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New Routes and Payment System Can Increase Flagging Bus Ridership: Report

 Transit advocates have released a new report with a series of suggestions for improving the city's bus system, including new routes, tap-and-go fare payments, redesigned streets and more efficient scheduling.
Transit advocates have released a new report with a series of suggestions for improving the city's bus system, including new routes, tap-and-go fare payments, redesigned streets and more efficient scheduling.
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — With bus ridership plummeting in recent years, the MTA needs to make a series of changes to expedite bus travel in the face of record subway use and population growth, transit advocates said.  

Citing the fact that bus ridership has fallen 16 percent between 2002 and 2015, the NYC Bus Turnaround Coalition is urging city leaders and transit officials to implement improvements ranging from new routes and redesigned streets to a quicker fare-payment system.

The group's report, “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses,” states that New Yorkers take roughly 2.5 million rides on city buses on an average weekday.

The decrease in ridership through the years comes as subway use rose by 24.7 percent and the city's population grew by 5.7 percent, according to the study, which cited data from the National Transit Database and the American Community Survey.

The speed of city buses is also down, as buses traveled at an average of 7.8 miles per hour in 2000 — compared to 7.4 miles per hour in 2014, the report says. On the city’s most congested streets, buses frequently travel below 4 miles per hour.

However, travel time has improved by 13 to 23 percent on the city’s Select Bus Service routes in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island, and ridership on those routes has increased between 10 to 31 percent, the report says.

As for speed, New York trails behind other cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where buses traveled at an average of 10 miles per hour or more on the average weekday in 2014, the report says.

The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the accuracy of the figures. 

The report cites bus improvements in other cities that have successfully reversed a decline in ridership, including London, where ridership increased by 75 percent between 2001 and 2015 after city leaders implemented dedicated bus lanes, smart-card fare-payment systems, increased service, all-door boarding, and new buses with more doors and lower floors.

The transit group has recommended a similar series of improvements to New York City's bus system.

Redesigned routes would fit modern commuting patterns by removing detours and indirect routes, breaking up routes that are too long, spacing out stops to make trips faster and creating new access routes, the report says.

Tap-and-go fare-payment technology, redesigned bus interiors and boarding at every door would make it easier for passengers to move on and off the bus. 

The MTA is currently looking into replacing the MetroCard with a “contactless” fare payment system that’s expected to be in place by 2020.

Real-time bus-location data would allow dispatchers to make sure buses depart terminals on time and maintain even spacing between other buses, the study says.

New dedicated bus lanes with camera enforcement would help buses move through congested areas more easily, while new bus islands would give riders dedicated waiting areas. 

Short, bus-only “queue-jump” lanes would also reduce delays by giving buses a three- or four-second exclusive signal at intersections, allowing them to jump ahead of car traffic.

The report also proposes easier access to information for riders, such as the addition of countdown clocks and on-board announcements.

The MTA says it is already working to implement many of the recommendations made in the report. 

“MTA is constantly re-evaluating bus routes to improve reliability and to optimize routes in order to serve areas where the demand is highest,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, noting that multiple studies have already been completed or are under way in areas like northeastern Queens, Co-Op City and Staten Island.

For example, Ortiz said the MTA will be seeking approval next week from its board to split the M5 route in Manhattan to improve service on the "notoriously unreliable route."

The MTA is also currently using a real-time bus tracker called Bus Trek to address gaps and bus bunching, Ortiz said. He said the technology is already accessible to customers through the BusTime app and on countdown clocks, which are managed by the Department of Transportation. 

"We will also continue to support NYC DOT's efforts to create dedicated bus lanes, install bus bulbs and boarding islands and optimize traffic signals," Ortiz said.

The NYC Bus Turnaround Coalition — which includes the Riders Alliance, the NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, TransitCenter and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign — says it will work with the MTA, the DOT and elected officials to implement the changes.