The New York City bus system is the largest in the nation, but also the slowest and most inefficient. An MTA bus has an average speed of 7.9mph, and spends 43% of its travel time sitting at traffic lights or bus stops. Outdated infrastructure and technology leads to constant delays and unpredictability that inconveniences those who rely on it every single day. Our bus system is in dire need of updates, especially as ridership bounces back to pre-pandemic levels. We must invest in making our buses faster and more efficient to ensure all members of our community can rely on them each and every day.
The NYC bus system is vital to all our neighborhoods. It provides a means of transportation to those living in outer boroughs where the subway does not reach, especially low-income riders who lack access to cars or ride-share options.
Buses also provide a much more environmentally friendly way to commute throughout the city. Each of its 80 seats takes one private vehicle off the road, which reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Improving the efficiency of our bus system will incentivize more people to choose this green alternative over their own vehicle.
One of the main bottlenecks in our bus system is excessive traffic congestion. As car ownership rates are soaring and delivery truck fleets are expanding to keep up with e-commerce demand, our streets are being suffocated by more vehicles than ever before. This tightly packed traffic not only damages our health and environment, but it often prohibits buses from being able to reach their stops. One route in Lower Manhattan is often forced to suspend several of its stops because buses aren’t able to move around the gridlock outside the Holland Tunnel.
One way to alleviate some of this congestion in our streets– while simultaneously funding new projects and improvements– is the dynamic congestion pricing project. According to a study, these fluctuating road fees would result in a 19% reduction in total vehicles in use at peak time. Not only will this decrease congestion and make buses run faster and more efficiently, but an increased vehicle fee would incentivize people to make the switch to a more eco-friendly option like public transit.
Many major cities have already seen decades of success with a congestion pricing model. Once London introduced the system in 2003, bus delays dropped by 50%. The city also saw a 7% percent increase in bus riders.
NYC is waiting for the MTA to finish a lengthy environmental review and we expect congestion pricing to be implemented by the end of next year.
Another way of improving the efficiency of the bus system is to build out more bus lanes throughout the city. Mayor Adams has pledged to double our current amount of bus lanes by the end of his first term in 2025. The Streets Plan lays out the design for 150 miles of new lanes and 2,500 bus stop upgrades like benches, shelters, and real-time location information. Enforcement is also critical: cars need to be kept out of the bus lane to keep speeds up. Automated camera enforcement of bus lanes issued more than 600,000 violations last year, and drivers who receive one ticket are far less likely to get another.
Our current bus lanes have proven to be one of the best ways to deliver increased speed throughout our roadways. After a gridlocked corner in Flushing, Queens was turned into a busway last year, rush-hour bus speeds increased by 50%. The notorious 14th Street busway boosted ridership by 24% on weekdays and 30% on weekends. Following through with the Streets Plan and implementing more bus lanes is critical to improving journey times, service reliability, and safety.
Our bus system needs updates now more than ever, and NYLCV intends to work with the Administration and our elected leaders to get us there. It is critical that we continue investing in bus lanes and smart street design to allow for a more efficient flow of traffic. Congestion pricing should be introduced at our busiest areas to raise funding, take polluting vehicles off the streets, and promote greener transportation methods. While congestion continues to increase as office workers and tourists return to the City, we need to make sure our buses are equipped with the infrastructure to ensure everyone can get where they need to go in a timely manner.
By Sabrina Pangione