NEW YORK CITY — Taxpayers in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are not getting their money's worth when it comes to the city's transit system, elected officials said Tuesday at a City Council hearing held to brainstorm ways to improve transportation in the outer boroughs.
Transit in many neighborhoods is slow or inadequate in spite of the boom in jobs outside Manhattan over the last 10 years that has resulted in more riders commuting to, or between, the outer boroughs, according to Bronx Councilman James Vacca, who leads the council's transportation committee and called for the hearing.
"Things have changed. The economic conditions have changed," Vacca said. "And we haven't adapted as we should."
As more outer borough residents get jobs within their own counties, or in neighboring suburban counties, they're opting to drive — adding more traffic to the city's streets — because taking the subway, bus, or commuter rail takes far too long, or is simply not an option, Vacca said.
"Getting from the East Bronx to Lehman College or to Riverdale is almost impossible — you have to take three buses," he said.
Bruce Schaller, deputy commissioner for traffic and planning at the Department of Transportation, said the city is already making headway by improving its bus service — an outer borough lifeline.
He pointed to the success of the city's Select Bus Service lines, special express buses that have been rolled out on two lines in Manhattan and the Bx12 line along Fordham Road in the Bronx. The city plans to expand the service to Staten Island's Hylan Boulevard, Brooklyn's Nostrand Avenue and Webster Avenue in the Bronx. They are also studying options for a Select Bus Line servicing LaGuardia airport in Queens, Schaller said.
But transportation advocacy groups said the city's plans are not enough to keep up with transit needs outside Manhattan.
David Giles, of the public policy group The Center for an Urban Future, said the city needs to look outside existing transit routes and create new ones.
"We should be looking for ways to connect major outer borough job centers," Giles said.
In a report released last year, for example, the Center for an Urban Future proposed adding a new rapid transit bus line along Main Street in Flushing, Queens, connecting College Point, Flushing and downtown Jamaica. It also proposed extending the B46 line across the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn to connect with the M15 at Allen Street in Manhattan.
"While [Select Bus Service] is a credible program, it's improving existing networks, not creating new links," said Jeffrey Zupan, a senior fellow with the Regional Plan Association, a civic group that proposes the creation of a new commuter rail line it calls Triboro Rx, which would connect Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, from Yankee Stadium to Bay Ridge, linking major subway lines along the way.
The plan was first introduced by the Regional Plan Association in the 1990s, but it was revived recently by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who endorsed it in April as part of his transit plans for the city.
Zupan reminded those at Tuesday's hearings that all the plans in the city will have no traction unless the state figures out a way to create revenue for the MTA.
"None of these ideas, no matter how good, can be implemented without money," he said.