Home Public Transit Policy New RPA report highlights need for better Outer Borough transit

New RPA report highlights need for better Outer Borough transit

by Benjamin Kabak

The RPA’s latest study features simply fixes for intra-borough mobility.

Thanks to the foresight of our New Yorker ancestors, we have an extensive subway system that allows someone, if they so choose, to travel from the Rockaways to the norther edge of the city limits in the Bronx for one fare. Whether leaders in City Hall and Albany realize it, the subway system powers New York City’s economy, and the city wouldn’t be home to 8 million people without it.

Thanks to that same history, though, the subway system remains unchangeably Manhattan-centric. It was built at a time when the southern tip of Manhattan was overrun with people and was designed to spread out the masses teeming through the tenements to other areas of the city. In that regard, it has been an enduring success that more than attained the goals of its creators. But it remains a relic of the early 20th Century, and with job centers — and people — leaving Manhattan, the subway isn’t quite as useful for borough-to-borough trips that would otherwise connect New Yorkers to jobs. Sure, we have the G train, but try traveling from Brooklyn to the Bronx, Staten Island to Queens or even Queens to Brooklyn.

Earlier this week, in an extensive report, the Regional Plan Association tackled just this issue. Transit planning for the 21st Century, the organization says in a new publication [pdf], must be focused on connecting the so-called Outer Boroughs. For anyone who’s been keeping an eye on the RPA, the report is the culmination of a theme, and it’s one worth exploring. In it, the RPA calls upon the city — and by virtue of its role, the MTA — to do better. Their ideas involve (1) creating a first-rate bus system; (2) improving and extending rail service; (3) and, importantly, making commuter rail work for borough residents. The last part is easy; rationalize the fare and run more trains. The other two require some work.

The foundation for the report is the growing evidence that job opportunities in the Outer Boroughs are increasing at a greater rate than in Manhattan and that people have a tough time getting from home to these jobs. Sure, the subways are focused around Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City and Jamaica, but trips can be circuitous and time-consuming. It’s great for those who work in Manhattan and less great for everyone else.

“Too many residents of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island are forced to make long and circuitous commutes every day, often going out of their way to travel relatively short distances,” Jeffrey Zupan, the RPA’s senior fellow for transportation and one of the report’s authors, said. “In the many neighborhoods that are located beyond a comfortable walking distance from a subway or railroad station, residents have to rely on slow and infrequent buses, adding to the time and inconvenience of their commutes.”

With the exception of their plans for the Second Ave. Subway, the solutions aren’t expensive. The RPA wants a better bus network (though I think their BRT proposal is ill-designed), and they want the Triboro RX subway (though omitting a station at Broadway Junction is a mistake and so is the northern extension through the Bronx). They want a commitment to send the Second Ave. Subway into the Bronx and through Lower Manhattan, and they call upon more off-board fare payment options for buses. They propose more frequent Metro-North and LIRR service within the city with lower fares as well.

Nothing in this report is a reach, and any quibbles should be around the edges as mine are. Of course, what these ideas don’t have are funding or a champion, and that’s a real problem. Without either, they won’t see the light of day no matter how easy they are to implement and how important they could be to the city’s mobility.

So the RPA, which has been trumpeting Triboro RX for nearly 20 years, will keep trying. As Tom Wright, the organization’s president, said, “Good transit access plays an enormous role in expanding opportunity to education and jobs. As New York works to foster a new supply of housing to meet surging demand, we need to think more broadly about how our transit network will accommodate the city’s needs well into the 21st century.”

You may also like


Duke February 13, 2015 - 1:26 am

Due to the need to share the tracks with freight, any service running along the Bay Ridge Branch would need to be FRA-compliant. This is not impossible but it does mean it would be more expensive to implement and to operate.
The problem then is it goes from Queens to the Bronx via Randall’s Island, something that you can almost already do effectively via the M60 and the 4/5/6. If you really want to get serious about Queens/Bronx crosstown rail, it has to cross the East River further east, say in the vicinity of the Whitestone Bridge. To be most useful the service would need to connect West Farms, Parkchester, and Flushing. Funny thing, the Q44 bus already does this. Can you say “Q44 Select Bus Service”? A lot cheaper than building a rail line, certainly.

I’d also venture that complaining too much about the Manhattan-Centric nature of the subway system is misguided, since the fact that it is so Manhattan-Centric is exactly what makes it so efficient and so effective. In order for transit to work you need a dense core where there are a lot of jobs. Transit excels at taking people from this core to outlying areas. But due to lower population densities, and fewer and more dispersed trips as a result, travel from one outlying area to another is never going to be served by transit as well as travel to Manhattan is. And trying too hard to change that is only going to give us a bunch of clunky intersuburban services with low ridership that turn into money pits to operate. If you want to get from Queens to The Bronx, really, the best way to do it is by car. Transit is not going to outcompete driving for those trips the way it does for Manhattan-bound trips. It can’t. If you want to maximize transit usage that would be better accomplished by planning policies that avoid creating demand for trips from one outlying area to another.

Brandon February 13, 2015 - 9:33 am

They could get a waiver from the FRA if the trains are completely time separated, as Caltrain has done.

Frankly though if all the political power in New York can’t finally beat back the FRA beast to use international best practices in this area, railroad transportation in this country is well and truly screwed.

Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 10:02 am

You’d need Triboro RX service very five minutes or less to be effective. There is no room for freight during the day on that basis. So you are basically saying no to intermodal freight in NYC, period.

“If you want to maximize transit usage that would be better accomplished by planning policies that avoid creating demand for trips from one outlying area to another.”

I’d bet that a lot of the job growth, aside from the recovery of retail, is in areas of the outer boroughs closer to Manhattan. Many served by the G.

At home I have a file of total employment BY PLACE OF WORK and NYC CENSUS TRACT for 1970, 1980, and 1990. I’m not sure if the American Community Survey sample size is large enough to produce that data for 2010 (maybe the five year sample?). But I’d love to have at least for 2000.

If anyone can get this data let me know. The 1970 data had to be hand entered, off a report at City Planning that may have been subsequently discarded. Tracts split since were re-combined in the database.

The RPA based its conclusions on employment by county.

Bolwerk February 13, 2015 - 10:42 am

Why such frequent service? Maybe that’d be necessary at rush hour.

Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 12:05 pm

And every 10 minutes mid-day. That’s pretty standard.

Bolwerk February 13, 2015 - 12:24 pm

That’s what I’d expect. It doesn’t leave much room for freight either way.

The only hope for that is three tracks, probably some four-track segments for passing.

adirondacker12800 February 13, 2015 - 1:42 pm

1600 freight cars a day means four tracks all the way. Or no passenger service. Since people like to eat I suspect freight will take precedence.


An nice synopsis. The Port Authority has the official reports.


Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 2:06 pm

Of course virtually nothing but bulk freight moves via rail today. But people thought rail transit was dying two decades ago.

It takes a lot of truck drivers and a lot of energy to move freight long distances by truck. With a some investment intermodal is set to boom.

adirondacker12800 February 13, 2015 - 2:21 pm

Seven and half million people drink a lot of beer. They use a lot of drywall. They use an astounding amount of gravel. Which instead of mining on Long Island they ship in from places like the Adirondacks. ( the Class III carrier that has a decades long supply of already mined gravel at the end of their line predicts 30 cars loads a day until they run out of gravel.) The people on Long Island generate lots of garbage that gets shipped off to distant places that usually have rail service.

People east of the East River have some choices. They can sit in gridlock or they can move some of the freight to rail. The whole point of Cross Harbor Freight is to move the day when everything gridlocks to some day in the more distant future. If we want passenger service too it’s gonna cost a lot of money. But sitting in gridlock costs a lot of money too.

AG February 14, 2015 - 6:29 pm

“If we want passenger service too it’s gonna cost a lot of money. But sitting in gridlock costs a lot of money too.”

exactly – and that’s why both are needed in come capacity… the alternate is even more expensive in terms of opportunity cost.

JAzumah February 16, 2015 - 7:53 pm

The service that I have sketched out for the Triboro RX runs every 10 minutes during rush hours and every 15 minutes off-peak using M8s or PATH’s PA-5 style cars. I think that service every five minutes to start during rush hours is overkill on this route. Most of the route would be three tracks with 60MPH crossovers in some spots.

Joe Steindam February 13, 2015 - 11:05 am

Larry, it’s not a perfect analogue to earlier census reports, because this data doesn’t contain a lot of demographic characteristics of workers or their homes, and the data is gathered differently (it’s based on a persons tax information) but this website has a bunch of relevant information; http://onthemap.ces.census.gov/

Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 11:43 am

I’ll take a look, but I’d really like similar data to be comparable with 1970. It should be possible.

The place of work data from the census is generally not compiled and published in much detail, but it is actually the best.

Establishment based data suffers from all the employment for multi-establishment enterprises being reported at the main office, or the accountant. That really hurts for NYC government employment, most of which is reported in Manhattan.

Having people say where they work gets around this. And of course, government employment is big in residential neighborhoods — school, police, fire, etc.

The BEA data the RPA used by county suffers from this defect, but it does include the self-employed, unlike other sources.

Joe Steindam February 13, 2015 - 11:53 am

It’s funny you mention establishment data because I ran the data analysis for the 5 boroughs at the Census Block group level using the CES website I shared, and it showed the most heavily employed block group in Downtown Brooklyn, at what I believe is the HR office of the NYC Department of Education. The second largest concentration is Wall Street, the third largest is the area around City Hall.

So, yes, this is a problem with work location data that uses establishment locations instead of actual work locations.

Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 12:43 pm

Right. I assume that’s what used to be called the “Bell File,” based on unemployment insurance tax returns. (I’ll look at it later).

At one point the State Dept. of Labor required private businesses to more specifically show the distribution of employment by address. But the public sector did not comply.

Just for a little fun, when Staten Island politicians wanted to secede, they did a report based on this data that showed massive government employment in Manhattan and virtually none on Staten Island! Which of course was bunk — Staten Island is full of government employees, many of whom also work there.

Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 8:13 pm

I checked your source against what I had for one Census Tract in Brooklyn by place of work. For tract 84 in Sunset Park I have:

1970 4,519
1980 2,590
1990 1,832
2000 3,215

Census long form place of work data and for 2000 a public use micro data run.

Your source has:

2010 1,850

I wrote and asked where it came from.

lop February 13, 2015 - 9:02 pm

You might find this useful if you’re trying to figure out what data onthemap uses.



Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 10:05 pm

“Administrative data provided by state agencies, enhanced with information from other administrative data sources, demographic and economic (business) surveys and censuses.”

It appears to be based on the unemployment insurance and economic census data. Demographic data for the workers in different areas is imputed based on a model based on larger areas.

As I noted, however, even though all it is is total employment, the household-based data from the Census of Population provided the best data for small areas. It included the self employed (including all those work at home freelancers), who are imputed in the data above, and put government employees in their proper locations, assuming they identified their workplaces correctly.

The only question is whether the American Community Survey five year estimate has enough cases to provide a reasonable estimate for, say, my residential tract in Windsor Terrace. Tract 171 had an estimated 604 people working in it in 1970, 216 in 1990, and 510 in 2000. PS 154 is likely the largest employer.

Getting back to transportation issue, I’d bet that most of the jobs have returned to the same sorts of places they were in before the disaster of the 1970s. And new employment is in the growing number of people working at home, who don’t need a bus or light rail.

adirondacker12800 February 13, 2015 - 11:05 pm

They need a bus or something when they leave home. To visit clients for instance. Or for their clients to come see them. To take the laptop to the laptop hospital. Probably off peak too.

Nathanael February 20, 2015 - 5:07 am

I’m not sure the political power of NY is enough by itself, but the political power of California should be backing FRA reform too (it is screwing up one project after another there).

Bobby February 13, 2015 - 10:58 am

Of course traveling from one outlying area of the city to another is never going to be as efficient as going to and from Manhattan but the current transit options directly linking the Bronx and Queens are more than pathetic. No one is trying to reimagine where the center of the region is but asking for a few more direct connections between adjacent counties of 1.4 and 2.2 million people strikes me as pretty logical.

Nathanael February 20, 2015 - 5:08 am

If you look at the Bronx, you’ll notice the complete absence of crosstown rail routes. I don’t think the crosstown bus routes in the Bronx are very impressive either, though I could be wrong.

AG February 20, 2015 - 6:59 am

correct on both counts… the SBS on Fordham and Pelham being the exception.

anon_coward February 13, 2015 - 12:17 pm

this is all OK until people start to talk about messing with parking on queens blvd or around it for people who park their cars only for weekend trips and the fact that there is very little jobs outside of manhattan results in crowded trains and constant delays as people try to squeeze onto packed trains and others wait their turn at the switches

AG February 14, 2015 - 6:27 pm

“trying too hard to change that is only going to give us a bunch of clunky intersuburban services with low ridership that turn into money pits to operate. If you want to get from Queens to The Bronx, really, the best way to do it is by car.”

I’m sorry but I frankly find that ridiculous… Queens is as densely populated as San Francisco (which is the next most dense city after NY). The Bronx and Brooklyn are more densely populated than any other cities in this country if they were their own cities.

Second fact is that job growth is faster in those boroughs than it is in Manhattan.


Car traffic is terrible.. Buses cannot be efficient. You are right that the best way to get between Queens and The Bronx is by car. The reason is BECAUSE there is no direct rail connection. I”m sorry – but you are getting things backwards.

Chris February 13, 2015 - 2:12 am

Although mass transit would share rails with freight, this is a problem already overcome in some cities – and would be more of a political problem than anything else. Yes, it would have been better if the bridge connection to the Bronx was further East, but this route is designed around existing right of ways, and not major new construction (although by today’s standards, we’d consider what has to be done “Major”.)

I support the idea of this route, and would love to see a way to connect the Eastern Bronx (co-op city) to it as well…. Sadly, I doubt I’ll see anything like this in my lifetime.

adirondacker12800 February 13, 2015 - 2:40 am


Not subway service but a much faster ride to Midtown.

The New Haven had delusions of grandeur and the ROW is wide enough for 6 or 8 tracks and platforms for local service, between the Hells Gate Bridge and Co-op City. But then for the foreseeable future Metro North and Amtrak are talking about 10 or 12 trains an hour.

AG February 14, 2015 - 6:32 pm

Right – but still no station in Queens.. That’s part of the issue… Not enough ways to connect without going through Manhattan.

adirondacker12800 February 14, 2015 - 7:31 pm

Whats in Sunnyside that people in the Bronx want to go to?

Bolwerk February 14, 2015 - 9:38 pm

So you complain about Manhattan-centric attitudes, even project them when they don’t really exist, and then complain when people propose connections between dense urban neighborhoods that don’t involve Manhattan?

What exactly do you want transit to do? Rot?

adirondacker12800 February 14, 2015 - 11:43 pm

I didn’t complain about Manhattan centric transit. AG said he’s never going to see something from Co-Op City. Metro North is well into the planning process for it. They can’t do anything until the LIRR starts diverting traffic to Grand Central.
What’s in Sunnyside that people in Co-op City or Parkchester want to go to? That’s a complaint about Queens. On the whole it’s not all that much different than the Bronx. Read into that whatever you like, it’s not a complaint.

Bolwerk February 16, 2015 - 9:37 am

What’s anywhere than anyone wants to go to?

adirondacker12800 February 15, 2015 - 12:07 am

AG said he’s never going to see service to Co-op city in his life. He’s either got one foot in the grave or he hasn’t seen the planning, that is far along in the process, that Metro North is doing. That’s not a complaint. It’s not much of an opinion either. It’s a link to Metro North’s information pages. I suspect the people in Co-op City are like most people and don’t give a flying leap about the logo on the side of the train or the color of the paint. They care about how long it’s going to take to get from their apartment to where they want to go and how much it’s going to cost. They are going to want to go to Manhattan, Westchester and Fairfield because that’s were the jobs are that are worth commuting for.

I’ve looked at the tax maps and the ROW is really really wide. More information. It could be considered an opinion but there is more or less a consensus on how much space you need for a railroad track and how much space you need for a platform. There’s plenty of space in the Bronx for all sorts of things.

AG February 15, 2015 - 11:46 pm

“AG said he’s never going to see service to Co-op city in his life. ”

It would be helpful to attribute the correct comments to the correct person… I never mentioned Co-op City in this thread directly. That was “Chris”

Nathanael February 20, 2015 - 5:17 am

Adirondacker: Technically I think the Harlem River & Port Chester was the one with delusions of grandeur… but then, it was empty fields at the time. The railroad ROWs in the western US are often *100 feet wide* so this is actually pretty narrow for a line built thorough greenfields. But yes, there’s plenty of room for 6 tracks if not 8 (which might require redoing retaining walls).

adirondacker12800 February 20, 2015 - 12:25 pm

There’s 8 tracks now in the satellite views. On the southern end, 4 headed to the bridge and 4 headed to the former terminal on 133rd or wherever it was that everybody was going to change to the Third Avenue El. If I remember correctly no less than 200 feet wide. Which is enough space for two tracks of freight, two tracks of subway and two tracks of commuter combined with intercity.

AG February 14, 2015 - 11:13 pm

Is that a serious question? Well there are things called family and friends.. There are reasons to travel to different neighborhoods besides going to an office job..
If that’s really a serious question – maybe you can wrap your mind around the fact there are places in Queens and Brooklyn that would be faster to get to without going through Manhattan – that doesn’t have to only be Sunnyside… Got it now?

adirondacker12800 February 14, 2015 - 11:50 pm

People other than residents of the Bronx or Queens are allowed to use the bridges. The trucks clogging the roads, going from distribution centers west of the Hudson to retail locations in Nassau and Suffolk don’t involve a whole lot of people in the Bronx or Queens.
Metro North is projecting that someday they will be able to utilize six trains during peak. How many people in New Haven, Fairfield, Westchster and the Bronx want to get to anywhere in Queens out of those six trainloads?

AG February 15, 2015 - 11:44 pm

I don’t think you are getting the point… The point is that there needs to be a subway line linking Brooklyn – Queens – The Bronx.

One station (in Astoria it was proposed) to use the Hell Gate Line was not going to be enough… Metro North deemed it too expensive… The RPA – which this thread was about – spoke of the Triboro RX and the need for millions of people who live in those 3 boroughs not always having to go through Manhattan…

adirondacker12800 February 16, 2015 - 12:00 am

The millions of people who live in those three boroughs don’t get much of an urge to travel between them. Not compared to the urges they get to travel within their respective boroughs or to and from Manhattan.

Bolwerk February 16, 2015 - 9:44 am

Unless they can afford taxis or have cars, they don’t really have a practical way to make that kind of trip, urge or not.

Triborough RX isn’t only about moving people between the boroughs. It’s also about moving people from currently difficult-to-reach neighborhoods to existing subway lines they can use.

AG February 16, 2015 - 12:49 pm

“The millions of people who live in those three boroughs don’t get much of an urge to travel between them. Not compared to the urges they get to travel within their respective boroughs or to and from Manhattan.”

That is a tired mantra… The fact is they do – but it’s not convenient by subway… unless you don’t mind a REALLY long ride. There is a reason those bridges connecting are crowded – even though they are ridiculously high priced – (while east river bridges are ludicrously free)… Yes that traffic also connects the Hudson Valley and New England with Long Island – but a LOT of that car traffic is between the boroughs. The reason there is such an “urge” to travel into Manhattan is because that borough has the best transit. Like I said – you really missed the point of the report.

And unless you haven’t been paying attention – those three boroughs have had much faster job and small business growth than Manhattan in the past 20 plus years.


If there WAS a line that connected them – that trend would probably accelerate even faster. I personally know of companies in those three (BK-BX-Q) that have workers that work in some combination of the others… Most of them drive – but not because they want to or because it’s cheaper.. It’s because it’s actually the “easiest” way.

adirondacker12800 February 15, 2015 - 12:08 am

That doesn’t mean those few trips need a railroad station.

AG February 15, 2015 - 11:48 pm

“Few trips”???? You think millions of people only make “a few trips”… There is no subway to connect them directly… If there was – more people would use it… It’s not that difficult an equation. The Whitestone – Throggs Neck – Triboro bridges could get a break as well.

adirondacker12800 February 16, 2015 - 12:07 am

no they wouldn’t because there isn’t all that much difference between a Pathmark in the Bronx and a Pathmark in Queens. Or a Rite Aid versus a CVS versus a Duane Reade. And a pink collar job in the Bronx isn’t all that much different from a pink collar job in Brooklyn and people aren’t going to schlep an hour on the subway to take one when they can get one closer to home. just like right now with fast frequent service to Manhattan they don’t take 30 minute subway rides so they can go a Burger King instead of the McDonalds five blocks from home.

lop February 16, 2015 - 12:33 am

The RPA report quotes the 5 year 2010 ACS to give borough to borough work trips

Bronx>Queens: 21565
Bronx>Brooklyn: 19960
Brooklyn>Bronx: 13535
Queens>Bronx: 21040
Brooklyn>Queens: 69680
Queens>Brooklyn: 84985

If transit options between Queens and the Bronx were better do you think you would see no growth, even if not at the level of BrooklynQueens flows? That doesn’t have to be expensive rail projects that won’t be operable for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, but is there no room for a bus route from Queens to the Bronx over the triboro or throgs neck, and room for just two over the whitestone?

adirondacker12800 February 16, 2015 - 12:54 am

How many of those trips are the kind of trips that can be done by mass transit? And some of them, like the Brooklyn-Queens ones are already being done by mass transit. Brooklynites going to work at JFK for instance. Or people in Queens who snagged a halfway decent job in the back office in Downtown Brooklyn. Or the college kid who walks from his house in Ridgewood-Brooklyn to his job in the corner store three blocks away in Ridgewood-Queens.

adirondacker12800 February 16, 2015 - 12:56 am

..or the people who whine about how awful service is on the G.

AG February 16, 2015 - 12:55 pm

And if there WAS viable rail – the trips would be even more… It seems ironic that some people on transit blogs don’t get that. It’s like the people who said there was no need for rail to JFK – while something as “inconvenient” as Airtrain just set another record for paid riders in 2014.


The RPA report also noted the tremendous growth in reverse commuting to suburbs to the north… I’m sure some on here would have said such an idea would have been a waste.

lop February 16, 2015 - 1:49 pm

AG to give airport ridership some context, there are 25 bus routes with greater ridership than airtrain paying customers. To serve reverse commuters to Westchester or Connecticut you needed to make trains stop instead of just pass through. Not really the same as running trains where they don’t exist.

AG February 16, 2015 - 2:44 pm

I didn’t say they were the same thing… Making the point that people make ridiculous comments as to why some things aren’t “needed” or “won’t work” or “won’t happen”.

adirondacker12800 February 16, 2015 - 1:52 pm

If my mid level job on Wall Street, whether that’s actually downtown or someplace in Midtown, gets moved to a suburban office park in Greenwich, I’m gonna take the subway to Grand Central and get on Metro North there. Or if it moved to White Plains.

Larry Littlefield February 16, 2015 - 9:12 pm

What kind of jobs are we talking about? Occupation, industry, class of workers, earnings. It would be good to have a PUMS run to find out.

There are lots of jobs on neighborhood main streets, and in public service jobs like police, fire, schools.

The public servants all drive and disdain public transportation.

For local service workers, the best job is one not far away that they can walk, bus or bike to. In some areas, Brooklyn and Queens might as well be the same borough as they are right next o each other.

AG February 16, 2015 - 12:50 pm

so all the jobs in those boroughs or reasons to go those boroughs are pharmacies and “pink collar jobs”…
I think you should stick to talking about other things… really!

adirondacker12800 February 16, 2015 - 1:47 pm

Most of what goes on in the outer boroughs is exactly like the stuff that goes on in other outer boroughs. Being a billing clerk at a doctor’s office in Jackson Heights isn’t all that much different than being a billing clerk in a dentist’s office in Sunset Park or a billing clerk in podiatrist’s office in Highbridge. The job growth in the outer boroughs hasn’t all been college graduates sitting in their cubes reading blogs instead of working. and those kinds of jobs aren’t near where the Triboro will be.

I suspect the cars with out of state license plates on the bridges aren’t originating in New York. The stuff on the trucks isn’t going to switch to the subways.

Life if full of compromises and if you were stupid enough to take a job in the Bronx when you are living in Brooklyn instead of job in Brooklyn or Manhattan there are 7 million other people on Long Island who also have compromises to make. Though for most of Brooklyn getting to the Bronx would be a faster through Manhattan. A one seat or two seat ride instead of a three seat ride. There aren’t going to be a whole lot of people who live at one Triboro station and work at another. It’s going to very useful for the people who use it to get between subway lines. Sunset Park to Brooklyn College for instance. Or East New York to Brooklyn College. Very useful in places that don’t have subway service now. Someone who decided to take that middle management job at Jacobi and drive from her house in Little Neck? She’s still gonna drive. And the back office worker who lives on the Concourse and takes the 7 a few stops to Long Island City is still going to get on the D train and change to the 7. It’s gonna be a lot busier than the bus system in Peoria. It’s not going to be filled with people from Riverdale going out to Brighton Beach for some ethic food.

Assuming all the people on Long Island don’t decide that the compromise they want to make is hauling stuff in and garbage out by rail over the same tracks. and the people who don’t live in the city don’t decide that they want to use their tracks for something other than hauling stuff in and garbage out. Wedging subway, commuter, intercity and freight onto the ROW isn’t going to be cheap or easy.

AG February 16, 2015 - 2:55 pm

The irony is that there are many many clerks and janitors and retail workers and nannies (and every other low level job that you seem to think only exists in the outer boroughs) that people take the subway and PATH into Manhattan for. Why didn’t they stay in Hudson County or Queens? Simple… Manhattan is where they got the job (though sometimes higher pay even at those low levels). I guess you think they are “stupid” too…?
This is a waste of discourse since your comments are not based on reality.

adirondacker12800 February 16, 2015 - 3:00 pm

Running a train from Brooklyn to the Bronx via Queens doesn’t help get people from Hudson County to the Upper East Side.

lop February 13, 2015 - 4:17 am

The subway in coop city’s future should be the 6, not the X with a transfer to the 6 to get to Manhattan.

John-2 February 13, 2015 - 8:28 am

I do see that the RPA’s line extensions makes no mention of reactivation of the Rockaway Branch, either as as subway service off the Queens Blvd. line or as part of the LIRR. Note sure if that’s because their priorities are elsewhere or if they’re OK with the High Line park concept for the line, and believe Woodhaven SBS would be enough for the corridor.

lop February 13, 2015 - 5:26 pm

They talk about RBB in the PDF Ben linked.

“The RBB is of significant value, either as a linear park or for transit and should not be held hostage by residents who do not own the right-of-way.”

John Doe February 13, 2015 - 10:31 am

Ben – Please read this scary article. Basically, rail is being abandoned in favor of promoting buses!!! buses suck are just don’t have the same capacity, we need more subway lines everywhere!


Bolwerk February 13, 2015 - 11:15 am

Is this a joke? If not, I can’t tell who is more histrionic: you or Barro.

Who is abandoning existing rail? Might be that some misguided advocates want to preclude further rail investment, but it’s a bit hard to make a case for bustituting a rail service once you’ve made the investment. Even if it was a bad investment, and some have been, it’s cheaper to use it than to abandon it and pay off bonds and probably even depreciation on it anyway.

Barro is a neoliberal slopebrow who probably can’t understand transportation beyond comparing vehicle prices.

pete February 14, 2015 - 3:36 am

Many “transit” liberal advocates live in the suburbs, and their advocacy for transit is to eliminate all transit in cities. Bicycles are a typical talking point they use. The transit advocates themselves drive a bmw or volvo if you look at their driveway. Why to eliminate transit? It is for better air quality, but not the reason you think. It is forbidden to use federal funds for road capacity expansion if the area is below air quality standards. NYC’s suburbs, including Nassau and Fairfield counties fall into NYC’s air quality zone. So unless that can convince everyone to ride bicycles like Chairman Mao wants, they will be in bumper to bumper traffic in their BMWs.

SEAN February 13, 2015 - 11:15 am

Good grief! What a load of garbage.

Joe Steindam February 13, 2015 - 11:19 am

I think you’re blowing out of proportion this article. While his thesis of spending more money on rebranding buses to make choice riders use buses is interesting, he’s missing that the real driver of choice riders to buses is when they are made more like trains, by giving them their own right of way with pre-boarding payment and longer stop spacing. His case study for a cheaper alternative to rail projects is the LA Orange Line, a true BRT system that took over a former rail right of way and cost much more than BRT implementations in NYC. And while it is was certainly cheaper to implement than any of other lines in the LA Metro system, it moves fewer riders than all the other LA Metro lines, including the green line, which also doesn’t go to Downtown LA.

I don’t find his thesis all that threatening, because it basically boils down to transit works best when you give it a right of way and eliminate its interactions with other modes. Following that theory will result in good bus service and good rail service, especially for light rail systems across the country.

Larry Littlefield February 13, 2015 - 11:44 am

There is one good thing about taking a bus in NYC, or taking an intercity bus upstate.

In doing so you disassociate yourself from those who think they are too good for buses and the people who ride them.

Bolwerk February 13, 2015 - 11:54 am

I can buy that argument in Los Angeles, but there doesn’t seem to be a big bus stigma here. Even middle class people use the bus here, at least when it’s in their interest to do so.

SEAN February 13, 2015 - 12:46 pm

Both Larry’s & Bolwerk’s statements have a great deal of merret.

Have you ever taken busses on Gun Hill Road in The Bronx? They’re usually overcrowded & that’s before they exit Co-op City. Try boarding a Bx28 between Co-op City & White Plains Road. It’s sometimes next to impossible to get on & off do to the volume of riders & forget about finding a seat in the meantime. The MTA may need to start using articulated busses here.

pete February 14, 2015 - 3:44 am

Articulated buses are never needed in any transit system. CTTransit runs articulated buses on routes with 20 and 30 minute frequency outside of rush hour. The articulated buses are there just so they don’t need to provide more service on routes that need it. A standing room only articulated bus that runs twice an hour is a crime. Any TA who does that made the choice to **** the riders, none of them can vote anyway since they are all illegals or ex-con without the right to drive. If the particular TA could buy camel buses http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....rban_buses with federal funds, they would. 300 people on a bus that runs once an hour!

ajedrez February 14, 2015 - 6:20 am

Well, if you’re talking about a line like the M15 SBS or Bx12 SBS that runs every 6-8 minutes or less for most of the day, then it’s understandable why you would want to use articulated buses to save on labor costs. However, to a certain extent, they do come at the price of slower speeds, because despite what some people say (“oh, the turning radius is less than that of a 40-foot bus”), a longer bus requires more clearance to maneuver in and out of traffic.

Bolwerk February 14, 2015 - 9:11 am

That probably nails it. For that matter, they seem to work fine on long, straight ROWs with their own lanes.

Fbfree February 16, 2015 - 4:24 pm

More importantly, an artic takes longer to load.

sonicboy678 February 14, 2015 - 8:23 pm

Let me tell you a little story.

There are many bus routes which carry relatively few passengers. These bus routes are usually in suburban areas or in smaller cities. In New York City, you will also be able to find bus routes with high ridership. Some examples of these are the B41, B44, B46, M15, Bx12, and Bx19. As they see many passengers per hour (save for nights, obviously), they need all the buses they can get. It would therefore be easy to find overcrowded buses on these routes.

Why would I mention this? Simple: I’ve seen how bad the crowding can get. I also remember the few months prior to B44 SBS when articulated buses were used for the B44 local and Limited-Stop services. Buses would often carry considerable loads — especially on Nostrand Avenue, even in spite of the subway line between President Street and Flatbush Avenue — and it would be chaos for people boarding. Even now, there are considerable loads on the existing B44 SBS. That’s not the only thing I’ve seen, however. I’ve seen the Bx12’s overcrowding with just SBS.

While articulated buses are nowhere near as useful during off-hours as they are during peak periods, they may still be used to increase the overall efficiency of a route by reducing labor costs and possibly even fuel costs. Buses may be spaced out more logically in relation to ridership (if a bus route carries x passengers at 6 BPH y/x passengers per bus, it would probably be better to serve x passengers at 4 BPH if z>y, assuming that z would be too much for a standard bus).

Larry Littlefield February 15, 2015 - 12:18 pm

My wife and I took the B61, a replacement for huge service cuts in Park Slope/Windsor Terrace bus service during the recession, to a concert at Jalopy on the Red Hook/Carroll Gardens border last night.


Given the level of ridership on this modest local route at this off peak time, it’s amazing that the NYC bus system loses as much money as it does. The bus was plenty crowded during the trip there, and had quite a few passengers on the trip back — adding it up it certainly should been enough to pay for the bus drivers and mechanics.

I wonder how much money is being sucked into the past by pensions and debts.

Bolwerk February 15, 2015 - 9:24 pm

From an accounting standpoint, there is probably nothing left over after direct operating costs to cover pensions and debts. The current operating cost calculations don’t even seem to include vehicle depreciation, and they already come out to over $1.50/psgr.-mile (compared to around 50¢/mile of revenue).

When people make lots of short bus trips, buses recover costs pretty well.

Nathanael February 20, 2015 - 5:27 am

City buses are stupidly expensive to operate.

First, there’s the labor cost. One commercially-licensed driver for every 100 passengers? This is actually pretty bad. Certainly terrible compared to trains.

Then, there’s the fuel cost. Stop-start cycles are awful for internal-combustion engines, and every bus stop means lots of idling, so they are horribly inefficient. (Internal combustion engines are very inefficient to *start* with.)

This at least will get better when agencies start buying battery buses en masse: having done the calculations, I know that new battery buses pay for themselves over a 12-year bus lifetime right now, at current diesel and CNG prices. And batteries are getting cheaper.

Which brings up another issue: buses wear out fast. 12 years is the expected lifespan, and that’s pushing it, with lots of maintenance. Rail vehicles last a lot longer.

Anyway, if you can fill more than one bus an hour, operating cost for trains is way lower per person.

AG February 20, 2015 - 7:04 am

Yup… Though I wonder why they haven’t adopted start/stop technology to stop idling… But maybe the starters haven’t been made as robust for buses as they are on cars now..?

lop February 16, 2015 - 12:51 am

For 2013 MTABus lists total expenses at ~737 million. After payroll the largest expense is a 100 million OPEB obligation line item. Separate from the 46 million pension, and 18.5 million OPEB current payment listed under labor expenses. Is that 100 million the past debt you have in mind, or do you think they hide more of it somewhere? Total revenue is only ~231 million for reference.

How many other bus riders were heading to or from the concert? Was the bus an hour earlier or later just as crowded? Is the B61 comparably expensive to operate as all other routes? ~3 million annual vehicle revenue hours. You’d have to get total expenses down to ~77 per bus hour for that to break even. If bus drivers get paid decently and you don’t underfund retirement benefits is that a feasible operating cost?

Nathanael February 20, 2015 - 5:21 am

” His case study for a cheaper alternative to rail projects is the LA Orange Line, a true BRT system that took over a former rail right of way and cost much more than BRT implementations in NYC. And while it is was certainly cheaper to implement than any of other lines in the LA Metro system, it moves fewer riders than all the other LA Metro lines, including the green line, which also doesn’t go to Downtown LA.”

….and the LA Orange Line is overcrowded, and they’re talking about replacing it with a rail line. Because you can’t make longer buses (they’re already double-articulated) and you can’t run them closer together (they’re already bunching). This on the line which carries fewer people than any of the rail lines.

This is pretty much game, set, and match in favor of rail on major corridors. The most successful bus “right of way” corridors… are too successful and need to be replaced with rail.

Brooklynite February 15, 2015 - 12:39 pm

I do not understand how freight will be impacted by the Triboro RX. Maybe someone can explain what is done on the North London line (which handles both freight and frequent passenger service) that cannot be done here, but it seems to me that even with the Cross-Harbor tunnel passenger service will be possible on the line.

pete February 16, 2015 - 5:37 pm

US Rail safety laws require a passenger train to hit at 80 mph a stopped 315,000 lbs per car coal train and for the passenger train to have no head on structural collapse or deformation from the impact. AKA “bounce right off”. No where else in the world do safety laws require that. Not even passenger autos.

Brooklynite February 16, 2015 - 6:14 pm

If you’re talking about FRA crash standards, what the line needs is M7-like cars with more doors and different seating. Using rapid transit rolling stock will not work.

But the point I’m making is that it is possible to run passenger and freight service simultaneously.

Larry Littlefield February 16, 2015 - 5:19 pm

This discussion is still going on?

Just remember that a subway line was built to allow people to travel between boroughs in the most job-rich parts of them — Long Island City, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn. The G.

These areas lost jobs after the G was built, and it was cut back to little more than an afterthought. But as jobs expand in these areas, all it would take is to make the trains full length to add service.

Of course a bus transfer would be required to get to the waterfront or places such as Sunset Park. But there is crosstown service, and that’s why it was put there. There were once lots of jobs in Brooklyn and Queens, and now there are again.


Leave a Comment