We all talk about how slow New York City’s buses are, on average, in terms of miles per hour. In Manhattan, where there’s more riders and more traffic, bus speeds on average are around 3.5-6.5 miles per hour, while in the outer boroughs, the average speed is around 6.5-8.5 miles per hour. This means that even though buses might be moving pretty fast (I mean, let’s face it, the buses aren’t going faster than the city speed limit of 30MPH) and travel long distances, there is more time spent in traffic or at bus stops than in motion. With that said, there needs to be more measures taken to ensure that buses are in motion longer and over longer distances.
With much of our bus infrastructure not going anywhere or changing anytime soon, apart from Select Bus Service, there might not be any hope for making bus service better or faster. We will still have routes that are too long, have too few buses or buses too small to safely carry the ridership (in New York City Transit, 40 feet can be seem too small), and we as riders will always complain about slow bus service and bunching of buses trying to keep the schedule amid the typical New York congestion.
Well, something needs to be done, if we want to stop complaining about slow bus service especially in areas with no subway service. That is, unless, the complainers want to validate their existence by always having something to complain about.
Here are some ideas to make a dent in bus service speeds and overall experience:
- A wider implementation of red-painted bus lanes.
Why should Select Bus Service have all the fun? Why can’t we upgrade existing pre-SBS bus lanes such as on 5th and Madison Avenues in Manhattan? Why can’t we expand the red bus lanes to other areas of the city, as was done on Livingston Street in Brooklyn and Jamaica Avenue in Queens? Surely we can figure something out, where bus lanes would be implemented nearly everywhere in the city, not just in SBS corridors? Not to worry, the red bus lanes won’t cause the SBS novelty to wear off. The distinction between SBS corridors with red lanes and other parts of the city with said lanes is the service level, branding, and proof-of-payment.
- Proof-of-payment zones in busy districts.
Imagine speeding up bus service in Downtown Brooklyn where all buses on Livingston Street or Fulton Mall have some sort of proof-of-payment system so that large numbers of riders wouldn’t have to queue up at the front door of the bus at each stop. Outside of Downtown Brooklyn, these bus lines would operate as normal, paying as you board the front of the bus. Unlike SBS, the only special branding would exist at the fare machines and maybe the bus shelters. On maps, there could be dotted boxes that would denote special zones where multiple-route POP would exist. Other areas for POP zoning could include Kings Plaza, the St. George Ferry Terminal, Downtown Flushing, the Jamaica termini of the E and F lines, and West 181st Street in Washington Heights.
- Headway-based vs. schedule-based operations.
Bus service based on a schedule. Sounds familiar? Every regularly-scheduled fixed bus route in New York City has a schedule to follow, with exact times and trips to be completed. That would be schedule-based operations, where every bus has to be at certain bus stops, or timepoints, at a given time, otherwise the bus is late. Congestion, detours, accidents, inclement weather, and crazy riders can delay any bus route, but especially the heaviest routes. Yet, buses are expected to show up on-time and with space to board. How can we solve this? In the same way it is manifested at SBS bus stops, with interval-based or headway-based operations, where buses are told to make their trips as best as they can but with a focus on maintaining a certain time space between buses. Depending on how the bus is progressing along the route, they can flag stops or adjust their operation accordingly without having buses sit at traffic lights if they are early or rushing to create an accident if they are late. Note that this model of operation probably works best on busy lines with frequent service (every 5-15 minutes on individual services) or routes with no turnback points. Such routes include the Q46, B1, S93, and Q17. Also note that even though interval-based operations battles the bus bunching question, it can also regulate intervals since the bus is not under any pressure to keep back from the bus in front of it and can also “leapfrog” another bus within rules to balance the loads between buses.
While most of these articles are written about improvements to bus operations, I have not neglected to think about subway issues and ways to overcome them. The buses are my main concern because of the stagnation of ridership, possibly because riders are sucking it up and taking the subway despite the complaints of many that cannot or will not take to the underground. The subway system, as old as massive as it is, cannot really foster too many radical changes to infrastructure as the bus system can. It’s not like we can tear down an entire subway station and build a new one, or completely reconfigure an elevated structure to fit the profile of a growing ridership shift. We can’t make the (J) line run down Jamaica Avenue all the way from Broadway Junction to Parsons-Archer, but we can change the way the B44 functions. We can’t just extend the (N) train to LaGuardia Airport, but we can run a Q70 bus from 74th/Roosevelt to the Airport. The bus network, largely unchanged since the omnibus and streetcar days, can be tweaked and re-adjusted to improve operations in such a cost-conscious transit environment such as that run by the MTA.