Around the corner from me, former bus stops were clearly marked as such. At other points, though, the shelters sat empty with no signs and no buses passing by. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)
For some reason or another, city buses throughout America carry a bad reputation. In far-flung cities across the nation, buses are what the lower classes take as transportation because they cannot afford the luxury of a car. Forget the cost savings and the environment benefits of a full bus; these vehicles are looked down upon by citizens who don’t use buses and the politicians who are supposed to be subsidizing their operations.
In New York, then, as service cuts sent shockwaves through the MTA’s transit system, it is no surprise that bus riders were the most confused. While Transit sent out waves of employees to help straphangers navigate a subway system with a newly-routed M line and no V or W trains to be had, bus riders were left to fend for themselves amidst a sea of gleaming CEMUSA bus shelters and some hastily and haphazardly hung pieces of paper proclaiming “This location is no longer a bus stop.”
As part of their efforts at assessing the MTA’s effectiveness in introducing the cuts to the public, the Straphangers Campaign sent waves of volunteers to the far reaches of the city. The evidence was anecdotally in nature, but it served as an indictment of the MTA as it attempted to guide passengers through the elimination of 570 bus stops and numerous routes.
The biggest problem was one of information or the lack thereof. Bus riders, said the Straphangers in a release, were confused by the service changes and didn’t understand the alternate routes. Along 9th St. in Brooklyn, for example, neither the B77 nor the B75 were to be found, but a new route — the B61 — took its place. Transit said it did not have “sufficient space” at bus stops to post comprehensive information about the replacement routes, and instead, the Authority tried to hang up unobtrusive, but also unobvious, signs about the new info. Go to the website for a rundown, Transit officials said.
Meanwhile, at other routes — an old B48 stop at Franklin Ave. and Sterling Place — the stop had been eliminated, but you wouldn’t know that from the signage. In fact, nothing alerted riders as to the location of the nearest stop, and with the old schedule and route map still posted, people could be forgiven if they thought a bus might show up. Contradictory indications — bus stops with the so-called lollipop poles still standing, no signs indicating the nearest stop, outdated route maps — filled the city.
This problem of an information deficit doesn’t belong only to the MTA. Because the buses are surface transit, they also fall under the auspices of New York City’s Department of Transportation. DOT is responsible for maintaining the bus stop signage and the shelters that dot the city. When two agencies are in charge of coordinating, no one is in charge of coordinating, and those second-class buses and their former stops are left twisting in the wind. It’s hardly surprising that numerous stops still appeared in service, and they probably will look as they do for weeks.
As I walked up Union St. today, I passed a bus shelter at 5th Ave. The bus guide-a-ride, such as the one above, was approximately five feet east of the shelter and not visible to those walking up the hill that gives Park Slope its name. Neither the MTA nor DOT had hung signs up in the physical shelter itself, and except for a police squad grabbing a bite at the Uncle Louie’s stand across the street, the road was empty. The now-defunct B71 could have been just a few blocks away for all anyone knew.
The physical reminders weren’t the only illustrations of the city’s disregard for buses. As of this writing, the maps posted on the MTA’s map page are out of date. Download the Brooklyn map, and you’ll find the pre-service cuts schematic. Considering the minimal amount of time it takes to upload a PDF, this delay in updating the website — to which the MTA has told users to go for up-to-date information — is inexcusable. Elsewhere on the website, PDF files of the new routes had already been posted, but users will intuitively navigate to the first page with old information. This confusion just compounds the problem.
Eventually, someone will come along to determine the future of these spaces. DOT and the MTA say they are working fast to update the signs. Eventually, the markings of the old bus routes will fade away. The road space will probably revert to below-market-rate parking spots when they should become areas for bike parking. The CEMUSA shelters might remain as on-street advertising and semi-useful street furniture. They’ll serve as stark reminders of bus stops that aren’t and of the way we regard buses and their riders. Even in a city of two million daily bus users, the system remains an afterthought at times, left to the aged and poor who need it most and now don’t have it.