During his New York introduction on Monday, new MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder spoke at length about buses. Surface transit, he believes, is one area in which New York could see massive improvement in short order. As the MTA attempts to rescue its buses from the travels and travails of surface congestion, Walder could make an immediate impact on the commuting landscape in New York City, and bus lanes are the key.
Right now, New York City buses are the third wheel in the transit picture in New York. For many, they are a convenient way to transverse the city, but for the vast majority of people, they are slow and inconsistent. They rarely arrive as scheduled; they stop every two blocks; and they are sometimes slower than walking. Many might wonder why should we judge the buses in the city as anything other than a failure.
Elsewhere, though, buses can serve as the complement to a vibrant rail system. It’s true that buses will never be as fast as subways, and without running at super-high capacity levels, buses will never service as many people as subways can. But with a little bit of innovation and some dedicated lanes, buses can be an integral part of an integrated rapid transit system in any urban environment, including the congested streets of New York City.
When the MTA first started implementing bus rapid transit — known here as Select Bus Service — the city appealed to Albany for a home rule measure that would allow them to enforce bus-only lanes. David Gantt, an upstate representative from the Rochester area, blocked this effort, and NYCDOT and the MTA have tried to figure out ways around this Albany denial. At the time, Gantt worried about the civil liberties concerns behind red-light camera enforcement of bus lanes. Recently, though, Albany has seemed more amenable to granted the city the ability to enforce bus lanes.
To that end, Jay Walder believes bus lanes are key to improving the city’s bus-centric future. In an interview with WCBS TV, Walder talked about his belief in the power of bus lanes. “You and I would never think of stopping our car on a train track, but some how the idea of stopping a car in a bus lane seems acceptable. It’s not,” he said.
Walder stressed his belief in bus lane enforcement. “You go through a process of saying you recognize the license plate, you issue tickets and when you begin to prove to people that a bus lane is meant for a bus and that there’s actually an enforcement that takes place people respond. They respond,” he noted.
Although the CBS coverage features man-on-the-street comments from New Yorkers who know little to nothing about public transit, the truth is that bus lane enforcement — or even physically separated bus lanes — could revolutionize bus transportation in New York City. Imagine bus routes with prioritized signal that do not need to fight with cars and taxis for lane space. Imagine buses that don’t have to worry about parking in bus stops or double parking in traffic lanes. Imagine buses that can go three times as they fast as they currently go.
Jay Walder understands that buses are a more cost-efficient way of adding transit capacity. He understands that while projects such as the Second Ave. Subway cost billions of the dollars, the entire city could be outfitted with select bus service for just that cost. Bus lane enforcement is just the first step, and if Walder can deliver that, we can look forward to numerous transit improvements under his watch.