boroughs, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens: In Brooklyn, the gap was more than triple, with ridership increasing 26% since 1997, but service only 8%. In Queens and the Bronx, the gap was 10 percentage points. Ridership was up 24% in the Bronx, but service only 14%. In Queens, ridership increased 30%, but service only 20%.

Gains in service outpaced increases in ridership in two boroughs: In Manhattan, gains in service were slightly more than increases in ridership (15% to 13%). On Staten Island, gains in service outpaced increases in ridership overall (23% to 18%).

Russianoff used the Straphangers’ findings to warn against the possible service cuts the MTA faces in light of budgetary issues. “It makes no sense to cut service that’s already lagging behind ridership and new riders are flocking to transit service as the price of gasoline heads toward $5 a gallon,” he said.

But while the Straphangers leveled their criticisms, New York City Transit swung back. Says their press office:

The Straphangers assertion that our bus customers are being “crushed by crowds” or that customers are “having to wait for more than one bus to go by” does not systemically occur on NYC Transit bus routes. It is equally untrue that NYC Transit has not kept pace with the increase in ridership which resulted from free bus-to-subway transfers and discounted fares. The fact of the matter is that the increase in bus ridership, most of which occurred by the end of 2001, was met with unprecedented increases in bus service.

At the heart of the matter is an assertion by the MTA that bus ridership levels are well within Board-adopted loading guidelines. While NYC Transit stresses this claim, the Straphangers claim that the MTA has long kept these numbers a secret and that their independent research doesn’t jibe with the MTA’s claims. “If New York City Transit’s own checks of ridership show it is providing enough matching levels of bus service, it should publicly release the crowding information on a regular basis,” Russianoff said.

The truth, much like the next bus, is out there somewhere.

Categories : Buses
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Two nights ago, I had the distinct pleasure of driving on some of the worst roads in the area. I had just dropped my parents off at the 4 terminal at Woodlawn so they could journey down to Yankee Stadium, and I had to get our car back to its garage on the Upper West Side. I scooted up the Mosholu Parkway to the Henry Hudson Parkway and drove that lovely road south to 96th St.

For years, that had been my ride back and forth to high school. It was where I cut my driving chops, and by the time I graduated from high school, I could ride that stretch of the Henry Hudson Parkway with my eyes closed (not that I, um, ever did that, mom).

But Sunday’s drive was something special. All around me, cars were driving aggressively. People were speeding, and those going to slow were glaring at the other cars zooming past them. People were switching lanes without signaling; they were speeding up to block other cars from moving in front of them. It was one of the more tense ten-mile drives I’ve ever taken, and I just chalked it up to the general chaos of the too-narrow Henry Hudson Parkway.

On the way back to Brooklyn a few hours later, I observed another odd moment. My 3 train heading down the West Side was largely empty, and those of us on the train had various bags and suitcases from Fourth of July weekends spent outside the cozy confines of the Big Apple. At 34th St., a few more straphangers toting suitcases boarded the train. At this point, most of the train was empty. I was sitting near the middle set of doors with my bags; a couple with their bags was across the aisle from me.

A few minutes later, at Park Place, a woman got on the train at the far set of doors, she walks past about 15 empty seats, audibly sighs and rolls her eyes while stepping over our suitcases before parking herself in front of the set of doors at the opposite end of the train car than those through which she boarded. She then de-trained at Fulton St., one stop later.

Every day, as I ride the train, I see more and more behavior like this. I see people who get flustered when asked politely to move out of the doorways because no one else can enter or exit the train. I see people taking up too many seats; I see healthy young riders ignore older and infirm riders who need a seat. And I hear music; I hear everyone else’s music at volumes so loud as to bother the rest of the train.

After the subway incident on Sunday night, I wondered if I hadn’t imagined a tougher ride down the Henry Hudson a few hours earlier. All around us, New Yorkers are retreating into their isolated worlds, and I wonder where this hostility comes from.

Sure, no one likes to spend more time than they need to on crowded train cars, stiflingly hot platforms or in traffic on the West Side Highway. But we’re all in this together, and if it means stepping over a few suitcases in an empty train car without making a production about, then do so. If it means turning down the iPod volume a few notches, then do so. We’d rather all be at our destinations, but don’t make the trips worse for everyone else. Let’s restore some decency and humanity to our roads and subways. Is that too much to ask?

Above: A sign from Tokyo urges subway riders to practice good riding etiquette. (Photo by flickr user French Disco)

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  • The accuracy of the advisories · Every Friday, I post the MTA’s weekend service advisories, and every weekend, I notice that the MTA’s official announcement of the weekend changes are either incomplete or flat-out wrong. Sometimes, trains go over bridges when they shouldn’t; they run local when they should run express; signs that promise service advisories are wrong while trains run different routes with no signs in sight; and nary a conductor says anything about it.

    I’m not the only one picking up on this; my buddy Chris over at East Village Idiot noted this problem today as well. Disgruntled straphangers, he notes, have taken to editing the MTA’s signs to better reflect the true nature of service changes. As the MTA works to increase communications between HQ and riders, NYC Transit should look to beef up those weekend service advisories. Traveling around on the weekends is tough enough as it is. · (7)

That’s today, folks. So don’t jump that turnstile. And if you want the details on Section 1050.4 of the MTA NYC Transit Rules of Conduct, click here.

And for the fun of it, City Room’s Sewell Chan details the history of the MTA’s anti-fare-jumping efforts.

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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.

Categories : Buses
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I’m out of town for the long weekend, and most people are too busy BBQing on Friday to worry about transit news. So without further ado, let’s jump into the weekend.

On Friday, July 4, NYC Transit will be running trains on a Sunday schedule. For information on viewing the fireworks, click here. Once the fireworks are over, NYC Transit will run extra trains on the C, F, L, 3 and 5 trains as well as the 42nd St. Shuttle.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Sunday, July 6, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, uptown 1 trains skip 103, 110, 116 and 125 Sts. For service to these stations, transfer to a downtown 1 train at 125 St.

From 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 5 to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Manhattan-bound 2 trains run express from Gun Hill Road to East 180 St. For service to stations in between, transfer to a Wakefield/241 St.-bound 2 train at East 180 St.

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 5 and Sunday, July 6, 3 trains run in two sections:

  1. Between 148 St. and Utica Ave.
  2. Between Utica and New Lots Avs

From 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 4, to 5 a.m., Monday, July 7, there are no 5 trains between 149 and East 180 Sts. For service to stations in between, take the 2 train instead.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Ave. to Third Ave. For service to stations in between, transfer to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 train at Third Ave.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5 to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 82, 90, 103, and 111 Sts. For service to these stations, transfer to a Manhattan-bound 7 at Willets Pt-Shea Stadium.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Sunday, July 6 and Monday, July 7, Manhattan-bound F trains run on the A from Jay to West 4 Sts. For service to stations in between, transfer to a Brooklyn-bound F at West 4th St.

From 8:30 p.m. on Friday, July 4 to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, there are no G trains between 71-Continental Avs and Court Sq. Take the E or R instead.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Brooklyn-bound N trains make all local stops from 57 St, Manhattan to 59 St, Brooklyn.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5 to 5 a.m. on Monday July 7, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D from Stillwell Av to 36 St. For service to stations along the N line, transfer to a Coney Island-bound N train at 36th St.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, all Q trains run local between 57th and Canal Sts.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Manhattan-bound R trains run on the V from Queens Plaza to Broadway-Lafayette St, then over the Manhattan Bridge to DeKalb Ave.

Categories : Service Advisories
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High gas prices are pushing more commuters onto mass transit options. (Gas $4.37 by flickr user 54east)

As Americans prepare to hit the road later today for their Fourth of July weekend travels, gas prices are at an all-time high. The national average cost for unleaded regular gas checks in at $4.092 per gallon while New Yorkers are paying an average of $4.297 per gallon. These numbers, to Americans, are astronomical.

In New York City, however, the law of unintended consequences has taken over. As high gas prices drive Americans out of their cars, a few analysts are noting that the traffic-mitigation effects of the $4.30-gallon are mimicking, to a lesser extent, Mayor Bloomberg’s failed congestion pricing scheme. In a very well done article in The Times today, William Neuman explores how traffic volume is decreasing as gas prices increase.

The gist of it is as follows: As gas has climbed well past the $4-per-gallon mark, the MTA and the Port Authority have been reported decreases in traffic through their toll booths of around 4.2 to 4.7 percent. Meanwhile, subway ridership was up 6.5 percent over the same time period with smaller but noticeable increases on Metro-North (4.3 percent) and the Long Island Rail Road (5.5 percent). The PA’s PATH trains saw a jump in ridership of nine percent. Even parking garages in the area are reporting fewer cars.

In a way, then, the city isn’t too far from temporarily achieving Mayor Bloomberg’s goals of reducing congestion. Of course, as Neuman points out, the goal of congestion pricing was to reduce traffic at peak hours, and this current reduction is more spread out. Meanwhile, it’s clear that drivers who are opting not to drive will slip behind the wheel as soon as — or is that if? — gas prices dip again. So on the flip side, high gas prices aren’t at all like the congestion pricing plan, and a few traffic consultants believe that this is a questionable decrease as many drivers, looking to save all they can, are opting for free bridges instead of toll roads. The decrease in volume could be as little as two or three percent.

There is, of course, another catch as it relates to mass transit. The analysis is Neuman’s:

Gas price-induced traffic reduction might have a downside. Mr. Bloomberg’s plan was intended, among other things, to raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year for mass transit improvements by charging cars an $8 fee to enter the area of Manhattan below 59th Street. The plan was defeated in April when legislative leaders in Albany refused to bring it up for a vote.

In contrast, the current reduction in traffic at bridges and tunnels could actually take money away from transit, because a large portion of the tolls collected at the transportation authority’s crossings helps to finance the subways, buses and commuter railroads. In May, toll revenues were more than $4 million below budget projections, and Gary J. Dellaverson, the authority’s chief financial officer, said that June toll revenues appeared to be down even further.

So far, the drop has been more than offset by an increase in fare collections generated by higher transit and rail ridership, but Mr. Dellaverson said that the combination of slipping toll revenues and the increased cost of fuel for the authority’s buses and trains could eventually outpace ridership revenue gains.

In the end, then, it’s the same old story for the MTA. A lack of dedicated revenue not tied into market forces is forcing the agency into a corner. For our city’s air, for our roads, it’s encouraging to see traffic dipping as gas prices go up. But for the health of the MTA, this artificial free-market quasi-congestion pricing impact will only serve to deprive the agency of toll revenue while taxing train lines already at or near capacity without offsetting these increases with more revenue. And that is a recipe for disaster.

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  • Cement-truck drivers strike stalls Second Ave. Subway · Yesterday afternoon, news broke that the city’s cement-truck drivers had initiated a strike. Now, we learn that this strike’s impact reaches underground. Because no major construction projects in the city can proceed, the strike has halted work on one Second Ave. Subway line. In the end, this one-week delay, the expected duration of the strike, probably won’t impact the completion date of a project already two years behind schedule. · (1)
  • The cutest illustrated story about the subways you’ll ever see · Christopher Neimann, award-winning illustrator and former New York resident, has started a blog on the New York Times Web site this week. For this first post, he drew a 13-panel story about his two sons, ages three and five, and their love affairs with the New York City subways. It is, by far, the best and cutest subway-based illustrated story you’ll ever see. [The Boys and the Subway] · (2)
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