Keep New York On Track, Off the Tracks


91st Street (RR, 2016)


New York City’s subway network was designed for speed. It was purposefully built near the surface, along major transportation corridors, not only in order to lower costs, but in order to ease congestion on the street, and allow for quick access to stations. Unlike newer sections of the subway, dug deep underground in order to satisfy street-level NIMBYists, the original subways sacrificed short-term for long-term, 24/7 convenience. Trunk routes were built with three or four tracks, not only to increase capacity, but to increase speed. If they only wanted to increase capacity, the express tracks would just be additional local tracks, and would also stop at every station.

The city’s grid system was also designed for efficiency, which would later translate to greater speed underground, on a series of subway trunk routes, built straight, without much need for eminent domain. While progressives quickly lament Robert Moses’ highways, they’re less quick to realize that New York’s streets are also a product of urban renewal (or the streets of Paris, Boston’s Back Bay, and so on, so forth). Unlike Lower Manhattan’s streets, the portion of the City designed for the grid was already replete with houses, many of which were completely obliterated by the grid’s monotonous efficiency. Lots were razed, leveled, bisected, and subdivided, turning Manhattan, named as such from Manahatta, the Lenape word for an island of many hills, into a flat, efficient, business hub of the world.

The grid maximized the potential of the island, while destroying most of the hills, valleys, forests, and streams. Surveying was an immense task, and it wasn’t easy to continue with such a massive, controversial plan, which sometimes turned violent, when owners realized their land was going to be destroyed. Ultimately, though, NIMBYism did not prevail.

The City acquired land and compensated owners, and then owners helped to pay for the City’s pavement, similar to how developers today often contribute funds for transit improvements, in exchange for receiving a building permit, based on assessed values. Developers also built avenues themselves, such as Lexington Avenue, which was not part of the original plan. There were to be more avenues near the shores of Manhattan, because the designers didn’t foresee containerization and assumed that business would be concentrated along the docks. The city also expanded outwards, with landfill (partly from subway construction) expanding Manhattan and surrounding islands; an artificial island was even created due from Steinway Tunnel construction.

These visionary leaders recognized that New York was growing, and that speed would be necessary in order for the region to remain connected. Today, with bus ridership declining, leaders are once again looking to improve speed (and reduce bunching).

Courtesy of the TransitCenter:

A new report urges a comprehensive reworking of the city’s bus network.

In 2002, New York City Transit recorded some substantial bus ridership numbers as 762 million people paid to ride the bus. It’s been all downhill since then, as only 650 million people used buses last year. Meanwhile, over the same period of time, New York City’s subway ridership has grown from 1.413 billion rides to 1.762 billion last year, and the population of the city has grown by around five percent. When it comes to buses, something isn’t working.

This isn’t, of course, a new development. A few weeks ago, a NYC DOT report showed how slow travel speeds, among other issues, has led to less reliable and less popular bus service, and we’ve seen how some fairly minor enhancements to bus service — dedicated lanes and pre-board fare payment — can reduce travel times. Now, a coalition of transit advocates and New York City politicians are putting pressure on both the city and MTA to do something to improve bus service and prioritize the bus network.

In a report issued last week called “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses” [pdf], the Transit Center, Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign and Tri-State Transportation Campaign have called for a redesigned bus network with service enhancements and best-in-class infrastructure including pre-board fare payment and dedicated street space. It’s almost revolutionary for New York but standard practice the world over. Full-scale implementation should combat the causes that have depressed bus ridership over the past decade and a half, but it will take a multi-agency effort across city and state agencies to see through.

The decline in bus ridership over the past 14 years highlights the flaws in the city’s approach to building a bus network.

Tabitha Decker, Transit Center’s NYC Program Director, summed up the recommendations. “Many of New York’s global peers, such as London and Seoul, have turned around bus systems that were in decline, even though these cities have large-scale urban rail too. They have done this by making bus travel fast, frequent, and reliable using tools like smart card based fare payment and the use of real time data to keep buses on schedule.”

The recommendations are broken down into segments. First, the report urges redesigning the bus network for more frequent and efficient service. Today’s bus network is a relic of New York City’s old streetcars, and the routes are often twisting and turning paths that end at borough borders rather than a transit hubs or other popular destinations. The coalition wants to straighten out routes for faster travel times and, as the report states, “rightsize the distance between bus stops. New York is a global outlier in terms of how closely stops are spaced, and on many routes, stops are even closer together than our own standards dictate. Optimizing the number of stops will speed trips for riders.”

The second section focuses on fare payment and boarding. Obviously, a tap-and-go system will significantly reduce boarding times if a pre-board fare payment system for all local buses is too costly. All-door boarding would reduce station dwell times as well. (The Riders Alliance recently issued a different report raising concerns with the MTA’s next-generation fare payment plans that could have ramifications for buses as well.) Continued investment in low-floor buses should improve the boarding process as well, the report noted.

Next, the report urges the MTA to change the way it dispatches and controls buses that are en route to ensure buses arrive on schedule and avoid bus bunching. In addition to dispatching buses on time, the MTA should hold buses en route to improve service. This is a bit of a controversial recommendation as it could lead to delays for passengers during their travels, but the coalition feels a more proactive, headway-based control process should improve service for everyone.

Dedicated lanes and signal prioritization can help speed up the city’s notorious slow buses.

Finally, in a recommendation that would overhaul the way buses interact with the streets, the report urges a massive expansion of dedicated lanes, a renewed focus on bus bulbs and boarding islands to “eliminate time spent weaving in and out of traffic,” signal prioritization and queue-jump lanes for buses. These changes would require DOT and the MTA to collaborate and would likely require authorization from Albany as well. It’s politically tricky but not impossible.

And yet, while an expansive coalition of New York City politics voiced their support for these bus turnarounds, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Grand Poobah of New York State politics, in comments to Politico New York, dismissed bus problems with a wave of his hand a complete lack of understanding. “If people in Manhattan are choosing to jump on the subway because the subway is faster, because there’s traffic that a bus has to deal with — that’s not an imprudent choice, right?” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, who thinks a USB charging port on a bus is some form of revolutionary improvement, doesn’t seem to understand the role the bus network could play in New York City, and Ben Fried took it too him in a post on Streetsblog last week. Cuomo’s Manhattan-centric view of travel speeds betrays his belief that traffic is a force of nature that cannot be addressed through rational policies and that buses mirror subways. As Fried writes, “The governor’s theory about people ditching the bus for the train simply doesn’t apply to the vast number of New Yorkers who ride these routes [that cover territory that the subway does not] and would benefit enormously from the recommendations in the Bus Turnaround report.”

In response to the report, the MTA noted that it is in the process of implementing some of these upgrades and that the agency has undertaken certain studies regarding specific routes. But overall, the MTA, DOT and city and state officials need to engage in a concerted effort to reroute and redraw bus routes while improving the infrastructure upon which buses rely. If they don’t, ridership will continue to decline, and buses will forever remain stuck with the stigma of being a second-class transportation option.

While we’ve only received one new subway station in the past few decades, our roads have been dramatically altered with bike lanes and bus lanes, and more are coming. Due to the city’s density and mass transit options, car ownership is relatively low for an American city, so bus lanes are more politically possible than in other U.S. cities, though, still not as politically popular as they’re in developing countries. (At the same time, car ownership is a tremendous status symbol in developing countries.)

SBS, which has recently come to the rebranded Q70 to LaGuardia, has its own, separate stops, and pre-board payment, in order to ease boarding. Sidewalks are extended towards the bus lane at raised SBS platforms, so that sidewalks are less congested, and so that buses don’t have to turn into the parking lane in order to pick up and drop off passengers. Local buses don’t stop at SBS stops because it would lead to congestion, and SBS stops have bus shelters (paid for by advertisements, similar to P3 ads on garbage cans, newsstands, LinkNYC, and CitiBike), bus countdown clocks, frequency information, and way-finding maps, showing the locations of subway lines.

SBS is a big improvement, and it’s certainly better than many American cities’ bus rapid transit systems. There are actually BRT standards, and the American city with the best BRT is Cleveland’s RTA HealthLine, but other countries tend to have better BRT networks. In Cleveland, the HealthLine runs along the center of the road, so that the limited number of parked vehicles along the curb don’t interfere with the bus lane. The bus stops are on the median of the road, accessible through crosswalks, and doors open on the left, to stations along the median strip. There’s little space for parking along the road, and the buses get signal priority.


Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, buses have their own separate roads, and in Ottawa, there is an intensive BRT network, with entirely separated lanes, even highways, for buses and emergency vehicles. While it doesn’t have pre-board payment or bicycle racks, it does have English and French announcements. In Sydney, bus lanes are also HOV lanes, and in Melbourne, which has the largest tramway network in the world, they run along the center of the road, akin to BRT standards. (BRT in Las Vegas also runs along the center of the road, in dedicated lanes.)


HOV Lanes on Sydney Harbor Bridge (RR, 2016)


BRT in Las Vegas (RR, 2016)


And in other countries, such as Ecuador, Quito’s BRT travels along roads that go underneath major intersections, avoiding traffic lights altogether. These are also articulated buses; double decker buses aren’t as good for speed because people have to climb stairs, leading to longer dwells.


Quito BRT (RR, 2010)


Quito BRT (RR, 2010)


Unfortunately though, many supposedly bus rapid transit routes aren’t rapid at all. In Boston, the Silver Line from Logan Airport to South Station is free (Massport pays the MBTA), but the Silver Line along Washington Street has no pre-board payment infrastructure, and the bus lane is along the side of the street, so it has to deal with parking cars and turning vehicles. Also, these offset lanes are not enforced well, leading to a lot of double parking and stopping. The Silver Line along Washington Street should not be shown on the T’s subway map, since it’s just a regular bus with a bus lane along the side of Washington Street.


Silver Line in South Boston (RR, 2016)


Silver Line in South Boston (RR, 2016)


Shouldn’t they at least have some advertisements or retail in this huge facility? (RR, 2016)


Silver Line on Washington Street (RR, 2016)


And some of the MBTA Green Line routes on the street, such as the E, don’t even have separated lanes. These streetcars operate in the same lanes as vehicles, and without signal priority or pre-board payment, some portions of the Green Line are worse than the Silver Line, which at least has a bus lane. Also, if one of these streetcars fails, traffic is halted, and unlike buses, streetcars can’t swerve around the problem.


MBTA E Green Line (RR, 2016)


Then there’s the Ashmont-Mattapan Line, which can’t be operated with newer light rail vehicles because the bridges on the old railroad ROW would collapse under the weight. Perhaps they can tear up the tracks and build a bus corridor. After all, it is quite expensive to maintain these old PCC cars and ridership is so low that a bus corridor would be more efficient.


Mattapan Terminal (RR, 2016)


While the Silver Line on Washington Street shouldn’t be shown on the T’s map, since it’s just a normal bus line, New York’s SBS routes should be shown. SBS does not use the center lane either, so it runs slower, but at least they have pre-board payment machines and proof-of-payment, and level boarding to speed up entry. Passengers can enter through any door, leading to shorter dwell times.


SBS and CitiBikes at South Ferry (RR, 2016)


SBS in Jamaica, Queens (RR, 2016)


SBS in Midtown (RR, 2016)


SBS in Midtown (RR, 2016)


Also, most of New York’s SBS routes don’t have parked cars along the side of the street because they are curbside bus lanes, and parking and standing at the curb are not permitted during hours that the bus lane is in effect. And when a new payment card is rolled out, these pre-board machines will be removed, freeing space on the sidewalk, because hopefully the card will allow for customers to tap on/off on the bus, and proof of payment would be shown by someone scanning cards to see that it’s been activated on the bus. Ideally, a universal payment method will one day work for the parking meters, ferries, light rail, taxis, buses, subways, and commuter rails. This would allow for a more seamless, speedy trip throughout the region.


There are still plenty of conflicts on bus lanes in NYC. (RR, 2016)


(And if commuter rails have tap on and tap off technology at stations within the City and closest to the City, then projects like Penn Access would make more sense, because conductors often don’t have time to check everyone’s tickets so close to the terminals. Proof-of-payment and random inspections would make it easier for commuters to take the Metro-North to Yankee Stadium, or LIRR to the US Open, or to other nearby stations, such as 125th, where passengers aren’t allowed to disembark because there’s no time to check them from GCT. NJT already has turnstiles at Secaucus Junction, on the upper platform, because conductors don’t have enough time to check everyone’s tickets from Penn Station.)


Secaucus Junction Turnstiles & Retail (RR, 2016)


Cleveland RTA Proof-of-Payment (RR, 2016)


Turnstiles in City Circle, Sydney for Commuter Rail Trains (RR, 2016)


Turnstiles at Sydney Central Station (RR, 2016)


Tap on and off infrastructure in Melbourne suburban train station (RR, 2016)


Turnstiles at Britomart Transport Centre in Auckland (RR, 2016)


Turnstiles in Dublin (RR, 2016)


For now, with the MetroCard, the sidewalk machines are a bit inconvenient, because unlike the City’s new parking meters, debit cards cannot be used in order to minimize transaction fees. Only exact change can be used, and dollar bills cannot be used (nor can they be used on local buses), since it’s expensive to count them. Of course, it makes sense that larger bills cannot be used, because the MTA doesn’t want thousands of dollars sitting on the sidewalks. And exact change is required because it is expensive to return change, and because, on local buses, exact change is also required. (Prior to 1969, exact change wasn’t required, but NYCT realized that there would be fewer robberies, and service would also be sped up if drivers weren’t distracted by providing change. Phone booths didn’t give out change, so why did air conditioned buses need to give out change?)

Also, if the bus is at the stop, one needs to pay before boarding, and if there’s a line, one’ll miss the bus. Some systems have similar machines inside the buses or trams, through all doors, such as in Toronto, Amsterdam, and Berlin, but this causes crowding inside the buses, and machines take away capacity. (In Sao Paulo, there are actually turnstiles in the buses, and a conductor to collect payment, while in Hanoi, there are no turnstiles or machines, and a conductor collects cash.) So, for now, these SBS machines will need to be on the sidewalks, until a new card technology is implemented. It’s especially inconvenient on Staten Island, where there are only a few official MTA vending machines, so most people buy their cards from merchants, who don’t charge a fee, but receive a commission.


In Masdar, UAE, one can tap on and off of the bus at this stop, and elsewhere. (RR, 2016)


In Dubai, UAE, many of the bus shelters are air conditioned. (RR, 2016)


In Toronto, newer light rail vehicles allow payment to be purchased on the vehicle. (RR, 2016)


In Toronto, passengers can tap on and off of these light rail vehicles at any door. (RR, 2016)


If New York wants to continue to improve buses, WiFi and charging outlets may help, but improving speed, reliability, and frequency are the most important things. While Transit Wireless is paying to add WiFi to the subway, customers are paying for slow service on buses, and WiFi may speed up their 4G connection, but not their physical connection. Nevertheless, to be fair, New York has been doing a better job with bus lanes, working out the kinks, and getting signal priority as well as more cameras to enforce the lanes and issue fines. Now, DOT and the MTA have worked together to build high visibility stations, and high capacity and low floor vehicles.

Given all of this investment for SBS, it seems rather inefficient that the City is spending a disproportionate amount of time planning for a light rail route in Brooklyn and Queens, the BQX. Even if the BQX is mainly on a dedicated lane, like SBS, if one of the vehicles fails, it will disable the entire line. Unlike buses, light rail is a lot less flexible, and unless they’re Guided Light Transit, they need to stay on the rails. Perhaps light rails can have more capacity, but a dedicated bus lane could also move many people. There are BRT systems around the world that carry more people than most American subways and light rail networks, at a fraction of the cost. Also, BQX would not be operated by the MTA (De Blasio doesn’t want interference from Cuomo), so it’s questionable if free transfers would be allowed, or even if MetroCard would be used. And if there isn’t going to be pre-board payment and POP, then it’ll be quite slow, like Boston’s Green Line, which only has pre-board payment (turnstiles) at underground stations.


Portland Bus & Light Rail ROW (RR, 2016)


16th Street Mall in Denver (RR, 2016)


16th Street Mall in Denver (RR, 2016)


16th Street Mall in Denver (RR, 2016)


Light Rail ROW in Athens, Greece (RR, 2016)


Light Rail ROW in Gold Coast, Australia (RR, 2016)


Tram ROW in Melbourne, Australia (RR, 2016)


Tram ROW in Melbourne, Australia (RR, 2016)


Tram ROW in Dubai, UAE (RR, 2016)


The TransitCenter has some good questions:

  • If New York City has $2.5 billion to spend on improving transportation, what evidence indicates starting a streetcar system is the best use of the money?  What led City Hall to conclude the Brooklyn-Queens line would be a good deal for taxpayers and straphangers in light of weak performance by recent streetcar projects in other cities?
  • How will the city pay? Is there evidence that enough additional real estate value will be created to support tax-increment financing? Are construction tax breaks factored into the analysis? Much of the property adjacent to the route is undergoing large-scale development without the spur of a new transit proposal. Would more value be realized by supporting transit projects of proven effectiveness in other parts of the city?
  • How will riders pay? Will transfers between systems be free? If not, the line may be used mainly by riders willing to pay two fares.
  • What is the anticipated role of streetcars in the city’s transportation strategy? Will the Brooklyn-Queens streetcar be one-of-a-kind, or the start of a new network? When London, for example, began to build its first light rail lines in the 1980s, the routes and stations were slated for an area with little Underground service and the vehicles were designed to operate at high speeds in completely dedicated rail rights-of-way. Today, the service directly connects to Underground stations and a long-range program of expansion was established and remains in effect.
  • What is the market for the line? At present, rush-hour crowding is chronic on the 4, 5, 7, A, E, and L trains, among others, showing that travel demand and capacity needs for Brooklyn-Manhattan and Queens-Manhattan trips are not adequately served by current rail infrastructure. Buses serving the waterfront corridor today move about 30,000 daily riders and most of these routes connect to Manhattan-bound subways, unlike the streetcar. Has the city consulted with these riders in determining the need for a streetcar?
  • Why is the line on the waterfront? A substantial portion will be in the floodplain of the East River. Route maps already released show the streetcar fails to connect with subway stations along much of its route, even though most travel demand in its service area is to and from Manhattan. Additionally, the area that is walking-distance from a streetcar station is naturally cut in half by the presence of the water.

The BQX will need to have seamless connections and be part of intensive street redesigns in order to be successful. The BQX will also need to have an efficient power source, and it’s unclear if it’ll be powered by overhead lines or not, since they’re not in renderings. New Yorkers certainly need to be critical of this project, considering all of the work that’s being done to make buses faster, and considering all of the failed American light rail attempts. Unlike D.C.’s streetcar, which operates on the side of the road and is frequently blocked by turning vehicles and double parked vehicles, the BQX light rail is supposedly mainly getting dedicated lanes. But even still, this project will be far more expensive than a SBS route, with many likely pitfalls, and it doesn’t seem to be part of a larger strategy of seamlessly connected light rail routes. And bicyclists may get tripped on the rails. Just because it’s on rails doesn’t mean that it’s better than a bus.


D.C. Streetcar (RR, 2016)


We can make our buses so much better, especially with today’s technology, such as GTFS. Car sharing services are bridging the gap between formal and informal transportation, and Google is making it easier to drive, by routing drivers along the most efficient routes. Waze works on the streets, but what about for public transit? What about for Sub-Waze? Many SBS stations now have screens listing the next arriving bus, and subways and buses will soon have WiFi, while taxis are also getting improved. But more needs to be done, and BQX is a distraction. It shows that the City is not committed to improving buses.

The MTA has been working to consolidate bus operations. Since the mid-2000s, the MTA Bus Company has operated services previously administered by private carriers operating under agreements administered by the New York City Department of Transportation, the successor to the New York City Bureau of Franchises. The MTA has consolidated management, with a unified command center to reduce redundancies, and they’re working to add more countdown clocks, SBS branded routes, and more low-floor, articulated, kneeling buses, so that people can board faster. Meanwhile, there’s the BQX, fighting for scarce resources and attention, and there isn’t even a real plan for it.

The City believes that the BQX can help to revive the waterfront, historically the industrial heart of the city, and make it more utilized and accessible. Thus, the City has been rightly building bike paths, and allowing for residential units along the waterfront, while connecting New Yorkers to ferries and creating new jobs and facilities for the creative economy. But an SBS route could also connect employment hubs, neighborhoods, parks, schools, and hospitals. SBS could also connect 10 ferry landings, 30 different bus routes, 15 different subway lines, 116 Citi Bike stations, and 6 LIRR lines. It could also run on its own ROW with signal priority, and be ADA accessible, with bike racks at stations, and run frequently. Does the City just not want to work with Cuomo’s MTA?

Similarly, with the L train closing in 2019 for Sandy repairs, it’s not clear if the City and MTA will work together to not just fix the damage, but improve the line. According to the MTA, the Canarsie Tunnel suffered extensive damage to tracks, signals, switches, power cables, signal cables, communication cables, lighting, cable ducts and bench walls throughout a seven-mile long flooded section of both tubes. Bench walls throughout those sections must be replaced to protect the structural integrity of the two tubes that carry trains through the tunnel. The MTA is going to be adding new stairs and elevators at the Bedford Avenue station in Brooklyn and the 1 Avenue station in Manhattan, and three new electric substations will be installed, providing more power to operate additional trains during rush hours. But what about 14th Street?

Transportation Alternatives has an idea:

  • The PeopleWay is our opportunity to create a more “complete street” on 14th, by reconfiguring street space away from private automobile traffic and toward transit and active transportation. This means limiting access to private automobiles and building bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and wider sidewalks.

  • The PeopleWay could double the capacity of 14th Street to move New Yorkers to their destinations. It will be safer and more efficient, two wins!

  • With the impending L-Train shut down the PeopleWay needs to happen now. The L-Train serves 50,000 people every day in Manhattan alone. To avert huge delays for local residents, New York City needs to dramatically improve surface transit along the corridor!

  • Without redesigning the 14th Street corridor into the PeopleWay, New Yorkers will either be forced into other, already strained (and slow!) transit options or may even turn to for-hire vehicles and private cars as an alternative to the L train, creating worse congestion on 14th – and neighboring streets – than ever before. The PeopleWay would alleviate any increase in congestion and increase the number of people taking transit, walking, and biking.

  • The huge majority of New Yorkers who take transit, walk, or bike to get to where they are going! (Residents along the L-Train corridor, in particular, have among the lowest rates of car ownership in the city.)

  • Seniors and people with limited mobility who would benefit from better bus service, bus shelters, benches, bus bulbs, and accessible pedestrian signals  (APS).

  • Residents of Stuytown, the Lower East Side, and the West Side of Manhattan who need to be able to get crosstown!

  • With the L-Train shutting down, local businesses need the tens-of-thousands of riders  who use the corridor every day to continue coming to their neighborhoods! Any significant drop-off could harm businesses that depend on high levels of foot-traffic. The PeopleWay would increase foot traffic, and boost local business!

  • The Fulton Street Mall in Downtown Brooklyn is a great example of a successful bus/pedestrian-only retail street in NYC. It welcomes more than 100,000 shoppers/day to 150+ retail businesses, and is the most successful retail strip in the city outside of Manhattan.  They have a successful model for deliveries that can be replicated on the 14th Street PeopleWay.

Our cities are at a tipping point as we fight for space amidst all of the traffic, congestion, emissions, and smog. Speed is necessary in order to cut down commuting times, so that people can have more time with their friends and families. And speed requires connections, collaborations, and communications, and an understanding of the relationship between land use and transportation. Better data will help, but only if it’s shared. From GPS bike bells, which alert municipalities of problems on the road, to the 14th Street PeopleWay, ideas abound, but they require folks to mobilize for mobility.


The Fulton Street Mall in Brooklyn was one of the first busways in NYC. (RR, 2016)


The Fulton Street Mall in Brooklyn was one of the first busways in NYC. (RR, 2016)


Coordination between the MTA, DOT, and NYPD is necessary for BRT in New York to be a success. Even Con Ed needs to be involved, because the SBS fare machines are powered on the street. And advocacy groups also need to keep pressing for change. TransitCenter proposes these steps:

Determine how and where the current bus network is failing and redesign as needed. Bold reconsideration and revision of our bus network is overdue. New routes may be needed. Some existing routes may be obsolete or need substantial adjustment.

Redesign indirect routes. Many of our routes have unnecessary turns and deviations. We should take a fresh look at routes, revising them to take the most direct path between major destinations.

Rightsize the distance between bus stops. New York is a global outlier in terms of how closely stops are spaced, and on many routes, stops are even closer together than our own standards dictate. Optimizing the number of stops will speed trips for riders.

Implement tap-and-go onboard fare collection and all-door boarding to dramatically reduce the time spent at bus stops. As the MTA considers new fare-payment technology, the agency should also consider how it can improve the boarding process so that we’re sure to achieve the maximum gains from this significant investment.

Continue to pursue better bus design to improve movement onto and within our buses. For example, low-floor buses and bus doors that open quickly and easily for entering or exiting passengers can reduce time spent at bus stops.

Ensure that buses depart from the terminal on time. Frequent late starts at the beginning of runs make it difficult for buses to provide service at the expected times and with even spacing.

Once buses are on the road, intervene early when they get off track. In cities with the most reliable buses, dispatchers are in constant communication with drivers to modify service and keep buses on schedule. Such intervention is standard practice in New York subways, but not on the city’s buses. MTA New York City Transit’s bus control centers should emphasize reliability and consistency of service in addition to their current role in responding to discrete incidents.

Implement headway-based control for frequent buses to empower dispatchers and drivers to make real-time improvements for riders. For frequent routes, maintaining even spaces between buses is key. Allowing dispatchers to occasionally hold a bus at a stop or instruct another bus to skip a stop improves service for the greatest number of riders.

Utilize dedicated lanes to move buses more quickly through crowded streets. Effective enforcement measures such as buslane cameras must ensure the lanes remain clear and violators are fined.

Install bus “bulbs” and boarding islands to eliminate time spent weaving in and out of traffic. These treatments also create dedicated waiting areas for riders, reducing traffic on busy sidewalks and improving pedestrian safety.

Optimize traffic signals to improve reliability by allowing buses to maintain a constant speed and reducing time spent at red lights.

Implement queue-jump lanes to reduce delay by giving buses a short, bus-only lane and a three- or four-second exclusive signal at intersections, allowing them to “jump” ahead of car traffic.

In conclusion, from the MTA:

New York’s transit network is the lifeblood of the city and its economy. Since 1990, subway ridership is up 57 percent and bus ridership is up almost 60 percent. The bus system alone now carries over 2.7 million passengers a day. But with the resurgence of our transit system has come a new set of transportation challenges.

  • Subway crowding and unmet transit needs: Subway lines such as the Lexington Avenue line in Manhattan are at capacity. Moreover, many jobs and residents are located beyond the reach of the subway network.
  • Slowing bus speeds: New York has among the slowest buses in the nation. In congested areas, such as Downtown Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan, buses move at four to five miles per hour, barely faster than the average pedestrian.
  • A growing city: New York is expected to grow by nearly one million residents by 2030. To accommodate this growth without increasing New York’s carbon footprint-the core goal of PlaNYC, the City’s sustainability plan-will require expanded transit options.
  • Limited capital funding: The City of New York and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have very limited resources. Subway extensions beyond those already planned are not financially feasible.

Faced with these challenges, how can the City and the MTA meet the growing mobility needs of New Yorkers? Part of the answer is to improve the city’s bus system by implementing bus rapid transit (BRT). BRT is a cost effective approach to transit service that cities around the world have used to make riding the bus more like riding the subway. BRT does thiswith:

  • Frequent service: On high-ridership BRT corridors buses arrive every five to ten minutes or more frequently.

  • Station spacing: BRT stops are spaced about every half a mile, reducing travel time.

  • Off-board fare payment: Riders pay their fares at stations before boarding, reducing stop time.

  • Traffic Signal Priority (TSP): BRT buses receive an extended green at traffic signals.

  • Bus lanes: BRT buses operate in their own bus lane or busway, bypassing congestion.

  • Enhanced stations: BRT stops include attractive shelters with seating and lighting. Stations with bus bulbs can have level boarding, landscaping, and other amenities.

  • BRT vehicles: BRT buses are low-floor and have up to three doors, making boarding faster and more convenient.

  • Branding: BRT routes feature a unique brand, making them easily identifiable. MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) have worked together to create a BRT pilot program with five planned routes. In June of 2008, the City and the MTA launched the city’s first version of BRT, called the Bx12 Select Bus Service (SBS), on Fordham Road in the Bronx. The results have been striking: travel times are down almost 20 percent and ridership is up by over 5,000 passengers per day. Based on this success, the City and the MTA have begun planning a comprehensive BRT network, complementing and supplementing the existing bus and subway networks.

Buses won’t transport as many people as trains, but they’re a lot cheaper to operate. The infrastructure needed for SBS is more expensive than non-SBS routes, but if SBS can get buses moving faster, and finishing their routes on-time, it’ll also cut labor costs and get our city moving more efficiently. With the L train shutting down in 2019 for repairs, a 13-15 lane highway would be needed to carry that many people. Clearly, buses are the next best option, and we need to do everything that we can to improve our network for folks that need buses to complete their commutes. The more time spent commuting, the less time spent at work, at school, or at home. People will have less time with their friends and families, and their quality of life will decrease. Speed is necessary for a happy life in New York City. Congestion pricing will help to reduce traffic, but BRT is necessary, too.


Congestion pricing in Singapore (RR, 2016)


New York’s traffic isn’t as light as Atlantic City’s, where they may not need a bus lane. (RR, 2016)


But in Shanghai, they certainly benefit from bus lanes! (RR, 2016)


Creating a bus lane in NYC is surely a lot less difficult than developing a brand new technology, such as PRT, in Masdar, UAE. (RR, 2016)


But, in this planned city, they were able to build these completely automated vehicles. (RR, 2016)


Masdar City, UAE (RR, 2016)


In conclusion, I invite you to support TransitCenter’s bus advocacy work, so that we can keep New York on track, off the tracks.


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31 Comments on “Keep New York On Track, Off the Tracks”

  1. Taurin October 22, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

    The reason why bus lanes aren’t built? Lack of cooperation, coordination. Politics appears more and more dysfunctional, divided, polarized. Unlike other countries, suburban interests and urban interests in the US are represented by different political parties.

    How can we bring people together? Bring them “on board”? Start by not electing Trump.

    Here’s a good article

    WASHINGTON — For most of the last 70 years, the United States, Canada and much of Europe have constituted a vast zone of peace, prosperity and democracy. The trans-Atlantic community has grown to over 900 million inhabitants of more than 30 countries. It has set an example for regional cooperation in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, and served as a mainstay of the liberal world order.
    That achievement is in jeopardy. The bonds within Europe have been fraying for some time, but this year has been the worst yet. Last month, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Union’s highest official, said that the union faced “an existential crisis.”
    Meanwhile, America’s two major parties have soured on trade agreements with Europe and Asia. Donald J. Trump has welcomed Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, derided American allies and hailed an authoritarian leader, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who fears and tries to undermine Western solidarity.
    Given these pressures, the year ahead may determine whether the West can overcome its current troubles. A vital lesson of the modern era is that internationalism has stabilized the world, while lapses into bellicose nationalism have wreaked havoc.
    The aftermath of World War I was a series of follies and failures: the Carthaginian peace of Versailles, the ineptitude of the League of Nations,the Great Depression and the emergence of totalitarianism. Together, they made a second conflagration all but inevitable.
    The victors of World War II determined not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. They found in the history of Western civilization the precepts for a community of nations buttressed not only by shared values, interests and institutions, but also by the world’s most powerful military alliance. They had much to draw on: Pericles’ ideal polity (“not the few but the many govern”), the Hanseatic League (a trade and defense pact in the Middle Ages), the Age of Reason, Adam Smith’s advocacy of open markets and the division of labor to enhance the wealth of nations, and Immanuel Kant’s conviction that “perpetual peace” depended on democratic nations’ conducting vigorous commerce.
    The first step toward a united Europe was a common market for coal and steel. France and Germany, enemies in both world wars, became partners in peacetime industry and trade. The architects of the European Project, subscribing to a binding ethos of Atlanticism, were inspired by America’s success in molding the newly independent states from the original 13 colonies into “a more perfect union.” Europe’s progress in that direction would never have been possible without the Marshall Plan, which jump-started the Continent’s postwar economic recovery and ensured 42 years of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a shield against the Soviet Union.
    The collapse of that faltering superpower in 1991 spurred the evolution of the European Economic Community into the European Union. NATO’s decision to accept new members that had been Soviet satellites and republics made it possible for the European Union to do the same.
    Throughout, the byword was integration: a steady process of harmonizing the policies of individual nation-states into common European ones, making collaboration easier and interdependence beneficial for all.
    In the 1970s, before the term became pejorative, “Eurocrats” in Brussels took pride in being at the vanguard of a worldwide trend for which they popularized a little-used word: globalization. By most accounts, the opening of markets significantly narrowed the inequality between rich and poor regions of the world, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, especially in Asia. The downside of globalization in developed regions, especially in North America and Europe — depressed wages and jobs at risk in industries exposed to foreign competition — seemed manageable as long as the world economy was humming.
    Through the 1990s, for the most part, economies continued to grow, median incomes climbed, jobs were plentiful and markets signaled a bright future. In 2007, the Dow Jones industrial average soared to a record high. A year later, the euro reached its maximum value against the dollar. But within a few months, America’s banking and housing sectors had crashed, prompting the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Close to nine million Americans lost their jobs and a similar number of homeowners were forced into foreclosures, surrenders of their homes or distress sales. The decline in national wealth hit the poor and middle class hardest.
    The Great Recession was worse for Europe. Trade with the rest of the world slumped and employment shrank, especially along the Mediterranean rim. The economic crisis exposed and exacerbated structural flaws in the European Union itself. Even in the good times, there had been tensions between debtor and creditor member states. The common currency, the euro, imposed a common monetary policy and a fixed exchange rate, but without fiscal integration among countries. That defect has hobbled Europe’s response to the sovereign debt crises and caused precipitous drops in employment.
    The last year has seen one catastrophe after another. A rash of terrorist attacks has heightened security concerns; Britain’s decision to leave the union has raised fears of a contagion of other “exits”; and an influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa has placed burdens on labor markets, stressed social services and inflamed public anxieties.
    The election campaign in the United States has revealed a similar malaise. Many Americans, especially in rural and blue-collar areas, are pessimistic about the future and nostalgic for a seemingly better past. As in Europe, there is widespread mistrust of elites and experts, and feverish enthusiasm for anti-establishment populists.
    With this backlash comes the threat of protectionism in economics, isolationism in foreign policy, and a resurgent nativism and xenophobia in politics — precisely the toxic mix that the North American and European visionaries of Atlanticism sought to prevent when they laid its foundations.
    Fortunately, stewards of that legacy remain in power in most Western capitals. And many citizens of European Union countries, especially the younger generations, tend to identify as Europeans, whatever their nationality. Despite Brexit, this is still true of many Britons.
    That still leaves Europe’s elected officials with an onerous task. They must convince majorities of their citizens that 27 member states can better protect them within the European Union than without it.
    To do so, the union’s institutions need to streamline decision-making while improving cooperation. In particular, they must prove effective in thwarting terrorists, whether they are infiltrators from the Middle East or homegrown. The attacks perpetrated this year by European citizens underscore the need for a long-term strategy to tackle alienation and radicalization within Europe’s Muslim communities.
    That talismanic Euro-word, integration, finds new relevance: Instead of segregating migrants and asylum seekers in enclaves like those in inner-city Brussels or among the banlieues of Paris, several European municipalities are exploring ways to accelerate the process of assimilation by providing low-cost housing, education and job training. Starting and funding such programs would be challenging under normal circumstances, but the difficulties are especially acute now, when virtually all Western European governments are on the defensive and several face daunting electoral challenges from nationalist opponents in the year ahead.
    Mr. Putin has all too successfully stoked the sense of peril and fear of failure in the West. The Kremlin is backing insurgent euroskeptic parties, bullying Russia’s neighbors and trying to undo sanctions imposed after its illegal annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine. Against such subversion, the NATO alliance needs beefing up to help prevent Europe’s political disintegration — and this must be a major priority for any incoming United States administration.
    The next president will have domestic challenges as well, given the gridlock between the executive and legislative branches, and an inward turn in the public mood. The current polarizing and dispiriting presidential campaign may also cast a pall over the future.
    These handicaps make it even more important for Western governments to address their citizens’ legitimate concerns about the impact of globalization. They must work to cement a new political consensus that will restore public support for free and fair international trade. Persuading the newly industrialized nations with export-based economies to adopt better labor practices and environmental policies, and to respect human rights, is not enough. There will have to be remedial action at home. Vulnerable workers in developed nations deserve better safety nets, as well as ambitious and effective retraining opportunities in growing sectors of economy.
    Citizens’ sense that the system is unfair needs addressing, too. Big business is ripe for reform. Newcomers to the marketplace should have a better chance in markets that are now dominated by mega-monopolies. American-based corporations should not be able to exploit tax rules that allow them to shift profits to the lowest tax jurisdictions.
    For globalization to be politically sustainable, it must be more economically equitable. Measures like these would begin to persuade a critical mass of people at global, regional and national levels that they, too, can share in a new wave of prosperity.
    Restoring social progress on this scale will succeed only if it has buy-in from all segments of society. But the innovation and direction must come from the top. In enlisting their constituents’ support for a renewed commitment to Atlanticism, this generation of Western leaders faces the greatest and most consequential test in 70 years.


  2. Hank October 22, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

    Get rid of DOT municipal parking lots. Sell the real estate. Use that money to build bus lanes.

    And get off the bus in the REAR!!!


  3. Hugh October 23, 2016 at 12:40 am #

    The MTA has a long-term lease on the subways from the City and will probably just give the Essex trolley terminal for the Low Line for a dollar…

    Similarly, all of the substations, and such which could be decked… A lot of potential for money.

    the MTA has a long-term lease but it needs a long-term view. beyond month to month, even year to year. look at what is happening! more and more delays! from more riders, more planned work, signal changes, flagging changes, sandy, climate change, crowding… the longer the route, more likely a delay will happen, especially in nyc subway, with so many merges one very line… more late trains, abandonments, but it should all be about SPEED! our maps should show speed and distance, and our countdown clocks should be on trains, too, showing when the train will get there…

    I understand that it is very complex – the schedule needs to account for merges, crews, budget, terminal capacity, ridership demand, union rules, time of day, gaps/evenness of service… but we need to get it right, for the subway to remain fast, cheap, with a lot of carrying capacity, bringing the city together reliably and consistently

    in the 80s, car equipment failures were probably the biggest delays, there were so many more delays and derailments, the entire system was under a slow speed order due to failing tracks and signals. but, data was also poorly recorded, not electronic (today the MTA has the RCC, ATS, I-Trac, etc), so they see more delays now… one of the reasons why delays are increasing… besides flagging changes, signal changes, more planned work/unplanned work from sandy, and, yes, more ridership…

    (in the 70s, 80s, there were actually MORE people riding at the peak, because of less flexible work hours, fewer reverse commuters, more people working in the CBD… and, a lot fewer people riding off-peak, due to slow and unreliable service, less frequency, fear of safety… so, trains were actually more crowded during rush hour back then, even though people were skinnier, because there were fewer trains and because more people used rush hour than they do now. ANNUALLY, we have more ridership now, at 1940s levels, even though there has been less ridership for the past few months, and it’s actually going down.)

    most of the increase is on weekends and off-peak. wifi and usb plugs are not the best ways to increase ridership. just getting fast and reliable trains will work. then, no one will need countdown clocks, kiosks, real-time info, help points… because capacity will be managed. people will walk on the right, use the entire platform, step aside…

    even with all of the rodent issues, people will take the subway, if it is FAST!

    People do not care that the MTA is the largest system in North America – 8 million daily riders, over 24 subway lines, and more than 300 local, express, and Select Bus Service (SBS) bus routes. they just want SPEED!

    NY is the best city in the world. we can get any cuisine at any time of the day. go to the botanical garden, zoo, stadium, park, museum, memorial, theater, temple, monument… so many things to do! over 200 languages are spoken here. we can go anywhere 24/7 for only 2.75. the MTA has 48K employees, they can do better. they can do much better.

    But, the MTA has bad incentives! people are paid, not based on performance, and no wonder there’s less ridership for the past few months with all the delays/planned work.

    People have uber now, low gas prices, etc… they are voting with their dollar. or just evading turnstiles.

    People deserve time with their friends and families.


    • Genome October 23, 2016 at 1:40 am #

      It’s all politics.

      The MTA is governed by a 19-member board representing the 5 boroughs of New York City and each of the counties in its New York State service area. Five members, in addition to the Chairman and CEO, are directly nominated by the Governor of New York, with four recommended by New York City’s mayor, and one each by the county executives of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. Each of these members has one vote. The county executives of Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam counties also nominate one member each, but these members cast one collective vote. The Board also has six rotating nonvoting seats held by representatives of MTA employee organized labor and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which serves as a voice for users of MTA transit and commuter facilities. All board members are confirmed by the New York State Senate. The Governor nominates the CEO.

      Thus, of course, politicians will tell the MTA to just dispose, dispose, dispose. Though the MTA, yes, has a long-term lease of the City’s subway. Probably for like a $1. Meanwhile the MTA leases GCT from Andrew Penson.

      But compared to the Port Authority? MTA is small town politics. PA has to deal with NJ too. The Port Authority is jointly controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey, who appoint the members of the agency’s Board of Commissioners and retain the right to veto the actions of the Commissioners from his or her own state. Each governor appoints six members to the Board of Commissioners, who are subject to state senate confirmation and serve overlapping six-year terms without pay. An Executive Director is appointed by the Board of Commissioners to deal with day-to-day operations and to execute the Port Authority’s policies. Under an informal power-sharing agreement, the Governor of New Jersey chooses the chairman of the board and the deputy executive director, while the Governor of New York selects the vice-chairman and Executive Director.

      So of course, the PA is going to be dealing with politics. LGA and JFK were leased to the PA from the City because public authorities can take on more expenses…

      An authority may at times levy taxes and tolls; this means that they are not part of the usual state budgetary process, and gives them a certain independence. Their most admired ability by the New York State and local government, is to circumvent strict public debt limits in the New York State Constitution. Furthermore, they may make contracts; because of public authorities’ corporate status, there is generally no remedy against the chartering State for the breach of such contracts.[6] On the other hand, as agents of the state, public authorities are not subject to many laws governing private corporations, and are not subject to municipal regulation. Employees of public authorities usually are not state employees, but are employees of the authority.[7] Public authorities can also often condemn property

      But, the City still fights for the PA, which makes a lot from these airports (all the airline fees, parking fees, retail, etc), for PILOT payments. After all, the PA uses money made in NYC for projects in NJ! They also have PILOTS for the WTC. Public authorities don’t have to pay property tax. They should be the best developers. But they are also too political to be good developers.


  4. Alex October 23, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    Yes! The City and MTA don’t cooperate as well as they could.

    Neither does the PA and MTA:

    » In New York City, transit providers create new services to handle disruptions—even when existing lines can support the load.

    Beginning early this month, PATH—the metro rail system operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that connects Manhattan and Northern New Jersey—began installing new signals, forcing the closure of a section of its network in New York City. In the process, the agency is providing a bus shuttle service as a substitute over the course of 17 weekends, shuttling passengers on an above-ground route between the Midtown business district and the World Trade Center, where PATH trains continue to run.

    All of this might make sense under normal circumstances; in fact, in places like Chicago where rail lines have been shut down, bus service replacement has worked well. Yet in New York, the service being replaced runs on a corridor shared by other subway lines*—but they’re managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) instead. Those lines not only are faster than the buses PATH is providing, but they show up more often, and they connect directly underground to the World Trade Center (which the buses do not).

    Benjamin Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas delved into the details—and appropriately condemned—this service change last week. PATH has chosen to shuttle its passengers rather than take advantage of existing New York City Transit Subway services, giving them vouchers to use on the buses instead of working with the MTA to let riders take advantage of the trains it is running. It is a disappointing reflection of the state of cooperation between the Port Authority and the MTA.

    Yet I can’t help chiming in, too, to discuss the mentality of transit operators that choose to pursue this course of action. For, while PATH’s “bustitution” is uniquely problematic, the agency’s perspective on how to act is hardly rare at all. Indeed, as I’ll describe below, given their general understanding about how to operate, it is a surprise that we don’t see more actions of this sort by transit agencies in the U.S.

    Operators act as if their riders are incapable of using other services—or as if those other services simply don’t exist

    It is possible that the Port Authority asked the MTA to provide free transfer rides to its PATH riders arriving at the World Trade Center, and the MTA declined the idea. Or perhaps the Port Authority determined that providing riders vouchers for rides on the MTA would be more expensive than operating the relatively minimal-cost substitute bus (see below). Even so, the decision to “bustitute” smacks of agencies that don’t believe customers should be transferring between services.

    PATH’s approach is to assume that its customers can only take PATH-branded services, and thus that if the PATH rail line isn’t working, they’ll have to take a new PATH bus. Other transit services might as well not exist.

    PATH, of course, is hardly alone in this approach. The MTA was capable of producing a map that demonstrated “regional transit connections,” including the Subway, PATH, and other services—butonly during the Super Bowl in 2014. Otherwise, the Subway map treats PATH (which carries more than 250,000 riders a day) as a minor railroad hardly visible on the map, and with its service in New Jersey simply not shown.

    In Chicago, the commuter rail agency Metra and the local metro rail system, the CTA ‘L,’ share stations at two points (the product, no doubt, of clearheaded thinking at some point decades ago), yet riders are provided no discount to transfer between these services. When required by state legislation to provide a single, shared fare card, the commuter rail agency responded by cooperating on the development of an app that can’t be used to board a CTA bus or train.

    These agencies operate with isolation mentalities, ignoring the fact that their riders may well want to take advantage of other transit services, or even (gasp!) that many of them already do.

    This approach has nefarious consequences that extend not only into the service that operators provide but also into the projects they choose to build. When planning a new route, for example, agencies often ignore the potential for improving existing services operated by other agencies; this results, for example, in BART pushing a multi-billion dollar expansion of its services to San Jose instead of encouraging local stakeholders to invest in improving existing commuter rail services such as Caltrain or Altamont Corridor Express.

    Operators act as if they are in competition with other operators

    Behind PATH’s decision to provide users a bus to substitute for its weekend service outage is the sense that the agency is somehow in competition with New York City’s Subway network. The agencies both provide services under Sixth Avenue, but to transfer between trains requires leaving one system and entering the other. From the rider’s perspective, the relationship between the two services is confrontational, rather than cooperative—and the weekend “bustitution” furthers this impression.

    What’s ironic about this arrangement, of course, is that both PATH and the New York City Subway are run by public agencies (supposedly) serving in the public interest and receiving public subsidies to operate and construct projects. Each receives funding from the federal government to maintain infrastructure. Each operates on a tax-free basis. And each is controlled by state governments (in the case of the Port Authority, its management is 50 percent controlled by the State of New Jersey). One would think they might have an incentive to work together.

    In other cases, transit agencies are even more directly linked. In the Chicago region, for example, both CTA and Metra receive operating subsidies from the same regional sales tax and from the same state matching funds (MTA and PATH have different operating subsidy sources). Yet those agencies’ management is divorced from one another and neither is compelled to consult the other when developing service plans or integrating fare systems.

    The results are familiar to transit riders in many parts of the country: Difficulty making multimodal transfers, confusion about which services operate where and when, and additional costs when using multiple operators.

    Sources of operator isolation

    It is worth noting that the “bustitution” provided by PATH will not be particularly expensive to provide on the grand scheme of things. Using the information provided by PATH about its weekend service, I estimated that the agency would need a total of four buses to provide service—such a small number that the organization can surely scrounge up the buses from its existing airport fleets.

    Assuming operating costs of New York City Transit buses in 2014 (from the Federal Transit Administration’s database), the total costs of operation will be between $720,000 and $930,000 for all of the relevant weekends (depending on whether you calculate based on average cost per vehicle revenue hour or revenue mile). These costs would account for less than a third of a percent of PATH’s $342 million 2016 operating budget.

    Nevertheless, it would be cheaper for both transit systems overall for the MTA to simply absorb the transferring PATH riders during the weekend shutdowns. This would require no additional operating costs on the part of the Port Authority and likely nothing for the Subway system either, as it has the capacity to absorb these weekend passengers. But this would mean the MTA and the Port Authority would have to work for the good of the general public, not just their respective riders or agencies.

    To place the blame for the operator malfunctions described above on the operators alone is almost as bad as the actions of the operators themselves. For while it is true that operators often have a lot of responsibility for the way they interact with their peers, it is also true that their economic and political makeup often obligates them to act as they do.
    Transit operators in the U.S., as noted above, are universally subsidized. Those subsidies are provided to operators based on pre-set parameters that have been negotiated over time between elected officials, the public (through referenda), and the operators. In general, the subsidies are attributed to operators without operating requirements. As a result, operators are often free to make their own decisions about how to spend their funds, without required consideration of regional needs, potential overlap with other agencies, or direction from political officials.

    Most transit providers are public authorities with boards appointed by elected officials representing local, regional, and state governments. In many cases, the same elected officials appoint officials to multiple transit boards; New York’s governor appoints representatives to both the MTA and the Port Authority, for example. This setup might imply that elected officials have some oversight responsibility (or sense of obligation) to make the right decisions for transit riders.

    In regions where transit services are consolidated, such as in Boston or Minneapolis, these conditions are less problematic. State leadership holds transit service accountable and sets priorities for system expansion. And one agency (MBTA or Metro Transit) is tasked with setting service standards, and the agencies generally have an incentive to encourage riders to experience the system as a whole, not just a collection of lines.
    That said, even in Boston, unified control of the transit system under one agency hasn’t prevented such absurdities as it costing riders $6.75 to ride between Braintree and South Station on commuter rail and only $2.25 to make the same trip on the Red Line subway. The commuter rail line, yes, is nine minutes faster—but it also runs only 18 times a day in total, versus every 9 to 12 minutes on the Red Line.

    A better grasp on what regional goals are for transit networks in general, and a commensurate focus by elected officials on telling agencies what to do, rather than letting agencies operate in isolated fiefdoms, would aid American transit riders. In places with multiple transit agencies, it probably shouldn’t be up to individual operators to determine which services to prioritize, or what fares to charge, or where to expand, or how to deal with a major service change due to construction.

    Elected officials rarely take responsibility for running transit services effectively and responsibly, the sort of “Sewer Socialism” Sandy Johnston has focused on of late. Transit agencies shouldn’toperate in a vacuum, devoid of political involvement (despite their considerable public subsidies), but they often do—and they do so with the explicit support of politicians who don’t have the interest, engagement, or expertise to demand better. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo shouldforce the Port Authority and the MTA to work together. His constituents should demand that he does.

    * Riders trying to get from Midtown near Sixth Avenue (where the PATH runs) to the World Trade Center have several options on the Subway system: Taking the 1 to Chambers Street; the 2 or 3 to Park Place; the E to World Trade Center; the A or C to Chambers Street or Fulton Street; or the R to Cortlandt Street.


    • Alex October 23, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

      Also, yes. The MetroCard allowed for free transfers between buses and subways. Before that, unification allowed for transfers between IRT, BMT, IND, which had previously only had a few transfers. The 30 day pass encouraged greater use of transit. And the subway became safer. So ridership has increased. But now, buses are slow, and ridership is going down.. Until…

      6 Ways New Fare Payment Tech Could Change Your Commute
      May 25, 2016
      Have you ever been held up in a long line to board an MTA bus waiting for your fellow riders to dip their MetroCards? Or struggled to get through turnstiles designed to trap fare evaders instead of ease commutes? It doesn’t have to be this way. A new fare payment technology, to be introduced by the MTA, could be used to make commuters faster, more efficient and less painful.The MTA has released a request for proposals for a new fare payment system to replace the outmoded MetroCard. The transition the MTA underwent when moving to the MetroCard demonstrates the possibilities for policy changes that benefit riders. The changeover from tokens to magnetic strip cards in the mid-1990s allowed the MTA to create different fare types that weren’t limited to just the cash value but also to specified time period and to use the pass to allow for free transfers between subways and buses. These new capabilities dramatically changed how riders used transit.How could new fare payment technology change the way riders use the MTA’s subways and buses today? Here are 6 ideas from a new brief “Beyond the Swipe,” from the RPA transportation team, led by Rich Barone:
      1. Speed Up Buses. One major cause of our city’s slow buses is that drivers have to wait for each passenger to enter through the front door and pay their fare. The new fare system could allow riders to enter and pay fares at all bus entrances, significantly cutting down these delays.
      2. Reduce Fare Evasion. The new fare system should support handheld, wireless fare validation scanners that could read contactless fare cards and other payment devices to ensure riders have paid. This would make both paying a fare and verifying that passengers have paid more efficient.
      3. Reduce Crowding and Congestion. The new system also could be used to incentivize riders to avoid congested routes caused by delays or major events. For example, the MTA could provide a discount for riders to use the Long Island Rail Road to get to a Mets game at Citifield in an effort to reduce crowding on the #7 subway line.
      4. Make the Subway More Accessible. As anyone who has ever wrestled a suitcase or stroller through a subway station knows, the MTA’s current turnstiles and floor-to-ceiling metal revolving gates can make it difficult for for parents with children, riders with luggage, the elderly and the disabled to get around. With the removal of token booths, it will no longer make sense to keep using those unwieldly turnstiles
      5. More Fare Options and Greater Affordability. The new fare payment system will be account-based, making it possible to introduce many different types of fares or tired passes. The MTA could explore new fare options, including lower fares for lower-income riders or for those using local buses only.
      6. Rethink Commuter Rail Fare Collection. Contactless fare cards also could transform the MTA’s commuter rail lines, which today still rely on paper-based ticketing.


  5. Jupiter October 25, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    They should change bus performance reporting indicators to reflect things that will make BRT better. We have more electronic recording on the subways… ATS, I-TRAC, PLC…

    MTA – Not going in your way… getting in your way. Their trip arms should only be used for emergencies! Not for slowing everybody! Operators know their pick for a while. They are trained. Even those on vacation relief and extra list. They know the signals, the differences between A Division and B Division, etc.

    I’m sure it is so complicated to move all these buses and trains, record their movements, deal with defects, measure them, inspect, etc. But they’ve been around for 100 years. Surely they can do better.

    But, all we’ve gotten in the past 30 years? The Archer Avenue Line, the 63rd Street Tunnel, the 63rd Street Connector, the New South Ferry, and 7 West.

    And SAS, and the W? Probably will just borrow trains from other lines, have routes end service before terminal and bring them back to have extra trains… MDBF is declining…

    This is not Juneau, Alaska. We are connected to the mainland and we are an island.,_Alaska

    Is it the NIMBYists? Surely, Central Park Airport is a bad idea, but most NIMBY stuff is just BLEH

    Central park airport


  6. Mercury October 25, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    Don’t forget to mention E-ZPass. Now that they have license plate readers for people without E-ZPass, eliminating the need for booth operators, costs can be cut, people can go faster, congestion and pollution can be decreased, quality of life can be improved, congestion pricing can be possible, even drive-thrus with E-ZPass could charge your E-ZPass account for food! We can have variable pricing, offpeak pricing, HOV pricing, resident plans….

    Taxis can be checked with GPS, E-ZPass can detect time/speed, formulas can disperse funds and check congestion, additional revenue will be created because there will be tolls on all DOT bridges into Manhattan CBD, even though outer-tolls will be reduced. (If they don’t then reduce other permanent funds to MTA, they can use it for capital program, buses, ferries, commuter rail, improving signals, getting a contactless payment, station rehab, countdown clocks…)

    The only reason why E-ZPass users go slow through toll booths is to merge with slow cash-users and for safety for toll booth operators. But E-Zpass can be read at high speeds. Though now that toll booths are being removed so people can speed on by, the need for a one-way only toll at Verrazano Bridge is no longer politically necessary. That toll is only staten island bound so that vehicles aren’t clogging staten island waiting to pay for a Brooklyn-bound toll. The vehicles clog on the bridge instead. But if the toll booths are gone, we can have tolls both ways, so vehicles don’t go toll shopping. Now, the tolls are double for staten island bound vehicles, since there aren’t tolls Brooklyn bound, and cash is way higher, since residents get E-ZPass discounts and such from MTA B&T. All politics.

    Nevertheless, E-ZPass is a great example of cooperation. Though the PA owns the trademark, many authorities take it, even though discounts only apply to wherever you bought it, usually. All politics, just like with student fares, senior fares…


    • AlbinoMonkey October 26, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      Yes. E-ZPass is a good example of a universal payment system. Easier to do for motorists, since toll booths don’t vary much, whereas there are many types of turnstiles in existence, payment cards, and such.

      But yes, these agencies all managed to come together for E-ZPass. Meanwhile, the Hudson rail tunnels to Penn are taking decades to get repaired. All of the debating over who is paying for what raises costs.

      Penn is already a bottleneck for the region, unlike GCT.


      In the breakup of the Penn Central Railroad in 1976, the land under Grand Central and its associated tracks continued to be owned by Penn Central Corporation but leased to what became the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Penn Central as a holding company changed its name to American Premier Underwriters in March 1994. It in turn was absorbed by the American Financial Group. On December 6, 2006, the United States Department of Transportation announced Midtown TDR Ventures LLC had purchased the rights from American Financial.[3] As part of the transaction the lease with the MTA was renegotiated through February 28, 2274. The New York Post reported in 2007 that Midtown TDR is controlled by Penson and Venture. The Post notes that the MTA which will pay $2.24 Million in rent in 2007 has an option to buy the station and tracks in 2017 although Argent could extend the date another 15 years to 2032.[4] The big attraction to Venture are the development air rights it controls above the tracks.

      So, now MNR leases GCT and is directly responsible for all of their passengers. MNR took over Penn Central’s Conrail routes since Conrail was for freight.

      Meanwhile, Penn is owned by Amtrak, and the buildings around it, sold off long ago. (Except I think Vornado owns some of the retail in the station on the Penn Plaza side of the main corridor.)

      But only around 5% of Penn passengers are for Amtrak. NJT and LIRR lease the station and trackage rights from Amtrak, but Amtrak is the landlord, Amtrak is the one really paying for improvements, and the 2 states, perhaps through the PA, help when they are forced…

      All of these balkanized authorities raise costs. Clear and simple.

      But LIRR is the worst. Their culture sucks. At least with NJT, you can buy a ticket in Penn to Philly, and NJT will print you 2 tickets, one for SEPTA transfer at Trenton. LIRR only does LIRR and nothing else. There are no countdown clocks for subways in Penn Station, no arrival information for Amtrak or NJT in LIRR concourse. Nothing. And LIRR can’t even operate on NJT or MNR territory since it’s over-running third rail, and they don’t take catenary or under-running (MNR except NH line). They could diesel it, but why bother. Only the old FL9’s could take both under-running and over-running. Today, only Amtrak’s Empire locomotives can operate on under and over territory, since their over-running third rail shoes into Penn can be pneumatically removed when they get to MNR Hudson under-running third rail territory. But most importantly, there are only TWO tunnels into NJ. And not every track at Penn can be used for them, since Track 1-4 don’t go onto Long Island, so Amtrak can’t continue to Boston on them, and some tracks don’t have third rail power, also limiting LIRR and Amtrak Empire locomotives.

      What. A. Mess.


    • Chief November 14, 2016 at 4:33 am #

      Yes, this is federal law now. Unlikely to return to two-way tolling.

      Senator Al D’Amato wanted to please his constituents in heavily Republican Staten Island and wanted no tolls to leave S.I. on the VN. (It was already the case on the 3 P.A. SI bridges since 8 /1970.)

      The late Rep. Ted Weiss who represented lower Manhattan, feared the double toll – especially for trucks – for westbound travel would encourage truckers to avoid the VN and travel thru the streets of Manhattan.

      Weiss lost and D’Amato won. D’Amato put into federal law that MTA would lose federal funding eligibility if it retained or restored two way tolls.


    • Jlo November 21, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

      The state needs to approve of City toll changes.

      Whereas, the MTA Board alone could approve of real estate changes, like the lease of the Fulton Center:

      They should also sell air rights on Second Avenue. Keep up the good work, like they did with Turnstyle/leasing it out! (Well, they lease from the City, so sublease it out…)


    • Bigappleloves November 26, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

      Wow, lots of information. thanks dude.

      The problem is also that there is only eastbound tolling for Hudson crossings, entering New York. NJ wants people to come visit. (It is also only tolled into Philly from NJ for the DRPA.) Also, with only tolling one direction, it minimizes infrastructure required for toll collection and minimizes how many lanes are impacted by traffic. And there are no bus lanes on the GWB because the only buses that “matter” go to PABT and the tunnel has 6 lanes v 14 lanes on the GWB.

      It is always hard to consolidate operations and compromise. The BMT along the Brooklyn Bridge terminated on Park Row, and did not connect to the IRT. The IRT did not want the BMT in their territory. Politics gets in the way even for private companies.

      And public authorities, which are supposed to be independent of politics, can be the worst. Robert Moses built arches so low, buses couldn’t use his parkways. He did not want poor taking the buses to where his parkways went. They were supposed to be a joyous ride, not for dirty buses.

      Question those assumptions!


      • Jlo November 26, 2016 at 9:32 pm #


        One way tolling, a.k.a. round-trip tolling, was implemented in August 1970 by the P.A., the NYSTA, and the NYSBA; the latter operates the five bridges above the TZ. This scheme also included the three S.I. bridges operated by the P.A. All had eastbound-only tolls.

        The reason was to reduce congestion in one direction. There was no thought at that time of such tolling placing limitations on congestion pricing.

        I am aware of only one place where there was joint BMT-IRT operations: east of Queensboro Plaza to Astoria and Flushing, done with IRT size (esp. width) cars. Platforms on the Astoria line were cut back when thru service from the BMT was implemented. I believe this was about 1947, but this is probably easy to verify.

        I do not believe that there were many railroads operating into either Penn Station or Grand Central.

        Penn Station was served by the PRR and the wholly owned LIRR; the legal entity that operated the station was PT&T – the Pennsylvania Terminal and Tunnel Railroad which was also responsible for the now-closed Gimbels Passageway (under 33rd St) connecting Penn Station with the 6th Ave IND/BMT/PATH station.

        Grand Central was operated by the NY Central and also included the New Haven. The NY Central subsidiary that operated the terminal was the NY & Harlem River Railroad, I believe.

        The Hell Gate Bridge was built as a collaboration between the PRR and NH, so I suppose that was an exception.


  7. Vanessa November 3, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

    It’s all about frequency! DSNY has more trucks in Manhattan than Brooklyn, where there are more people so they need more trucks, just like there are more trains. It comes down to the schedule — be it for horse-drawn streetcars, or the old elevateds (BRT was narrow like IRT, B Div only extended wider on the subways to fit more people, but elevated BRT wooden cars, unsafe for subways, were used for els)…

    Chinatowns are all so dense, dirty… maybe they need to increase cleaning frequency. Lol, look at flushing queens, these are their bike racks:

    Dirty subway:

    MTA New York City Transit is testing two prototypes of powerful – but portable – track vacuum systems that can be quickly deployed, operated from platforms, and moved easily from one station to the next.
    The new units are part of the MTA’s ongoing Track Sweep initiative, which is a multi-pronged plan to dramatically reduce the amount of trash on subway tracks, in the process improving the station environment, and reducing track fires and train delays.
    “Testing these new technologies is a key part in our plan to get the tracks cleaner, and keep them cleaner over the long haul,” commented NYC Transit President Ronnie Hakim. “Once we’re sure that these units are effective we’ll be ordering additional units to deploy across the system.”
    The first unit is currently being tested, while the second will be deployed within the next two weeks. The prototype units are both powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries with a battery management system that protects the batteries and load from over current, and both can be moved from station to station on a conventional revenue train. The tests are scheduled to last approximately 30 to 45 days. Assuming the successful completion of the tests, NYC transit will move aggressively to acquire and deploy additional units.
    The test of the two portable vacuums is focusing on two corridors of track:
    • In Manhattan from 53rd and Lexington on the Queens Boulevard line (E, F) to West 4th, on the 6th Ave and 8th Ave Lines (B, D, F, M and A, C, E) which is a chain of 15 stations.
    • In Queens along the Queens Boulevard Corridor from Jamaica 179 Street to Queens Plaza (E, F, M & R), which is a chain of 20 stations.
    Phase 1 of the effort, which focused on establishing a more aggressive schedule for cleaning tracks at stations, launched in June of 2016. Phase 2 followed in September, and involved 500 workers removing trash and debris from the tracks at all of the system’s stations. You can view video here:
    Operation Track Sweep’s four complementary phases are:
    Phase 1
    In June of 2016, NYC Transit implemented a new cleaning schedule that re-prioritizes stations based on the amounts of trash usually removed, and increases the frequency of track cleaning. NYC Transit now cleans the tracks at 94 stations every two weeks, up from cleaning tracks at 34 stations every two weeks.
    Phase 2
    In September of 2016, NYC Transit launched an intensive two-week, system-wide cleaning during which more than 500 workers removed trash and debris from the tracks at all of the system’s 469 stations – more than 10 miles of subway station track.
    Phase 3
    NYC Transit has begun testing two powerful – but portable – track vacuum systems that can be quickly deployed, operated from platforms, and moved easily from one station to the next.
    Phase 4
    In addition, NYC Transit has ordered a trio of powerful new track vacuum trains, with the first train arriving in 2017, followed by the second and third, which will arrive in 2018, and is also purchasing 27 new refuse cars to move debris out of the system more quickly and support the new expanded cleaning effort. The cars are equipped with special railings to secure and transport wheeled garbage containers that are collected at subway stations.


    • Vanessa November 3, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

      and it is hard to get everybody working together — all the police, school, CB districts…
      Amazed ATS got completed for A Div. Now the platform controllers there have microphones linked to the PA (if station PA works) and can announce to the whole platform, which is very effective. If they see someone half way down the platform holding the doors, they can announce it clearly and they will listen and hear it!

      When it comes to collaborating with additional agencies, then it gets difficult. For instance, bringing rail or bus service across the Tappan Zee bridge to connect the MNR Hudson Line to Port Jervis Line, and maybe to Stewart Airport in Newburgh, would involve MTA, Port Authority, NY Thruway Authority… (No wonder ESA is not entering GCT itself, but building a whole new concourse under the landmarked structure.)

      Sometimes i feel they should just cancel late night service and use the extra revenue to fix the stations. But they’d first need to install gates to shut down stations, put trains underground, since they don’t all fit in yards, and make sure everyone left and no one is hiding/sleeping… so maybe it wouldn’t be worth it. Would need to revise so many bureaucratic rules, train movements, etc.


  8. Solaris November 4, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    Your regional POP ticketing idea makes sense.
    Right now, the best we have is the ability to print a MetroCard on the other side of a commuter rail ticket. Buses still take coins, one by one, deposited into a vault so the driver can’t take them…

    And I agree about the BQX. Buses can go around other buses. Light rail can’t. Light rail is limited to one track each way. Buses can have extra capacity with more lanes. In Dublin, we have the DART commuter rail, but it is only every 15 minutes because of track capacity constraints. And, NYC Subway ridership has not been increasing this year… “crowding” is a result of other things, like delays and incidents and service management.


  9. Hulk Higan November 8, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    How can you expect the MTA to change bus routes when it takes them months to fix basic problems? So much paperwork, an unbelievable amount… City and state and federal rules, civil service titles…

    The logistics really aren’t that difficult. Airlines manage to transport freight around the world. Huge ships transport cargo too. All of these machines need to work 100%. All we require from the MTA, is buses. Not planes. Not ocean liners. Imagine them managing that!


  10. Gobbler November 11, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Took this photo by Stuy Town.

    Ever notice most bike lanes are on the left side? I guess to be closer to the driver.

    And Stuy Town, a great example of urban planning, without many vehicles. A garden city.

    Then there’s Gramercy Park… Another development, with a private park only owners have access to. Sorta like value capture for parks! haha


  11. Ambassador November 14, 2016 at 5:39 am #

    Everything that you see has been a decision. The width of streets, plot sizes. That bike lanes are on the left on these avenues, to be closer to drivers. That they are one-way, because that is simpler and less dangerous for pedestrians. Two-way can slow down traffic (so can good signal timing on a one-way), but it can also be more chaotic. And two-way is better for buses, since the route is on the same road and it is less confusing and people don’t have to walk a block to their return direction. Of course one-way doesn’t work if there isn’t an equally wide avenue nearby for the other way. Where traffic signals go — depends on the intersection, traffic volume, directions of traffic, politics, resources, data collection…

    And on the trains, there are also decisions most don’t think about. Like having island platforms or not. Even with only 2 track segments, many of our subway stations aren’t island platforms. Why? Because even though it requires fewer, say, garbage cans, it means trains either need to curve out to it, or there needs to be more excavation ($$$) during construction so the tracks stay straight and trains go faster. Curves also require more maintenance. Also, island platforms meant fewer token booths back in the day, but, to get to them, they needed mezzanines, since entrances could not be placed in the center of the street, except on Broadway on the IRT. that meant more stairs to the surface, which meant less convenience, and the IRT/BMT were focused on convenience and speed. by the time the IND was getting built, they were more about capacity, so they built huge mezzanines where possible, more staircases, because they saw all the crowding on the IRT/BMT and all the dwell times on stations. Of course, street widths and heights are also considerations for how stations were built, where entrances were placed, etc. (Stations that straddle many streets like 15th-Prospect Park IND in Brooklyn have a large mezzanine and an island platform and many entrances.)


    • Ambassador November 14, 2016 at 5:44 am #

      NYC is an interesting city, unlike many, there are no residential parking permits. Why? I guess it’s hard to define neighborhood boundaries, and it would mean more administrative fees and bureaucracy to cover the cost, all the visitor parking permits… But maybe they should have some for areas near stadiums, I don’t know.

      Staten Island Railway has some free parking lots, owned by SIR!


    • Venicio November 30, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

      68th on the IRT has a mezzanine and high ceilings, so who knows why. 59th used to be local until a few decades ago, when they built an express station and connected both to the BMT, which was built around the same time as the Lexington Line, and is thus wedged between the IRT upper local tracks and lower express tracks. They built that express station to decrease transferring congestion at 42nd, and in the ‘80s, they also built a connection at 51st to the IND. I guess they didn’t want to also make 51st an express stop, though there are other cases of multiple express stops in a row, especially on the IND. 14th is an express on the 8th Avenue IND, but not the 6th Avenue IND, presumably due to PATH constraints, but I’m sure they could find a way, thereby connecting the IND express to the L. I suppose there’s a limited pot of resources.

      Also, at Grand Army Plaza, the IRT also built a mezzanine and an island platform for a local station, while nearby stations are all rather typical for the IRT. Perhaps this was an exception because it was next to the park, and they wanted it built grand? I think the express tracks go underneath the local tracks here, since the BMT is along the same corridor, so that could be part of it. The local IND Prospect Park station also has an island platform with a mezzanine, so perhaps it’s related, or they just wanted an island platform and a mezzanine so they could build many entrances to the park. IRT Broadway has mezzanines for express stations, but of course the entrances are built along the center of the road.


  12. Jlo November 21, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    Good post. I am amazed that things manage to run at all, considering how complicated it is, with so many different unions, civil service bureaucracies, capital, labor, law, communications, security, police, procurements, leases, rules and regulations, etc. For instance, to get a bus lane, the MTA has to work with DOT, DOT has to work with sanitation, FDNY, find out the vehicles/assets to use, etc. Often they lack the equipment or manpower, so they rent vehicles, just like DOE rents school buses from contractors. Imagine if the DOE actually maintained those things? FYI, they’re probably the safest vehicles on the road, unlike normal buses, all the seats are so tight together and padded for the kids so they don’t even need to wear seatbelts. Imagine kids standing up on normal buses? Lol, no wonder elementary school kids don’t get metrocard passes.

    The unions are a gang. They just want more money and more jobs, even though it is inefficient. in schools, teachers are paid regardless of how good they are, schools are given money regardless of how good they are. in transit, people are kept regardless of if they are needed anymore. it’s as if you are just printing paper to print paper, such a waste, and there are so many externalities with it – the fuel to bring it, the water, bleach…


  13. Clion November 21, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

    SBS bus shelters are better than most Green Line train shelters in Boston, and they’ve been around for 100 years. No benches, no pre-board payment. And guess what? Jam packed trams. And escaping the crowds is hard these days. Even Amtrak “sells out” and gets crowded, people stand on commuter rail and express buses, vehicles block buses and trams, it gets so frustrating for commmuters!


  14. NYC#1 November 23, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    New York’s transit system is bursting at the seams. People took nearly 1.8 billion rides on subways last year, the most in 68 years. Harried riders press together in a jumble of elbows and backpacks, and the mosh pits on many station platforms are so dense during rush hours that engineers slow to a crawl as a precaution in case people fall or get shoved onto the tracks.

    Delays have increased significantly since 2012 because a system stretched to its limits cannot tolerate technical glitches or sick passengers. Many Brooklyn residents were shocked to hear recently that their commute would become more onerous with the L train tunnels under the East River scheduled to undergo major repairs to fix damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

    The usual response by Albany, which controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has been to plead poverty, which means there is never enough money to keep up with a growing region. The M.T.A. has opened just one new subway station in the last 25 years, that one in September, even though the city’s population has increased 17 percent in that time.

    But the real reason for this sorry state of affairs has been not poverty but an impoverished imagination and a dearth of political will. Enter a group of Democrats in the State Assembly with an ambitious plan, introduced in March, that could significantly improve the city’s transportation system if the rest of the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo get behind it.

    Called the Move NY Fair Plan, it would collect about $1.35 billion a year in new revenue through bridge tolls, congestion pricing and a per-mile surcharge on taxi rides in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. The money would help pay for more frequent service on existing train and bus lines and new service in parts of the city that are so far from subway lines that officials and residents refer to them as “transit deserts.”

    Move NY, which is based on the ideas of Samuel Schwartz, a former city traffic commissioner, works by putting tolls on the four East River bridges — Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro — that are now free. Drivers would pay the same toll paid by people who use the Midtown Tunnel and the Battery Tunnel — $5.54 one way for people using E-ZPass. Cars that cross south of 60th Street from Upper Manhattan would also pay the toll. They could pay through E-ZPass or be sent a bill by mail with the help of cameras that photograph licenses plates. To reduce congestion, the M.T.A. would be allowed to charge different prices at different times of the day.

    At the same time, the legislation would reduce existing tolls on outlying bridges like the Robert F. Kennedy and the Verrazano-Narrows, which serve areas where residents have far fewer mass transit options. Taxis and cars on app-based platforms like Uber and Lyft would be charged a per-mile fee for operating below 110th Street on the West Side and below 96th Street on the East Side, but they would be exempt from the new tolls.

    The biggest chunk of the money from the new tolls and fees would enable the M.T.A. to borrow money for much-needed repairs and upgrades. For example, the authority would be able to more quickly replace its aging switching and signaling system with more reliable and efficient technology. That would allow it to run more trains, since it would be able to safely reduce the distance between them.

    The agency would also be assured of the money needed to finish the second phase of the Second Avenue subway line up to 125th Street. The first section, 63rd to 96th Street, is expected to open by the end of this year. At some point in the future, the line is supposed to run all the way down to Hanover Square near Wall Street. But even before then, it will go a long way toward alleviating delays and congestion on the nearby Lexington Avenue line, the most crowded in the city.

    Move NY would also give the M.T.A. the money and authority to establish new subway lines. One of the most promising proposals is for a line to connect the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn over existing rail tracks, parts of which are owned by CSX, Amtrak and the M.T.A. The 24-mile line, which supporters call the Triboro Rx, would stretch from Co-Op City in the northern Bronx to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, passing through Astoria, Jackson Heights, East New York and Midwood.

    The Triboro Rx would serve many fast-growing neighborhoods, some of which have limited or no train service now. The Regional Plan Association, which first proposed the line in the 1990s, estimates it could cost $1 billion to $2 billion, serve an initial daily ridership of 100,000 people and help reduce the time it takes to get from the Bronx to Brooklyn by as much as half an hour, a big help to many lower-income residents. Assuming the line reduces travel times by 10 to 15 minutes for the average rider, that would add up to 65 hours a year per person, the association estimates.

    Similarly, the plan includes a proposal to turn existing Long Island Rail Road tracks between the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Rosedale in Queens into a new subway line. Much like the Triboro Rx, it would bring service to many neighborhoods that are miles from a subway station and would vastly reduce the cost and time it takes to travel between Brooklyn and Queens.

    Finally, the legislation would set aside money for transit projects in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. It would also create new bus service and reduce fares on express buses. And it would give money to neighborhood community boards to invest in local projects like bike lanes, bus depots, public plazas and station repairs.

    The Legislature has seen some of these ideas before. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, offered a congestion pricing proposal in 2007, which went nowhere in the Legislature despite support from former Gov. David Paterson.

    Given the far greater reach and ambition of the latest plan, the bill’s sponsors — 23 Assembly members led by Robert Rodriguez, an East Harlem Democrat — have their work cut out for them. They need a sponsor in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, and they have to persuade Mr. Cuomo, a self-professed car guy, that their bill has popular support. Their best argument is that the current system is a mess, and clearly failing, but simple logic has a way of falling short in Albany without strong pressure from the top.


  15. Carcar November 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

    The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life
    Considering the constant fatalities, rampant pollution, and exorbitant costs of ownership, is the car’s dominance a little insane?

    EDWARD HUMES Apr 12, 2016

    The car is the star. That’s been true for well over a century—unrivaled staying power for an industrial-age, pistons-and-brute-force machine in an era so dominated by silicon and software. Cars conquered the daily culture of American life back when top hats and child labor were in vogue, and well ahead of such other innovations as radio, plastic, refrigerators, the electrical grid, and women’s suffrage.

    A big part of why they’ve stuck around is that they are the epitome of convenience. That’s the allure and the promise that’s kept drivers hooked, dating all the way back to the versatile, do-everything Ford Model T. Convenience (some might call it freedom) is not a selling point to be easily dismissed—this trusty conveyance, always there, always ready, on no schedule but its owner’s. Buses can’t do that. Trains can’t do that. Even Uber makes riders wait.

    But convenience, along with American history, culture, rituals, and man-machine affection, hide the true cost and nature of cars. And what is that nature? Simply this: In almost every way imaginable, the car, as it is deployed and used today, is insane.

    What are the failings of cars? First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel: More than 80 cents of every dollar spent on gasoline is squandered by the inherent inefficiencies of the modern internal combustion engine. No part of daily life wastes more energy and, by extension, more money than the modern automobile. While burning through all that fuel, cars and trucks spew toxins and particulate waste into the atmosphere that induce cancer, lung disease, and asthma. These emissions measurably decrease longevity—not by a matter of days, but years. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from vehicle pollution, losing 10 years of life on average compared to their lifespans in the absence of tailpipe emissions.

    There are also the indirect environmental, health, and economic costs of extracting, transporting, and refining oil for vehicle fuels, and the immense national-security costs and risks of being dependent on oil imports for significant amounts of that fuel. As an investment, the car is a massive waste of opportunity—“the world’s most underutilized asset,” the investment firm Morgan Stanley calls it. That’s because the average car sits idle 92 percent of the time. Accounting for all costs, from fuel to insurance to depreciation, the average car owner in the U.S. pays $12,544 a year for a car that puts in a mere 14-hour workweek. Drive an SUV? Tack on another $1,908.14

    Then there is the matter of climate. Transportation is a principal cause of the global climate crisis, exacerbated by a stubborn attachment to archaic, wasteful, and inefficient transportation modes and machines. But are cars the true culprit? Airplanes, for instance, are often singled out as the most carbon-intensive form of travel in terms of emissions per passenger-mile (or per ton of cargo), but that’s not the whole story: Total passenger miles by air are miniscule compared to cars. In any given year, 60 percent of American adults never set foot on an airplane, and the vast majority who do fly take only one round trip a year. Unfortunately, air travel is not the primary problem, contributing only 8 percent of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gases. Cars and trucks, by contrast, pump out a combined 83 percent of transportation carbon.

    Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly fatalities of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution.

    Driving an SUV or even a mid-size car from New York to L.A. is worse for the planet than flying there. This is true in part because cars’ fuel efficiency has improved far more slowly than planes’, but also because of Americans’ increasing propensity to drive alone, which has made car travel less efficient and more carbon-intensive per passenger-mile in recent years.

    So cars pose the biggest threat on the climate front, with all the costs that global warming imposes on infrastructure, homes, and lives through increasingly severe storms, droughts, rising sea levels, and pressure on food supplies. If the price of gasoline and the vehicles that burn it actually reflected the true costs and damage they inflict, the common car would go extinct. Gasoline would cost way more than $10 a gallon. That’s how big the secret subsidy is.

    And that’s not even counting cars’ most dramatic cost: They waste lives. They are one of America’s leading causes of avoidable injury and death, especially among the young. Oddly, the most immediately devastating consequence of the modern car—the carnage it leaves in its wake—seems to generate the least public outcry and attention. Jim McNamara, a sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, where officers spend 80 percent of their time responding to car wrecks, believes such public inattention and apathy arise whenever a problem is “massive but diffuse.” Whether it’s climate change or car crashes, he says, if the problem doesn’t show itself all at once—as when an airliner goes down with dozens or hundreds of people on board—it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Very few people see what he and his colleagues witness daily and up close: what hurtling tons of metal slamming into concrete and brick and trees and one another does to the human body strapped (or, all too often, not strapped) within.

    In contrast, a roadside wreck is experienced by the vast majority of drivers as a nagging but unavoidable inconvenience—just another source of detours and traffic jams. Increasingly popular and powerful smartphone traffic apps eliminate even those brief close encounters with the roadway body count, routing savvy drivers away from crash-related congestion. The typical car wreck is becoming all but invisible to everyone but those who are killed or maimed and those whose job is to clean it up. Many are aware at some level that troubling numbers of people are injured and die in cars, but most remain unfazed by this knowledge.

    This disparity in attention between plane crashes and car crashes cannot be justified by their relative death tolls. Quite the contrary: In the 14 years following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there were eight crashes on American soil of passenger planes operated by regional, national, or international carriers. The death toll in those crashes totaled 442. That averages out to fewer than three fatalities a month.

    The death toll on America’s streets and highways during that same period since 9/11 was more than 400,000 men, women, and children. The traffic death toll in 2015 exceeded 3,000 a month. When it comes to the number of people who die in car wrecks, America experiences the equivalent of four airliner crashes every week.

    A normal day on the road, then, is a “quiet catastrophe,” as Ken Kolosh, the statistics chief for the National Safety Council, calls it. He ought to know: He makes his living crafting the annual statistical compendium of every unintentional injury and death in the country.

    Car crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 39. They rank in the top five killers for Americans 65 and under (behind cancer, heart disease, accidental poisoning, and suicide). And the direct economic costs alone—the medical bills and emergency-response costs reflected in taxes and insurance payments—represent a tax of $784 on every man, woman, and child living in the U.S.

    The numbers are so huge they are not easily grasped, and so are perhaps best understood by a simple comparison: If U.S. roads were a war zone, they would be the most dangerous battlefield the American military has ever encountered. Seriously: Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly war dead during each Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution. When all of the injuries from car wrecks are also taken into account, one year of American driving is more dangerous than all those wars put together. The car is the star.


  16. Mar November 26, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

    The west side yard was opened up to Penn in the 80s, it used to be for today’s high line, connected to the empire corridor, which was also only connected to Penn in the 80s so Amtrak could consolidate at Penn and not lease GCT. Before that yard, LIRR had lower ridership, many trains went to Queens instead and terminated there.

    But, it’s crazy that the PA did not build rail connections for their tunnels and bridges, or TBTA. I guess people thought cars were the future, they saw railroad ridership declining, H&M going into bankruptcy, and refused to provide the ROW. But imagine if a rail connection went across the GWB (or even a HOV or bus lane), or to Staten Island… Many parkways don’t even have clearance for buses, since Moses wanted only people who could afford cars to go to his parks and suburbs. But, even without rail, we could have better transit with more BUS LANES, I think the lincoln tunnel bus lane to the PABT carries as many people as NJT rail or PATH.

    Luckily, WSY is electrified, so it is easy to deck, have disability access, etc. In Boston, they are even considering development in Mattapan!


  17. Florance December 3, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    Not everybody needs a train. Staten Island has such low density, they certainly don’t need to restore the other 2 branches that SIRT, a private railroad with B&O, got rid of in the 1950s. Even the current SIR, now owned by the MTA, has such low ridership. Around 1/5 the ridership of the ferry, and 1/10 the ridership of the G line of the subway! They have free parking to entice riders, unlike commuter rail, which is valuable so people will take it even if they rack up the prices.

    SIR is an FRA regulated railroad, like PATH, since it was once a mainline railroad. They have FRA approved automatic train control, from their own rail control center, with cab signaling equipment and they use R44s still, though these have been retired and scrapped on NYCT, since R32s were built better than the R44s.

    SIR electrified in the 20s, assuming they’d be connected to the subway, but that never happened. BMT did not build a connection from bay ridge, so no track rights/lease agreements. city started subsidizing the main branch in the 50s, they separated the ROW by the 60s… fiber, copper cables, switches, snow melters, all updated and integrated.

    sir probably even has lower ridership than the Rockaway branch of the A line. NYC took over that LIRR track, but never the bay ridge branch, I guess because they still use that for freight and ridership is too low, limited funds, etc. (SIR ballpark station no longer served due to budget cuts in ’10, and they even truck SIR rolling stock to coney island yard for extensive repairs.)


  18. Rapido December 7, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    Yes. SPEED means accessible, convenient, safe, reliable, and frequent. If it is fast, it has to be all of these things. Close to the streets, near many streets, so people can quickly get from place to place, conveniently. Safe, so delays aren’t caused that decrease speed. Reliable and frequent, because that increases speed.


    • Rapido December 7, 2016 at 10:52 am #

      Also, people are bigger than they used to be, there is more congestion, and more door holding, leading to longer dwell times and backed up service. When service gaps increase, there’s even more crowding at stations, and dwell times increase even further. Stations with narrow stairs and platforms further decrease capacity, while passengers that hold doors, or don’t let people off first, or don’t move to the center of the car, make matters worse. Platform controllers are supposed to be keeping passengers from doing these things, but I’ve seen them actually hold doors for passengers. The MTA has few incentives to be held accountable. No one is going to get fired for poor service, or rewarded for good service. And, few even understand the power of incentives, and realize that the MTA needs them.

      … If they want to really improve service, they should work on CBTC and open-gangway cars with wider doors, but also just get operators to go faster! Go fast entering and leaving stations. Stop adding more and more flagging rules that make things slower. Stop changing signals to make things slower. With more planned work and better data collection, delays will have an even bigger impact, especially with rising ridership.

      For instance, no mention of incentives in this article below:

      As every New Yorker knows, the subways are crowded—
record-breaking, claustrophobia-inducing crowded. Some 1.8 billion riders piled in last year, up more than 11% from 2009, as the city’s job rolls climbed to a record 4.2 million and its population to 8.6 million. Unlimited-ride MetroCards, low crime, expanded free transfers and the issuance of 500,000 free or reduced-fare student MetroCards has also led to more transit use. The system has simply not kept up. Some cars date to the 1960s and 22% of signals are 70 to 80 years old, leading to breakdowns, delays and slower speeds. With the city and economy still growing, things are poised to get much worse. Transit advocates are deeply concerned. “A generation subjected to severe crowding and growing 
unreliability is neither happy nor overly optimistic,” Straphangers 
Campaign head Gene Russianoff said earlier this year.

      Many New Yorkers do not know who is in charge of the agency that runs the subways, buses and commuter railroads. A recent poll found 47% of New Yorkers think it’s the mayor’s job, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority answers to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He appoints the MTA’s chairman, CEO and a plurality of board members, and he crafts the state budget, on which the agency relies for billions of dollars. Mayor Bill de Blasio, pressured by Cuomo, reluctantly increased city funding for a system he doesn’t control. Generally, politicians use the MTA as a punching bag to score points with constituents while city-based advocacy groups such as the Straphangers and the Riders Alliance are shoestring operations with little pull.

      For decades, transit investment fell short. The private companies and city agencies that were precursors to the MTA were not permitted to raise fares, which remained a nickel from the day the subway opened in 1904 until the late 1940s. That necessitated a government takeover, but the state and city likewise underfunded transit, and the MTA struggled to maintain the system, let alone improve it. In the 1970s, the agency even considered shutting down some subway lines on their last legs. A series of five-year capital plans saved the system by pumping in billions of dollars, but the MTA is still playing catch-up. It has added just one subway station, at Hudson Yards, since 1989. Today, with fare discounts, the average subway ride generates less revenue for the MTA than in 1996.

      For all the complaints and paucity of political allies, the system runs 24/7, unlike its counterparts in London and Paris, and is slowly expanding. “If only New Yorkers knew how good they have it” is a constant refrain from out-of-town visitors who marvel over subway service at 2:15 a.m. on a Tuesday (even if the late-night waits can stretch for 20 minutes). Plus, the 469 stations are the most of any such system, putting the subways within a half-mile of 73% of city residents. The first leg of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway will open within the next few months, and other projects are underway or planned to better link the subways to the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, NJ Transit and Amtrak

      Positive signs are on the horizon. Cuomo this summer announced the MTA would introduce open-ended subway cars—standard in modern transit systems—which can increase capacity by 10%. The MTA has deployed platform attendants to urge people to enter and exit subway cars faster, cutting down delays, and, at Cuomo’s behest, plans to speed the installation of countdown clocks. The popular displays reveal when the next trains are coming, giving some riders confidence to wait for a less crowded train or take another route. Other developments could also divert riders: In conjunction with the city, the MTA is adding Select Bus Service routes, which are faster than regular bus lines, and the city plans streetcar service linking the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts. Improvements underway, including the East Side Access project, will benefit users of Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. In a few years, a long-
anticipated replacement for MetroCards could speed turnstile entry and be accepted by commuter rail lines. Even with the city’s population and subway use growing, straphangers should notice more elbow room before long.


  19. incentivelasticity December 9, 2016 at 11:50 am #

    The Las Vegas Monorail is a non-profit. They get revenue from passengers, corporate sponsorships, and brand rights. And it is pretty much one of the only mass transit in this big sprawling desert city. Doesn’t go to airport probably because taxi unions fought back.

    Meanwhile, in the UAE, there’s Masdar, with EV vehicles, PRT trains, lots of shade and solar panels, jobs in energy, free wifi, with residences, retail, light industry, hotels, mosques, water refill stations, recycle cans. Reminds me of Brooklyn navy yards or something similar in the US, focusing on resilience, accountability, innovation, technology, partnerships, collaboration… the PRT is my favorite. You can push a button to enter it, and it runs on batteries powered by solar panels in masdar, you can see when they will arrive, all magnetized. This is like an ideal place to live.

    UAE has Trump ties, so… no ban there!

    Like President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, President Trump’s executive order overreaches and undermines our constitutional system. It’s not lawful to ban immigrants on the basis of nationality. If the president wants to change immigration law, he must work with Congress.

    The president’s denial of entry to lawful permanent residents of the United States (green card holders) is particularly troubling. Green card holders live in the United States as our neighbors and serve in our Armed Forces. They deserve better.

    I agree with the president that we must do much more to properly vet refugees, but a blanket ban represents an extreme approach not consistent with our nation’s values. While the executive order allows the admittance of immigrants, nonimmigrants, and refugees “on a case-by-case basis,” arbitrariness would violate the Rule of Law.

    Ultimately, the executive order appears to be more about politics than safety. If the concern is radicalism and terrorism, then what about Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others?

    Finally, we can’t effectively fight homegrown Islamic radicalism by perpetuating the “us vs. them” mindset that terrorists use to recruit. We must ensure that the United States remains dedicated to the Constitution, the Rule of Law, and liberty. It can’t be stated strongly enough that capitalism creates prosperity and improves assimilation into society.


  20. ilovenycity December 10, 2016 at 12:34 am #

    tourists don’t even understand SBS… they don’t know why they need the little paper tickets before boarding, they think you need them for all buses and then go in all doors in all buses, it’s a confusing mess. thankfully the sbs buses at least look different, have screens inside, so you know what stop is coming up.

    you can’t swipe in the rear of the bus, no motorman to check that you paid, they’re not going to add more people to the bus ($$$), and not going to add the SBS machines into the buses, because it’ll lower capacity and cause crowds…. it’ll be the same problem as before pre-board payment, lining up to get in, but thru all doors instead, then the bus will get crowded and it will get impossible to get to the machine. now, ridership is decreasing but some buses stay crowded… why? bunching, poor service, leading people to think ridership is increasing when it is not!

    Of course, compared to the 80s, ridership has increased while MDBF, track fires, collisions and derailments, murders, rapes, robberies, all have gone down… and buses are so much better too. but, more recently, have things gotten more reliable?


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