MTA to pitch bus fixes this spring

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With city buses plagued by declining ridership, officials pledge solutions will be forthcoming


  • Ridership on NYCT buses is down over 11 percent since 2012, MTA data shows. Photo: Michael Garofalo

  • NYCT President Andy Byford has promised to release a comprehensive plan to improve bus service. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Though delays in subway service have attracted the bulk of attention surrounding the current struggles of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, steep and steady declines in bus ridership in recent years, concentrated largely in Manhattan, offer a reminder that the New York’s transportations problems extend to street level.

Average weekday ridership on New York City Transit buses dropped 5.6 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to preliminary MTA data released last week, marking the fifth consecutive year of declining ridership. Since 2012, average weekday NYCT bus ridership is down over 11 percent.

MTA leaders plan to present detailed plans for enhancing bus service and reversing ridership trends this spring.

Andy Byford, who took office as president of NYCT in January after previously heading Toronto’s public transportation system, has named improving bus service as one of his top priorities. “Performance is nowhere near good enough,” Byford said of the transit system as a whole at a meeting of the MTA board’s transit committee last week, adding that there are too many performance interruptions on the subway in particular.

This spring, officials will release a bus strategy to mirror the subway action plan announced last summer by MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. Byford said that his team is planning to present a plan to the MTA board in April regarding implementation of improvements to local bus service. “That’s coming together, and that will be a comprehensive piece of work,” he said.

Darryl Irick, president of MTA Bus and senior vice president of NYCT Buses, told MTA board members that the plan will take “bold and radical steps to really turn the bus system around.”

“President Byford has challenged me and my team to take steps to improve the bus system and arrest the steady decline in ridership,” Irick said. “We accept that challenge and we envision that challenge to be very bold, very aggressive, relying on many of the time-honored techniques that we’ve used in the past such as [Select Bus Service].”

Though 2017 ridership data on a route-by-route basis is not yet available, ridership drops in past years have been most acute in Manhattan. Average weekday ridership on Manhattan local bus routes dropped 3.4 percent from 2015 to 2016, the largest drop of any borough. From 2011 to 2016 local bus ridership in Manhattan fell 16 percent, according to a report released last fall by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The MTA cited reduced customer demand as justification for service cuts to several Manhattan bus routes last year, including the crosstown M31, M42, M66 and M72 routes. The move was criticized by some bus riders and local elected officials, who claimed that ridership drops could be attributed to slow and infrequent bus service. (The M31, M42, and M66 routes were each among the four slowest buses in the entire city, according to Stringer’s study.) Critics feared the service changes would lead to what some bus advocates characterize as a self-perpetuating cycle of cuts and further ridership drops spurred on by decreased service.

Lhota has called for the enhanced enforcement of traffic laws and the implementation of a congestion pricing plan to improve traffic flow and bus efficiency. The Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, wants the MTA to allow riders to board buses using all doors to reduce the amount of time buses spend at stops.

In March, the MTA will unveil a new performance metrics dashboard for the bus system. The dashboard, which will be available online, is intended to present riders with data measuring service quality in a user-friendly format. The dashboard will allow users to track recent and historical performance of the bus system using a number of new metrics, including bus speeds, additional wait time and additional on-bus time, in addition to so-called legacy performance measurements long used by the MTA such as wait assessment. The tool will be similar to the subway performance dashboard released by the MTA last fall, which allows users to track system-wide performance and data measuring individual subway lines.

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