Advocates Say Bus Ridership is Down, Offer a Path Forward

The NYC Bus Coalition has released a report highlighting some of the key areas where bus service in NYC is lagging behind, resulting in lower ridership. This has significant ramifications for our efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of NYC’s transportation sector. Efficient, frequent and on-time buses are an important part of getting New Yorkers in the furthest reaches of the city to choose transit over cars. With declining bus ridership, we can actually see an increase in emissions from this sector while energy and others have shown a strong positive trend in recent years.

From 2002 through 2015, bus ridership has dropped by 16% and from 2010 to 2015, bus speeds have decreased by 2%, offering 46 million less trips than the near 700 million offered in 2010.  This is only exacerbated by the fact that the city’s most touted route, the M15 Select Bus Service, along 1st and 2nd Avenues has lost over 1 million riders in just one year.

While Governor Cuomo is pushing for shiny new buses with high-tech bells and whistles, there is a huge disconnect between the want for newer buses and the need for faster transit to actually boost ridership.  Many people are deterred from riding the bus because they are untimely, arrive in clusters, and at some points of the day are crawling from stop to stop.  In addition, there are only about 10, or 4% of the 250 bus routes throughout the 5 boroughs that are Select Bus Service routes, which allow riders to board from any door, and have their receipt/ticket stub on hand, if needed.

A lot of this comes down to the speed of the buses and how they maneuver around traffic.  When compared to 6 other major cities in the country ranging from Boston, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, NYC buses rank the lowest; at approximately 7.4 mph, with more localized areas (such as Midtown, Downtown Brooklyn, and Jamaica, Queens) topping off at an average of 4 mph.

Recommendations for the City and State are to encourage bus ridership by enforcing stricter ticketing around congested “Bus Only” lanes, as well as incorporating more into the city.  In addition, as Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has stated, that even though SBS is not necessary for all 250 bus routes, there are many thing (like all door boarding) that the MTA and NYCDOT can do to make bus transit a more desirable alternative to walking.

Another key item to look at is to promote a better partnership between the MTA who handles the bus routes and the NYCDOT who handles the streets.  Other cities have been able to increase bus ridership and transit through more enhanced measures of SBS, such as separate bus lanes, all door boarding through a “tap and go” style card, and better traffic control reducing congestion of buses and cars intermingling.
We’re excited to see our partners putting out this timely report and look forward to working with them to push for its recommendations. By applying the lessons learned in SBS to the entire system, we can create a bus system that everyone wants to use.