New York City Council Transportation Committee Oversight of Transit Authority Bus Service

Council members:

My name is Paul Harrison. I represent Transportation Alternatives, a 3,300 member citizens' group dedicated to a better quality of life through improved and expanded transit, as well as better conditions for cycling and walking.

Transportation Alternatives would like to commend the committee for its interest in New York's city buses. New York City once had the best surface transit system in the world. Today, the system has declined to the point where New Yorkers skip taking the bus because riding the bus is often no faster than walking. It is certainly slower than taking a cab, or driving your own car.

Given this problem, the temptation is to blame the Transit Authority for poor service and mismanagement. Anyone who rides the bus system knows that the Transit Authority could do a better job. But, the bus system is not declining because of Transit Authority mismanagement. The bus system is failing because of New York City policy.

The problem is simple. The slower the bus, the fewer the people who ride. The fewer the people who ride, the more who drive. The more people who drive, the slower the bus. It is a classic catch-22, but the City Council has the power to break the cycle.

Buses don't work because they are high capacity vehicles stuck in traffic behind low capacity vehicles. The city has tried bus lanes, but the way they've been implemented fails consistently without heavy enforcement. It is time to take things a step further, and implement a design that is self-enforcing.

Not only would such a design speed up the buses, which are now a third slower than those of other comparable systems, but it would save the Transit Authority and the city tens of millions of dollars. The cost of congestion to buses is estimated to be $250 million a year. With less congestion provided by self enforcing bus lanes, the Transit Authority would need fewer buses, fewer drivers, and the buses would break down far less often. This money could be used to take a serious bite out of the feared upcoming cut in state and federal transit funding, or to increase service levels.

Transportation Alternatives strongly supports the recommendations made in the Transit Authority's "Faster than Walking" report. A bus lane of the kind proposed by the Transit Authority should be implemented on a major Manhattan avenue and on a street in downtown Brooklyn as soon as possible. The Council should direct the DOT and the Transit Authority to develop an implementation plan for these lanes and report back to the Council as to their progress at a specified time in the near future. The Council should also direct the Transit Authority and the DOT to develop a plan and timetable for implementation of all or most of the suggested bus routes noted in Appendix 5 of the report.

Buses on congested avenues are a small percentage of the total vehicles, but often carry more people than all the other vehicles combined. It is time for the City Council to adopt a policy of Transit First, where we design streets to emphasize transit and pedestrian use. These uses are the lifeblood of New York The City Council must also make sure that the city does not disinvest in the transit system. New York is a city where the majority of citizens, middle, upper and lower class, do not own cars. If those people stopped taking transit, the city would die.

They're doing the city a favor by using transit every day. The City Council should do them a favor by doing the following two things:

1. Maintain the city's commitment to rebuilding the transit system through capital investment.

2. Drastically improve bus service by implementing fully and rapidly the recommendations presented in the Transit Authority's "Faster than Walking" report. The City Council should make it clear to City DOT and the Transit Authority that it expects protoype lanes on at least one Manhattan Avenue and one downtown Brooklyn street by the end of 1995.

Suggested Questions for the Transit Authority re: Improvement in Bus Service
Provided by Transportation Alternatives

1. How much would it cost to build a "New York Bus Lane", and how much would it save?

2. Why would the new lanes you are proposing work better than existing bus lanes?

3. How would other users; motorists, taxis, truck drivers, bicyclists, be affected?

4. What kind of an effect would the reccomendations in your report have on ridership and how would that affect air quality?

5. How do you propose to keep other users out of these lanes while still allowing for the delivery of goods and services?

6. You've worked with the DOT to start building a New York Bus lane in Jamaica. Why haven't you and the DOT been able to develop a similar lane in Manhattan or in downtown Brooklyn, where the worst congestion is?

Testimony Old URL
950201bus