In many areas, New York City’s bus system is slow, unreliable, and the only way for residents to get to work and school.
But incoming mayor Bill de Blasio could make things a lot better — even with no direct control of the city’s public transit system.
The Problem With The Buses
In a recent report funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pratt Center for Community Development noted that rising housing costs have pushed many New Yorkers from well-served areas, putting “a long, slow bus ride” between them and the nearest subway station.
More than 758,000 New Yorkers commute over an hour each way.
“There is no imaginable scenario in which the subway system could be expanded to meet the needs of fast-growing outer borough neighborhoods,” the report says. Residents of “transit-starved neighborhoods need higher performance than SBS [Select Bus Service] can achieve — they need Bus Rapid Transit.”
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) offers some advantages of a subway, without the enormous cost and hassle of building underground. The buses have their own lanes and get traffic signal priority at intersections. Riders pay their fares at the station, so the boarding process is faster.
In the past few years, a few BRT-like routes have been created, dubbed Select Bus Service. (The Pratt report argues that full-blown BRT routes would do more good.) De Blasio has promised more. According to his website:
“It’s time to take the next step. Bill de Blasio will work to phase in the creation of a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 lines, linking communities underserved by transit to the city’s primary transportation and employment hubs.
“These routes will offer one-seat commutes from Co-op City to the West Side, from Long Island City to LaGuardia Airport, and from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights.”
Making It Happen
That sounds good, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs public transit in the region, is a state agency, so de Blasio has no direct control over how it operates.
Yet there are two key ways he can have an impact anyway, Gene Russianoff, chief spokesperson of the advocacy group Straphangers Campaign, told Business Insider.
First of all, de Blasio can choose a commissioner for the Department of Transportation who will work well with the MTA. The “long checkered history” of strained relations between the organisations improved during the tenure of Janette Sadik-Khan, the outgoing commissioner, Russianoff said. Transit groups are advocating for a nominee who will continue that good relationship.
De Blasio will take office on January 1, but has not yet publicly announced a choice for DOT commissioner.
Secondly, de Blasio can make good on his campaign promise to “allocate funding from the city’s capital budget to accelerate implementation” of bus rapid transit, “at a fraction of the cost of major subway projects.”
That’s been done before. Under outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City funded the $US2 billion extension of the 7 subway line to the West Side, a five-year project that should be complete this summer.
The MTA is eternally strapped for cash, so extra funding would be a huge help. If de Blasio “wants this to move ahead,” Russianoff said, “having a financial contribution from the City would make a big difference.
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