“What’s wrong with buses?” I often asked this question to people I know who refuse to ride New York City buses. Not too long ago, after a midday 6 train I was riding got cancelled at 28th Street, I thought something similar: “why not just take the bus?” I had forty minutes to get from 28th Street to 68th Street during non-peak hours and figured I had more than enough time to travel 40 blocks. I figured traffic couldn’t possibly be too bad right now, so I walked to 3rd Avenue and got on the next M102 bus.
Well, now I know why people avoid buses in Manhattan – it was a nightmare! It took nearly an hour to get to my destination; walking would have saved me 10 minutes.
It’s not news that buses are slow and unreliable, and getting worse. Traffic congestion in New York City is increasing, and heavily felt in the CBD due to the proliferation of Uber and other e-hailing services. As a result of gridlock, average bus speeds have been steadily dropping as has ridership.
Necessary decisions and actions must be taken to improve the quality of bus service throughout the City, as it is a necessary lifeline for many. Positive action could improve commute times, improve service reliability and enable commutes that are not currently feasible on buses.
Bus ridership has been on a steady decline, dropping 16% between 2002 and 2015. This trend is mostly seen in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where an increase in e-hailing services and other vehicles has added to the congestion resulting in a serious impact on bus service and travel times. According to DOT, vehicle speeds in Manhattan south of 60th Street fell by 12% between 2010 and 2015.
New York City Bus speeds are among the slowest in the country, averaging 7.4 MPH. In heavily congested commercial areas bus travel speeds often drop as low as 4 MPH. It is clear that there is a major issue with bus speeds throughout the city, and without a major plan to address the growing congestion, buses will soon be at a standstill during critical parts of the day.
Congestion pricing presents the best opportunity to increase Manhattan bus speeds.
A successful congestion pricing plan will decrease vehicles on Manhattan’s heavily clogged streets and substantially improve bus speeds and reliability, allowing the bus system to flourish. It will also encourage some riders to move off of the overburdened subway system, helping it to function better while much needed repairs are made.
The success of London’s 2003 congestion pricing effort can be attributed to both the congestion pricing itself, as well as the large investment made in public transportation. With the introduction of congestion pricing, 300 buses were added to the system, establishing new efficient routes and increasing frequency on existing ones. These additional buses accounted for a 23% increase in service. As a result, a 38% increase in bus ridership was experienced during AM peak hours while the London Underground experienced a 2% decline in ridership, which is attributed to the improved bus services. Over 10 years of implementation, London’s investment in transit has led to a 23% increase in daily trips made into the city center, while reducing the number of automobiles entering by 44 %.
While subways are in dire need of upgrades and repairs, the importance of the bus system must not be forgotten. Providing efficient bus service will help relieve some pressure from congested subway lines such as the Lexington Avenue line. Additional bus lanes, improved bus stop infrastructure, and improved traffic signal timing, in conjunction with congestion pricing, can significantly enhance the quality of bus service and all mobility within the central business district, and may have wide ranging improvements on the transit system as a whole.