NYC’s other Transit Crisis: the Bus System (NYC Comptroller)

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The bus system is the workhorse of New York City public transit, serving residents of all ages, ethnicities, and income levels across all five boroughs. Its size and scope is unparalleled, with 5,700 buses, 330 routes, and 16,000 stops serving well over two million passengers each day—more than the combined daily ridership of LIRR, MetroNorth, PATH, and New Jersey Transit.[i]

The bus system is also the future of New York City public transit, connecting emerging job hubs outside of lower-Manhattan that are ill-served by the subway’s hub-and-spoke network. As the New York City economy diversifies, its fastest growing industries—health, education, hospitality, food services, culture—are also its most diffuse. For these sectors, buses are essential to the livelihood of their employees, clients, and customers and to their future success.

And yet, despite its extraordinary size, reach, and importance, the bus system is too often neglected. Within the sprawling Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), it is overshadowed by subways, commuter rail, and bridges, which enjoy more attention and resources. Within the City—which oversees the roads, curbs, shelters, and traffic lights that buses depend upon—it receives abundant rhetorical support, but too little substantive assistance.

As a result, the bus system has been stifled. Its routes are often slow, unreliable, long, meandering, confusing, congested, and poorly connected. Its buses are old, its shelters deficient, and access to its stops and separated lanes are under-enforced. Its network is stagnant, changing little in recent decades despite an extraordinary transformation in residential, employment, and commuting patterns throughout the five boroughs.

This is not the result of unavoidable circumstances, but rather a product of age-old institutional failures by the City and the MTA to maximize the system’s potential. While bus riders demand fast, reliable, frequent, connective, accessible, and legible public transit, that basic level of service is too rarely on offer. As this report from New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer documents:

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Written by Long Branch Mike