NY Moves: Rabid Talk of Rapid Buses

NY Moves: Rabid Talk of Rapid Buses

NY Moves: Rabid Talk of Rapid Buses
July 22, 2015

On-board swiping would go the way of subway tokens if New York City Councilman Brad Lander gets his way.

“We should have off-board payment for every bus in the system,” he said. “I’d love to see Mayor de Blasio step up and be the bus mayor!”

Improvements and innovations to New York City’s system of busses was the main topic of discussion at the Alternate Transit panel at City & State’s NY Moves Conference, held Wednesday morning at NYU’s Eisner & Lubin Auditorium.

Lander was joined by Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development and Seth Myers, Executive VP of the New York City Economic Development Corp. on the panel, moderated by frequent City & State contributor Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. The three all agreed on the importance of buses, with Byron even balking at the inclusiuon of buses in this panel.

“Alternate transportation?” Byron exclaimed. “Buses are integral!”

The decision-makers at New York City Transit seem to agree. Bus Rapid Transit, branded as Select Bus Service or SBS in New York City, is quickly expanding within the five boroughs. With the addition of the M86 line last week, there are now nine SBS routes in the city with at least two more planned to start this year: the Q44 connecting Bronx and Flushing, and the B46 in Eastern Brooklyn. In this year’s State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio said he hoped to create more than a dozen new SBS lines in his first term.

Select Bus Service routes are currently the only ones in the city that do follow Lander’s dream of off-board payment. This, along with dedicated lanes and fewer stops, gives SBS riders speed and reliability comparable to subways for a fraction of investment in infrastructure. At least that is what its champions will tell you. Critics of SBS say it eliminates valuable parking spaces and only adds to congestion by taking up a whole lane.

But Byron disagrees with that assumption. “It isn’t a given that creating bus lanes or creating physical bike infrastructure will slow traffic.” She said bad traffic management causes a lot of congestion in the city, and new SBS routes are an opportunity to fix that.

“Look at a graphic,” she added. “How much space 100 people take up on a bus versus how much space they take up in cars.”

Lander has sponsored legislation to have the Mayor’s office conduct a citywide study determining which areas of the city could most benefit from Select Bus Service, how the city would pay for it and how it would be integrated with other forms of transportation, like ferries and bike share.

The panelists all acknowledged that New York City is changing. “Job growth is continuing in places outside Manhattan’s central business district,” Myers said. He called for new solutions, like increasing ferry service along the city’s waterways for the 500,000 residents who live within a half-mile of currently-used ferry landings.

Whether it is by ferries, buses, or something else entirely, Byron noted that transportation is about more than just getting people place to place quickly. It can help the de Blasio administration’s goal of zero traffic deaths.

“Anything that diminishes our reliance on cars, especially single-occupancy vehicles, is going to help achieve the goals of Vision Zero,” she said.

Jeff Coltin
Jeff Coltin
is a staff reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.