Re-imagining the New York City Bus Network

The MTA seems to be in the stone ages when it comes to finding ways to reverse the decline in bus ridership while still breaking even in terms of cost per passenger and what’s called the farebox recovery ratio.  Even though new services will cost the MTA money that they may not have or want to use, some services are needed to either complement or replace outdated or poor performing services.  It makes no sense for a bus route to run in a straight line past several major ridership generators just because it costs less to run, nor does it make sense for a route to serve every single major destination with one bus route.  It’s just redundant.  You can always combine short feeder bus routes to create a loop or super feeder bus route, but let us not make duplicate service where it doesn’t belong.

Farebox recovery, in a few words, is the amount of money each in-service bus collects from fares per hour relative to the cost to operate that bus (driver, fuel, mechanic, maintainer(s), etc.).  Some routes do much better than others, and local buses break even more so than express buses.  Local buses for the most part cost less to operate because at every bus stop, a bus is constantly picking up fares and dropping off passengers all while picking up more fares at each stop.  Longer and heavier bus routes cost less to operate because there are more people riding and more bus stops to pick up more people.  Costs are kept lower by keeping buses on the road and having operator reliefs as opposed to each operator on each bus pull buses in and back out to complete their shifts.  Express buses are usually more expensive to run, despite better fuel economy by staying on highways and traveling at higher speeds, because they often only pick up passengers at one end and only drop off at the other end, meaning no on and off at any stops, which is called “passenger turnover.”

With that said, let’s not create bus routes just for the sake of creating bus routes, or bus routes that will generate interest and build ridership.  Not some 30-minute half-assed bus routes that really do nothing but show the riding public that the MTA tries to think outside the box.  Let’s talk about some of these in a little detail.

Williamsburg to Long Island City via the B32.  Great route idea, to help serve a growing area near the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront area that cannot be served by the B62 or the B43.  One problem:  besides the paltry 30-minute headways and relatively short service span (7am-9pm), the route stops short…Queens Plaza short; it terminates at Court Square currently.  Court Square is a great location due to Citicorp Headquarters, service on the 7, E, G, and M lines, and a number of bus lines to other parts of Queens.  The line would probably have much more potential if the line were extended to Queens Plaza, where you would have access to two more subway lines, the N and Q lines, and many more bus lines to more places around Queens and even Manhattan.  Extend the line to Queens Plaza and offer 24-hour service with 15-minute frequencies, and the MTA would have a winner.  Not perfect, but surely more of a winner than it is now.  The MTA justifies the current operation because it only involves the cost of operating 2 buses as opposed to the 4 or 5 buses a 15-minute frequency would require.  Less money out of the MTA’s pocket.

East New York to Spring Creek via the B84.  Great route, on paper at least.  But here again, the 30-minute frequencies kill any prospect for ridership growth. Also, again, the service span (5am-9pm) is too short.  A route to Gateway Center Mall from the #3 train at New Lots Avenue was recommended since Gateway Mall had only service from Jamaica via the Q8, Ridgewood via the B13, and Broadway Junction via the B83.  Yet, how do you expect to build ridership when you only provide 30-minute headways (practivally 1 bus, no more than 2 buses) and then forget about it?  Set it and forget it?  It’s almost as if the routes are set up to fail.  I hope not.

OK, enough ranting and let’s talk about what can be done, in terms of new bus services and changes to existing bus service, in no particular order.

  1.  Expansion of Select Bus ServiceSelect Bus Service has been promoted so much by the NYC DOT and the MTA that everyone who thinks their buses are super crowded and super slow wants one.  It’s like being on line at sneaker stores when the new Jordans come out.  I have critiqued Select Bus Service in quite a number of posts, not slamming SBS but also not necessarily championing it either.  Nonetheless, I would like to see more SBS conversions, if they make the bus experience faster and more visually attractive, much like the B44 SBS and its bus bulbs.  I would like to see routes like the Q52/Q53, Q44, B6, and B46 converted and combinations of routes to SBS as well such as the Bx6/Bx5 and S93/B37.
  2. The importance of Feeder Bus ServiceFeeder buses feed people to major transit activity hubs and/or subway stations.  There are many routes that act as feeders although we really don’t call them that here; merely every route is a regular bus route serving all passengers at all stops.  Which is fine.  But let’s also stress the importance of feeder routes and possibly treat them as more than just a regular bus route.  Such routes include the Bx20, Bx23, Bx46, Q15/Q15A, Q26, B74, and B100.  Let’s also think about converting short-turn trips on certain routes into standalone feeder routes or creating new ones, such as one from Fresh Meadows to Main Street subway station or from Soundview/Clason’s Point to Hunts Point.
  3. The concept of Direct Access Rapid Bus Service

    This type of service can be branded as Select Bus Service or separate from Select Bus Service.  This would be like a combination of Select Bus Service and Express buses; buses would make all regular stops or even Limited stops up to a certain point and then non-stop to the subway.  This would allow riders in the outer reaches of the city to reduce their commute time to the subway or other transit activity hubs.  Such an example may include a route that would supplement Q46 service by making Limited Stops from North Shore LIJ to St Johns University and then non-stop to the E and F trains at Union Turnpike station.  Another example could include a route which operates around Co-op City and then runs non-stop to the Gun Hill (5), the Gun Hill (2/5), and 205th (D) stations.

  4. More widespread bus lane implementation

    This is not really a bus service revision or creation, but it would be quite necessary for certain areas with known instances of chronic congestion and bus bunching of sorts.  Utica Avenue south of Empire Blvd (B46) and portions of Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues (M11) come to mind.  Other potential places for bus lane “hot spot” implementation could be along West 181st Street (Bx3/11/13/35/36), parts of Kissena Blvd (Q25/34), Victory Blvd (S62), the main roadway at LaGuardia Airport (M60/Q48/70/72), and parts of Kings Highway (B82).

  5. Simplification or truncation of lengthy bus routes

    There are quite a number of bus routes that are too long for their own good.  They get stuck in traffic in too many areas, called “choke points,” are bombarded by passengers around the major hubs of activity, and often have many short-turns, meaning strategic points on a bus route where buses are terminated and sent back in the other direction to fix poor reliability in service.  While I do understand that some bus routes are very long to accommodate seniors and those with disabilities to travel long distances without the ability to take the subway, there is hardly any reason for most of these routes to run so far and get choked up in several hot spots all for the sake of accessibility.  If we have the M15 that runs along nearly the entire East Side of Manhattan, do we really need the M101/102/103 and the M1/2/3/4 to do exactly the same thing?  If the M11 runs almost the entire West Side of Manhattan, do we really need the M104 and M7 to do so as well?  Some of those might be necessary, but at least can we simplify the lives of those riders who need the services but are daunted by how many buses come and are not theirs?

    Instead of having some M1s and M4s run Limited during rush hours and all M2 running limited until late nights, why can’t we just make the shortest of the 4 routes along 5th/Madison Avenues locals and the longest of the routes Limiteds?  M1 and M2 would run local, since they are the shortest of the 4, and the M3 and M4 would run Limited, since they schlep longer distances once they leave the East Side.  It would go a long way to making service on 5th/Madison simpler and easier to deal with than being at a local stop and M1s and M4s are passing by not realizing that some M1s and M4s run Limited during the rush hours.  No buses need to be ordered or transferred, no runs abolished or added, and no extra drivers are needed.  Just the running times on routes like the M4 (The Straphangers’ Campaign gave their “Schleppie Award” to the M4 in 2012) would be affected, greatly reducing the amount of time spent on the route and thus requiring less buses to complete the route.  A little bit can go a long way.

While I do realize that most of these ideas may not be cost-prohibitive, there is no reason why any of this brainstorming isn’t worth looking at, especially since better routes mean higher ridership and more return on investment from the passenger and operational standpoint.  Why keep running routes to break even when you can run routes which actually break even as well as serve an ever-changing ridership demographic?  If most people on Union Turnpike are headed for the subway, why should the route contain just a plain local and a plain Limited when you can add an extra layer of service to enhance the rider experience?  It’s not like extra buses are needed, but simply certain buses which are scheduled as Limiteds to serve Direct Access service so that turnaround at the subway is quicker.  It’s not an entire conversion like SBS, but just an extra layer with the same buses but faster.



Until next time…


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One Response to Re-imagining the New York City Bus Network

  1. Hi there! This post couod not be written any better! Goikng through this
    post reminds me of my prfevious roommate! He conhtinually kept talking about this.
    I most certainly will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a great read.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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