Transit Signal Priority: a Solution to Fix Slow Bus Service

Nearly 75 percent of New York City’s 246 bus routes have received D or F letter grades from a report card issued by the Bus Turnaround Coalition in February. The group of advocates graded each bus route by average speed and reliability, among other factors. The city’s slowest bus route, the M42 Manhattan crosstown, crawls along 42nd Street with an average speed of just  3.5 mph, which is about as fast as the average human walking speed. The city’s bus service continues to get slower and less reliable, shifting massive numbers of New York passengers to subway, bicycles, and especially ride-hailing services. The decline in bus ridership has gotten even steeper in the past few years. There were 46 million fewer annual bus trips recorded in 2015 than there were in 2010. Between 2016 and 2017, bus service declined again from about 910 million bus trips to about 854 million bus trips, which represents the largest single-year ridership loss in the past 15 years.

According to a report by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, city buses are only spending about half the time in-motion when they are on road. Another 21 percent is spent at red lights and 22 percent at bus stops. By utilizing Transit Signal Priority, a bus route can cut its travel time by up to 18%. TSP, a technology that coordinates vehicles and traffic signals, reduces the time buses are stopped by holding green lights longer or shortening red lights. Since 2012, NYC’s Department of Transportation has worked with the MTA to implement TSP on 5 corridors in the city, with excellent results. On average, TSP has reduced bus travel times by 14 percent during weekday rush hours. One of the routes equipped with TSP technology, B44 Select Bus Line, has successfully cut its travel time during the evening rush hour by 7 minutes per trip. Overall travel time of the buses equipped with TSP have shown reductions between 1 percent up to 25 percent.

In addition, TSP technology can also reduce peak hour congestion for all corridor traffic and side street traffic, resulting in a total reduction of up to 11.9% of travel time in the area.

Recently, NYLCV and our partners in the transportation sector have been applying pressure to get the MTA and DOT to implement TSP on more buses across the city. Since the technology necessary for TSP has already been installed on all traffic signals citywide, there’s no excuse to keep New Yorkers waiting. City Council Member Mark Levine, who has sponsored a bill in the City Council that would require the city to implement transit signal priority on at least 10 bus routes per year for the next 4 years, said, “This is really on us. The MTA is ready to go. They have the equipment on the buses. We have got to implement this on our traffic signals.” New Yorkers have a right to a more reliable transit system, and Transit Signal Priority will be a crucial part of speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability. We must make public transportation more reliable and efficient or more and more New Yorkers will be tempted to take less environmentally friendly options.