Transit advocates and elected officials gathered outside Brooklyn Borough Hall last Thursday to release the latest grades for all 246 bus routes. According to the coalition, nearly 75 percent of MTA bus lines received a “D” or “F” grade.
On average, bus speeds declined from 7.3 miles per hour in 2015 to just under 7 miles per hour last year. Buses were also more bunched in 2017, increasing by 2.4 percent in two years.
Worst of all, bus ridership in New York City declined by 6.1 percent from 2016 to 2017, the worst single-year drop in the last 15 years, according to the report. Ridership fell just 1.6 percent the prior year.
“This goes far beyond a fluke or a few more people using Uber,” said Zak Accuardi, senior program analyst at TransitCenter, one of the organizations in the coalition. “If the subway is in crisis, then the bus system is a bonafide catastrophe.”
With congested roads throughout the borough, Manhattan’s buses were the slowest at 5 miles per hour. That’s not much faster than an average human walking at 3.1 miles per hour. Brooklyn’s buses have shown to be the most bunched.
No bus lines in Brooklyn received an A grade. The only bus to receive an A was the Q35, which runs from Rockaway Park to Brooklyn College.
To speed up buses, decrease bunching and ultimately increase ridership, advocates also recommended a number of suggestions for city and MTA officials. The coalition called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to create bus lanes with enforcement and to give signal priorities to buses.
They also want the MTA to expand all-door boarding for local routes when the agency eventually replaces the MetroCard. They also demanded that the MTA redesign routes they consider out-of-date and ineffective.
Stephanie Burgos-Veras, a senior organizer with Riders Alliance, said unreliable bus service costs riders both time and money.
“That causes us to be late to work, to build extra time into our schedules, and miss appointments and events because buses don’t arrive,” she said. “There are 2.5 million bus riders who are suffering and have been suffering for way too long. They need service they can rely on.”
Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said his local bus, the Bx19, is among the 74 percent of buses that received a failing grade. As a result, riders of the Bx19 “avoid the bus at all costs.” Instead, they prefer to walk or drive.
Sifuentes noted that with the L train shutdown looming next year, the MTA is at a critical juncture. While the majority of L train riders will likely use other train lines, a significant portion will rely on a bus to get them to Manhattan.
“If we’re at a time when we can’t even have bus service that works in local communities, it’s almost difficult to trust the MTA is going to be able to get this right in such a critical situation,” he said.
State Senator Brian Kavanagh added that buses will be important to get across the Williamsburg Bridge and other parts of Brooklyn affected by the closure.
“When we are not seeing reliable service under current circumstances, it’s particularly hard to imagine how we’re going to accommodate something like the L train shutdown,” he said.
The issue of unreliable buses also hits hard in Queens, where two-thirds of the borough is considered a “transit desert.” Public Advocate Letitia James said she wants to expand bus routes in transit deserts in both Brooklyn and Queens.
The impending congestion pricing proposal, which the governor will announce in the coming weeks, will likely factor into how to turnaround bus usage and speeds. Tabitha Decker, deputy executive director of TransitCenter, said they strongly support congestion pricing to help the bus system.
“Congestion pricing can alleviate some of the traffic in Manhattan,” she said. “On the other hand, we can use the revenue from congestion pricing to invest in bus improvements.”
James said she will take a position on the plan when it comes out, but she noted she supported congestion pricing as a councilwoman. Kavanagh, also a proponent of a pricing mechanism, said he will also review the governor’s plan.
For now, advocates want the MTA and the mayor to make improvements where possible.
“I’d put it on my refrigerator,” said Accuardi, when asked if he would put the failing grades on his fridge, “as a reminder that we need to do better.”