Frustrated bus riders and advocates gathered Thursday in different locations in Manhattan to ask for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s immediate action to improve bus service, which they said has become slow and unreliable.
The Bus Turnaround Coalition, a transit advocacy group, arranged pop-up bus shelters at bus stops in front of City Hall and in Harlem to collect signatures and rider complaints as part a new campaign aimed at pushing the mayor to improve the bus system.
The campaign, called #deBUSio, calls on de Blasio to add 100 miles of bus lanes in the next five years, to increase tickets on unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, to provide commuters with shelters and real time information on the bus schedule and to give buses priority at traffic lights.
During Thursday’s events, several riders complained about overcrowded, unreliable and slow bus service.
“We are trying to get the kids to school, trying to get to job interviews, trying to get to work,” Deborah Baldwin, a transit advocate and regular bus rider, said during a morning press conference outside City Hall. “When the bus does not come it’s unbelievable frustrating. We get on, and the bus lane is blocked by illegally parked cars, by delivery trucks. We begin to wonder ‘Am I really living in a world-class city?’.”
In 2016, more than 56 percent of the 8 million residents in New York City used public transit to get to work, according to Data USA.
In the same year, it took New York commuters 40 minutes, on average, to get to work. Workers in most other American cities needed only around 25 minutes, Data USA showed.
In a previous initiative, the Bus Turnaround Coalition analyzed and tested bus lines in all five boroughs and graded them according to speed and reliability. A majority of bus lines received failing grades.
“New York City has the slowest buses out of any major city in the country, despite having such a big bus network,” said Jaqi Cohen, campaign organizer for the transit advocacy group Straphangers Campaign, in an interview. “Bus services are only getting worse as the streets get more crowded and congested with traffic.”
Transit advocates are asking the mayor to give buses priority on the streets, she added.
A November 2017 report by the New York City comptroller found that New York City Transit Authority buses travelled at an average speed of 7.4 miles per hour, the slowest among the 17 biggest urban bus companies in the United States.
Speed, however, was only one of the issues bus riders raised on Thursday. Buses also don’t run frequently enough, some riders said. “The timing is terrible in between the buses,” said Alicia Rogers who was waiting with her grandson for the M15 bus at 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
Rogers said she doesn’t need the bus to go to work but uses it every day to run errands. She usually has to wait between 15 to 25 minutes for a bus to come, she said. “They don’t have enough buses out during the busiest time,” she said. “When the buses do come, they are too full to get on.”
According to the Bus Turnaround Coalition, unreliable service has led some New Yorkers to abandon the bus. The number of weekday riders in the city has decreased by 11 percent since 2012, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
“Low ridership can cause a destructive spiral in which bus service is slashed as riders choose to avoid it,” the advocacy group wrote on its website.
The comptroller’s report called the bus situation “a product of age-old institutional failures by the City and the MTA to maximize the system’s potential.”
To improve the service, the comptroller recommended the MTA review the bus network and update the bus system’s technology and frequency. The report also called on the city to make improvements in “maintenance, design, and enforcement of bus lanes.”
In April, the MTA, a state organization, released an action plan to improve the city’s bus service, taking into account the advocacy group’s demands, Cohen of the Straphangers said. However, she added the city’s administration has not committed to the plan yet, which is why they launched this new initiative to press de Blasio to take action. The system cannot get better without the city’s cooperation and participation, Cohen said. “The MTA owns the bus, the city owns the streets, both need to work together to make buses faster,” she said.
Asked about the #deBUSio action, Seth Stein a de Blasio spokesman, said the mayor is working to make bus service better. “We are aggressively enforcing bus lane violations, while also improving our city’s bus system by expanding Select Bus Service and rolling out more dedicated bus lanes,” he said.
As she waited for the bus, Rogers disagreed. “For me, no it hasn’t improved,” she said. “They need to do a lot better than what they do on the buses. It’s terrible.”