Outer Boroughs Suffer Transit Deficit, Need Better Bus Service
Transportation Alternatives Testifies To City Council Transportation Committee
Today, Ya-Ting Liu, Transportation Alternatives' Director of Transit Advocacy, testified before the New York City Council Transportation Oversight Hearing, "Keeping Up with the Boroughs -- Addressing Public Transit Needs Outside Manhattan." She spoke on the need for better bus service to help correct the lack of public transportation in the outer boroughs:
Good morning Chair Vacca and Members of the City Council Transportation Committee. Thank you for convening this important hearing.
We're here today to talk about an inequity--one that grows more acute every day. While Manhattan is crisscrossed with dozens of bus and subway lines, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island must endure a grave deficit of public transportation. Even as outer borough neighborhoods transform into engines of growth and development, they've been forced to bear transit service cuts that imperil their future and impose hardship on local residents.
The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island do not need more service cuts and higher fares. What the boroughs outside Manhattan need is better bus service.
Transportation Alternatives has partnered with community-based organizations and city, state and federal elected officials to convene transit town halls in Flushing, Jamaica, Elmhurst, Bronx River, Fordham Heights and Sheepshead Bay-- six transit town halls in all, with twelve elected officials, and over two hundred participants. In every community, local residents made it clear that the outer boroughs are not getting the transit service they need. In every community, local residents identified improved bus service as their greatest hope for fulfilling that need.
Bus service is the fastest, most affordable way to provide the outer boroughs with the public transit they need. The current iteration of the Second Avenue Subway project is nearly twenty years old and is expected to cost two billion dollars per mile. It's unlikely we will see that kind of investment in time and money brought to every neighborhood that would benefit from a new subway line. Select Bus Service routes, for example, can be up and running in two to three years, for pennies in comparison.
It's a fact that New Yorkers in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island suffer severe inequality in public transportation service. A New Yorker is underserved by transit if they live more than one-third of a mile from a train station. By this measure, nearly half, forty-six percent of New Yorkers, are underserved by our transit system. Of those New Yorkers who are underserved by transit, ninety-seven percent live outside of Manhattan. While there are a number of factors that help explain the disparity (after all, Manhattan was the first area to be settled, and it remains the city's core), it remains very troubling and has significant effects on our economic, educational and cultural opportunities and quality of life. For example, participants in our Sheepshead Bay Town Hall said that only one subway line serves their entire area, meaning a local bus like the B4 is a lifeline for their community.
The inequity in public transportation also has ramifications for economic development in the boroughs. As the Center for an Urban Future's 2011 report, "Behind the Curb," so clearly articulates, the health of our economy requires our transit system to connect workers with jobs--and, increasingly, they're finding those jobs outside Manhattan. There is demand for workers in the outer boroughs at our airports, universities, health care centers, manufacturing facilities and retail destinations. But we heard from town hall participants in the Bronx River/Soundview area that commuting to work, to school, or to shop has become increasingly difficult. In a community where the average annual household income is $25,000 and where seventy percent of households do not own a car, public transportation--especially bus service--is critical to the local economy and the well-being of residents. Employers are well aware that poor transit access limits their growth. Without reliable and affordable transit to connect people to jobs and businesses, local economic development projects cannot reach their full potential. New Yorkers need more investment in bus service as our neighborhoods rebound from the recession; otherwise we're squandering new economic opportunities.
Inequity in transit access is also a quality of life issue. Commuting times for public transit riders have been climbing steadily for years. The time spent commuting is time not spent with friends, family or at work--in other words, it's not time that most of us would consider spent productively. We can provide a better life for New Yorkers by reducing their time spent going from place to place. In Jamaica, Queens, our town hall participants told us that surrounding communities like Rochdale, Hillcrest, Briarwood and Laurelton need more bus service to make subway and rail connections through Jamaica to shorten their commutes and improve their quality of life.
We urge the Council to take the following steps to help provide the outer boroughs with fair access to public transportation, energizing their local economies and improving the quality of life for local residents.
1. Improve local bus service:
- Invest in Customer Service: While subway ridership continues to reach record highs, bus ridership across the city has declined. It is no surprise bus ridership is suffering from a downward trend when we have allowed local bus service to be cut and reduced. However, improvements like real-time arrival information to better inform bus riders and traffic signal priority to speed buses can help make bus service more reliable and efficient. The need and demand is there for these programs-- but the dollars are not.
2. Expand Select Bus Service:
- Implement suggested Select Bus Service routes: Of the six transit town halls Transportation Alternatives has organized to date, we have yet to hear any negative feedback about Select Bus Service. In fact, the only complaint we've heard is that there are not more Select Bus routes! Even as bus ridership is declining citywide, ridership on Select Bus routes is increasing. New Yorkers are voting with their MetroCards: Select Bus Service is the answer. There are three Select Bus Service routes already up and running and three more on the way. The Department of Transportation has identified sixteen potential future SBS corridors in New York City. The City Council should support these and work with the DOT and MTA to implement them as quickly as possible.
- Accelerate the implementation of Select Bus Service: The intensive community planning process that's required to build a successful Select Bus line means that it takes about two years of observation, analysis, consultation and community outreach and planning before a line can be implemented. The answer is not to decrease the amount of community consultation but instead to increase funding for the Select Bus program and prioritize the adoption of these lines so that the DOT and MTA can allocate more staff to the program. Currently, these agencies are on track to add two lines a year--they can do better, assuming the City, State and Federal governments give them more support, and the agencies allocate the resources to double or triple that number within the same timeframe.
3. Improve Express Bus service.
The economic vitality of our city depends on the public transportation network that connects workers to jobs and businesses to customers. For our economy to grow, our transit system must also grow. But the fact of the matter is, not all boroughs are treated equally when it comes to transit service. Prioritizing the expansion of bus service and making existing service more reliable is the only way to ensure that all five boroughs thrive.
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