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In NYC, a New System of Buses Expands From the Bronx to Manhattan
A rendering of key components of the new bus system. Photo by NYCDOT.

A rendering of key components of New York's new bus system. Photo by NYCDOT.

In June 2010, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) unveiled its first bus line with elements of bus rapid transit (BRT). The express bus, the Bx12 line, runs east to west across the Bronx with limited stops. Riders pay before getting on the bus, shortening boarding speeds. Thus far, the new bus transports 30 percent more weekly riders than the service it replaced. And 98 percent of riders approve of the system.

An advanced bus system has been a long time coming to New York City, a city whose bus system carries 726 million annual passengers. Now Manhattan’s First and Second avenues will run the Select Bus Service (SBS) on dedicated lanes. According to NYCDOT’s press release, the avenues support one of the slowest bus corridors in the city, moving at average speeds of six miles per hour. The potential time savings for one of the busiest and longest bus routes in the city, the M15, is projected to be 20 percent. The M15 carries 16,541,900 passengers a year and previously took 90 minutes to travel the 8.5-mile route between 125th Street and South Ferry—longer than a train ride from New York to Philadelphia. Overall ridership on bus routes along the avenue will hopefully increase 10 percent and now serve 54,000 daily riders. The revamped line will also feature a three-door bus, easing on-boarding and off-loading times.

Next month NYCDOT will fully enforce dedicated routes where New York State-funded cameras will be installed to deter motorists from using the dedicated bus lanes demarcated by a deep red color paint. Like the new Bronx bus, the system uses off-board fare collection, where passengers use sidewalk fare machines along the route that provide a receipt to passengers as proof of payment.

The new bus route could ease the stress and overflow of the 4, 5, and 6 trains that run along Lexington Avenue. The city began construction on new subway routes on Second Avenue, but the expensive and infrastructure-heavy project is still in the works 75 years after its proposal.

Public Outreach and Public Opinion

As we have advocated and wrote about in recent posts, engaging the general public, city officials and community leaders is critical to a project’s success. NYCDOT was sensitive to this and created a Community Advisory Committee and met with Community Boards.  According to NYCDOT:

As part of the project’s development and implementation outreach, DOT and MTA led an extensive series of public meetings, soliciting and drawing input from elected officials, community groups, businesses, hospitals and other institutions throughout the corridor. Accommodating deliveries, drop-offs and short-term parking were factored into the planning process. . . DOT worked with local businesses to establish delivery windows in curbside bus lanes along portions of the route.

The new system and related infrastructure will be exhaustive. NYCDOT has installed landscaped pedestrian islands and parking-protected or curbside bike lanes in Southern Manhattan. Phase Two will begin in 2011 and include bus priority traffic signals that can extend green lights or shorten red lights as buses approach between South Ferry (at the Southern top of Manhattan) and Houston Street, as NY Daily News reports. Further upgrades to the bike network along the First Avenue and Second Avenue corridors and bus bubs—curb extensions where the sidewalk extends outward to meet the bus—are also being planned.

Reception, however, has been mixed. According to Streetsblog, on the first day of service most riders of the new M15 bus were lining up at the front door (rather than using all available doors.) And despite efforts of on-site MTA staff, “one woman managed to break an off-board payment machine at 116th Street by trying to force her MetroCard into the receipt slot.” Others complained that MTA staff were generally unhelpful.

Riders also worry that they will no longer be able to run for their bus given the pre-pay system and there are concerns that people will evade fares despite plain-clothes fare collectors enforcing the rules with $100 fines.

The service is still very new and it will be interesting to watch how effective it is in terms of usage, improvements in the speed of the buses, and driver and cyclist respect for the dedicated bus lanes.

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