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M50 Bus Wins Pokey Award for Slowest in the City

By Mary Johnson | December 1, 2011 4:50pm
The Pokey award, were it a real statuette, would consist of a golden snail mounted atop a pedestal.
The Pokey award, were it a real statuette, would consist of a golden snail mounted atop a pedestal.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MIDTOWN — If you're taking the M50, you might as well walk.

The slower-than-molasses bus, which creeps across Midtown at a snail-like pace, rolled in with this year's Pokey Award for the slowest route in the city.

“You can push a lawnmower faster crosstown than it takes the M50 to go from First to 12th Avenue,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, which hands out the "awards" every year.

The M50, which runs crosstown on 49th and 50th streets, between First Avenue and 12th Avenue, was clocked at the paint-drying average speed of 3.5 mph — even slower than the M42, which picked up last year's award.

That bus, which creeps along 42nd Street, was bested by a child riding a scooter in 2009.

By contrast, the slowest bus in Staten Island, the S48, breezes along at a speedy 8.8 mph.

No actual trophy was handed out at Thursday's event, where representatives the Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives dressed in tuxedos and bowties. But an image of the award shows a golden snail atop a pedestal.

The M50 wasn’t the only route "honored" at Thursday's ceremony.  

The M101, M102 and M103 buses, which travel along Third and Lexington between City Hall and Washington Heights, were bestowed the sixth annual Schleppie Award — represented by two golden, lumbering elephants — which recognizes the least reliable buses in the city.

The Schleppie is awarded for the percentage of buses bunched together or gaps in service.  According to the Straphangers Campaign, the M101/102/103 was 27.3 percent unreliable.

To determine the winners, the Straphangers Campaign used a combination of MTA data and its own volunteers and workers, who rode 35 different bus routes between July and September, always at around noon.

"The statistics are not very positive about bus service," said Russianoff, who bought his Pokey awards tuxedo at a vintage shop in the Village. “There’s a severe price to be paid for not replacing buses and subway cars."

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, agreed, noting that breakdowns on city buses have increased by 12 percent since last year. White also said that city buses are aging and not being replaced with new vehicles.

But the Pokey and Schleppie awards aren't all bad news, Russianoff added. In past years, bus routes that landed on the list of the city’s worst have seen improvements, such as the BX12 in the Bronx and the M15, which travels along First and Second avenues in Manhattan.

"Bus speeds [on those routes] have improved some 40 or 50 percent,” Russianoff said. “We continue to do it because there's been progress."

Both Russianoff and White also championed the changes being implemented for buses that travel along 34th Street, a plan that included adding dedicated bus lanes and off-board fare pre-payment.

Although a dedicated bus lane likely wouldn't work along the narrow East 49th Street to alleviate problems on the M50 route, Russianoff said, the Department of Transportation could make adjustments to extend traffic lights. The NYPD could also do a better job of policing double parking along the east-west corridor, he added.

In a statement responding to the Pokey award announcement, the MTA lauded the Select Bus Service as a "game changer in New York, with 20 percent faster bus service now on three routes."

"We are working with the city to expand the SBS network," the statement continued. "At the same time, we are pursuing real-time bus arrival information and a new fare payment system that will improve bus service across the entire system."

A little after 11 a.m. on Thursday, a woman who declined to give her name, stood waiting in frosty temperatures for the M50.

"I actually think that it is one of the slowest ones I’ve ever encountered," said the rider, who usually takes a different bus up Third Avenue to 67th Street and crosses town there.

"That’s excellent,” she said, referring to the crosstown routes further north. "It seems to me that there’s more [buses]."

After a few minutes, the woman glanced down East 49th Street in search of the next M50.

"See," she said, gesturing down the road, "you’ll wait forever."