Attractive Transit for New York City

New York is one of the greatest cities on the planet, with one of the greatest transit systems in the country,…well, the largest one, anyway.  This is not to say that it’s perfect, but it’s vast and popular enough that people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds take the subway or buses every day.  Aside from its imperfections, the transit system is the lifeblood of New York, evidenced by the shutdown of New York City due to the attacks on 9/11, the Great Blackout of 2003, the transit strike of 2005, and Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  Does it need improvement?  Surely.  Can it be realized in my generation?  Some things, yes, but other things are questionable.  Attractive transit?  Maybe.  We are seeing bits and pieces of attractive transit from the R160 New Technology subway trains on the E, F, J, L, N, Q, R, and Z lines to the new style rigid and articulated buses from New Flyer and NovaBUS of Canada.

The chapter is not quite finished yet.  Even though we are still waiting for a Second Avenue Subway and the Javits Extension of the #7 line, and even though we have Bus Rapid Transit in the form of Select Bus Service, more can and should be done, even if miniscule.  Let’s go over some of those things:

  1. Implementation of park -and-ride facilities.  There are a handful of park-and-ride lots in the city, including Showplace Park-N-Ride in Staten Island and the parking lot across from CitiField in Flushing, of which are served by subways or Express buses.  I always wonder, since we have so many cars coming into the city via the Bruckney Expressway, the LIE, the Grand Central, or the Verrazano Bridge, why aren’t there park-and-rides with Express bus or subway service into Manhattan?  Or is it because Long Island has all the park-and-rides at LIRR stations?  Why not any in Queens or Staten Island?  Other than Showplace and the park-and-ride at the Eltingville Transit Center, we really don’t have any.  Maybe one on the LIE at the Queens-Nassau Border or at the Van Wyck-LIE or Grand Central-LIE interchanges can be served by the QM-express buses.  Or, possibly one in the marshes past Co-op City served by a BxM-route or a feeder bus to the subway at Pelham Bay Park?  Maybe if there were more park-and-rides, full time ones at that, maybe there wouldn’t be so much traffic going into and out of Midtown and/or Lower Manhattan.  It’s not a foreign concept, since New Jersey has plenty of them (North Bergen, Willowbrook, Allwood, to name a few).  New Yorkers drive just as often as Jersey drivers, even in the city, since transit hasn’t kept up with the influx of residents and their travel needs.
  2. Transit Centers at off-street locations.  The idea of a transit center is to have a safe place for passengers of one mode of transportation to seamlessly transfer to another mode of transportation or between modes, such as bus to bus or bus to subway.  Places like the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, the Eltingville Transit Center, and the Victor Moore Arcade (at 74th-Roosevelt Station) come to mind.  We need more of that, whether large or small, even within mall property limits such as Kings Plaza and Green Acres Mall.  This is not to say that we can’t have your usual on-street transfer points since we have too many bus routes on too many streets to make on-street transfers obsolete.  There simply should be safe havens for transit riders to exchange modes, even if it’s bus to bike or taxi to subway.  We have several transit centers around the city, even though they aren’t really called “transit centers,” some under the term “plaza” like Fordham Plaza, which would be an intermodal transportation center (Metro-North stops there too) with shopping and open public space surrounding it.  If that’s what it takes, then so be it.  Some ideas include transit centers located in Downtown Flushing, Downtown Brooklyn, and Queens Plaza, as well as expanded amenities at Kings Plaza, Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, Pelham Bay Park, The HUB in the Bronx, and Queens Center Mall.  With attractive options, traveling via transit would be easier, safer, and more attractive.
  3. Transit Countdown Boards.  To tie in with park-and-ride implementation and transit center expansion and improvement, there should also be large countdown boards to allow riders to see at a glance how long of a wait for a number of subway and bus lines that run in the vicinity of the transit hub.  This is merely for those with no access to mobile devices or computers and for those who feel it’s easier to see the bus as it inches closer to the stop rather than fiddle in their personal bags for a phone whose battery might drain quickly before it displays the required information.  Countdown screens are currently available at IRT stations, L line stations, and along the B44 Select Bus Service route.  If the B44 SBS countdown screens or larger ones can be made accessible at major transit hubs or stops, they would be much more useful for the riding public than looking at just their phone or just the posted schedules.  Such countdown boards have been implemented in major transit locations in Winnipeg, Manitoba (pictured below), which have been quite useful for quick transit arrival information for multiple bus routes.
    Winnipeg Transit

    Countdown Beacon in Winnipeg. (c) 2012 C. Walton

    Can you imagine a board like this placed at major intersections on 125th Street, possibly at the M60 SBS bus bulbs, or at the subway stations along Hillside Avenue in Queens, or even at Fulton Mall in Brooklyn?  All countdown information would be tied into BusTime, but would be in a format available to all riders at a quick glance.  There could even be a combined bus/subway countdown board with BusTime and SubwayTime information, situated at Utica Avenue Station on Eastern Parkway.  The board can have a top half which displays the next (3) and (4) trains in either direction and a bottom half which shows the next arrivals for the B14, B17, and B46 buses.  Just think of the possibilities.

  4. A regional system with a regional fare card.  Metrocard is great and all, but let’s get with the times and re-think the Metrocard.  Turn it into a smart card, for all I care.  Let’s make it Smartlink compatible, usable on anything NJ Transit via an e-purse and anything MTA, Bee-Line, NICE, or Transport of Rockland with unlimited-ride fare products.  Similar to ORCA in Seattle or Q-Card in Houston, transit users would be able to use their unlimited-ride products on the subways and buses throughout New York City, Nassau, Westchester, and maybe Suffolk and Rockland counties all while being able to charge NYC Express bus, NJ Transit, LIRR, Metro-North, or ferry rides with the e-purse which stores money value so the correct fare is deducted each time you tap on a transit mode.  It makes life much easier for those who use more than one system or more than one mode of transportation, makes boarding buses faster all around, and allows for anyone to access more throughout the region without having to carry cash, coins, or multiple transit cards.  I know funds are tight, supposedly, but that doesn’t have to slow down progress for the riders.
  5. Steady funding sources and a transit lockbox.  A transit lockbox, much like New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund, can go a long way towards securing dedicated, steady funding sources for transit in New York City and across the region.  These systems do not pay for themselves, unfortunately, but at least with a lockbox, we can have rainy-day funds for projects sorely needed but underfunded.  This way, we can have service increases on lines that need them but also attempt to keep the fare relatively affordable.  In other words, no more fare increases, at least for several years.  A fare hike every two years has aggravated the riding public to a point where riders take their frustrations out on front line employees, more so on the bus side than on the subway side, and more with station agents and conductors than train operators and cleaners.  We can afford “wonderful” new buses, new subway “stubs,” and fuel that can only be transported by one supply company and isn’t the standard fuel of other transit systems, but we can’t seem to pay the workers that provide services with MTA-owned vehicles or communicate to the public what is being done when the subway issues reroutes.  While a transit lockbox cannot dictate priorities, at least it can prevent situations like that in 2010 when former CEO Jay Walder ordered draconian cuts to fill a hole in the MTA budget.

The little things like transit center expansion and special services like SBS or Direct Access buses can go a long way.  Even though everyone in eastern Queens wants a subway like everyone else, the little things like better bus dispatching, transit centers with park-and-ride facilities, and real-time transit information at bus centers can surely help improve the transit experience.  I do give credit to the MTA for allowing software and mobile app developers to create content that would work with proprietary MTA information to deliver the best customer experience the MTA cannot provide alone.  Now, if they were more open to ideas such as mine, maybe the world would be a better place.  The New York City transit world,that is.


Until next time…

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