Whether they like it or not, the city’s major newspapers are a loud voice working either for or against transit in New York City. The overwhelmingly vast majority of New Yorkers don’t receive their transportation missives from me or Streetsblog. Rather, they turn to the pages of their favorite newspapers to find out the latest goings-on above and below ground.
Yesterday, the MTA and NYC DOT’s Select Bus Service debuted along the route of the M15. With longer buses, pre-board fare payment, dedicated lanes and fewer stops, the First and Second Ave. SBS, while a far cry from true bus rapid transit, should drastically speed up bus service along the underserved East Side. As with any new service, implementation won’t be easy, and those operating the buses will have to work out the kinks as travelers adjust to the changes. The media coverage could either focus on Day 1 growing pains or the promises of speed. Let’s see what the papers chose.
The Daily News’ coverage was, by and large, the most positive. Erin Durkin wrote about the improvements Select Bus Service will bring to the East Side. She writes about how buses should be 20 percent faster, how dedicated lanes will improve reliability and how signal prioritizing will make for a smoother ride. It’s a bare-bones article, but it gets the news out there. The free daily amNew York had a similarly brief item.
The article in The Times though seems to strive for a balance of news and reaction, but the reaction is only from the negative side. From the headline — which focuses on “Glitches and Grumbles” — to the analysis, Michael Grynbaum’s look at Day One of the Select Bus Service sounds skeptical. “Progress,” the article says, “particularly in the transportation realm, can have its fits and starts.” As Aaron Naparstek noted on Twitter, these fits and starts are “unlike, say, manned space flight or healthcare reform where major new initiatives are rolled out with immediate success.”
On the first day, as regular commuters were greeted by pre-boarding fare payment requirements and receipts serving as proof of payment, DOT workers and MTA bus drivers took the time to explain the new system, but those riding viewed that not as a public service but as an inconvenience. “It’s going to wreak havoc now with people not knowing,” Laurie Barnett said. “This is definitely slowing things down.”
Metro’s Carly Baldwin similarly highlighted those who dislike change to their commutes. “There’s no way this is going to work,” Nina Zoota said. “The way you get on is just a mess. You have to get an extra little piece of paper, it will go much less smoothly.” Joan Krieg added, “This is needlessly complicated! Thanks, MTA!”
In Grynbaum’s article, the second paragraph levies the strangest criticism toward whoever instituted this crazy new bus service. “When the system made its Manhattan debut on Sunday along First and Second Avenues, one of the city’s most congested corridors,” it says, “riders up and down the route displayed the telltale frowns of New Yorkers convinced that their government had wronged them yet again.” Considering the government is trying to right the wrongs of a painfully and often uselessly slow bus service, that’s an odd conclusion to draw from just one day of a new service.
But of course, it’s all about change. It’s about change to routines, change to commuting patterns and change to an old system. As Aaron Naparstek said, “There is absolutely nothing newsworthy about NYers frowning over a major change to their routine.” Whether the papers say so or not, Select Bus Service will be better than the local service it is replacing, and one day soon, the people who use it will find that they like it.