New York: Mayor Vows to Increase Bus Speeds

In all my years of working on transit in North America, I’ve heard lots of mayors make announcements about rail projects and various new technologies.  I’ve heard many make vague supportive statements about bus service. I’ve even heard them advocate for more bus service.  But I’ve never a big city mayor promise to dramatically speed up buses all over a city.  (Correct me if you have.)

Vin Barone at AMNY reports that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will announce a commitment to increasing bus speeds across his city by 25%.

This is a very high number!  Admittedly, it’s a low base, with so many New York city bus routes running so slowly that it’s sometimes faster to walk.  Most individual interventions I’ve encountered improve speed by much less than 10%.  So hitting 25% will require a huge range of actions.

These actions can be sorted into two baskets:  Cost and Controversy.

Some problems can be solved with money, without too much controversy.  All of the following are planned, either by the City or by the transit agency (MTA).

  • Improving signal priority systems, which is a matter of signal technology. (City)
  • Improving enforcement of bus lanes.  (City)
  • Improving active supervision to reduce bunching, via a “Bus Command Center” (MTA)
  • All-door boarding via fare-card readers at rear doors, and roving fare enforcement (MTA)

All that is mostly money, both capital and operating.  Lots of it.  And all together, it is unlikely to get you to 25% citywide.

The other big step involves controversy rather than money.  More bus lanes need to be created, and the space for them will come from some other street use, usually parking lanes, traffic lanes, and versatile curb space for pickups and deliveries.  Bus facilities cost money too, but winning these battles is the bigger struggle, so the cost is really in political capital rather than money.  All of these impacts are profoundly controversial in a dense city, which is why cities tend to do them only after they’ve exhausted all the other options, and why so many bus lane plans are watered down, and made less functional, through the public outreach process.

The mayor’s target will work if it becomes a consistent direction to city government, fully explained to the people, so that not achieving it is not an option.  When we work on this process, we do a lot of work in explaining why the target is what it is, and building some consensus around it, so that staff will have political support to not compromise as the inevitable objections roll in.  The mayoral declaration is a huge step.  It remains to be seen if the target holds in the face of the controversy.

Because ultimately, while money is an obstacle, controversy is a much, much bigger one, and is the main reason big-city bus service usually doesn’t improve.

5 Responses to New York: Mayor Vows to Increase Bus Speeds

  1. Jeff Wegerson January 10, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

    I’ll be rooting for the mayor all the way. He’s not my mayor but should he succeed it will be a huge win for all city mayors.

    I assume 25% is a bigger number than he really hopes to get. By shooting big he gives his plans urgency and importance. He’ll need it.

    If any city can do it, it should be the U.S.A.’s largest transit city. He should have a huge base of support from the 50% or whatever the number is of transit riders. He has previously taken off the table one of the best tools for approaching his goal: decongestion pricing. Still he has a chance of taking on taxi drivers, ride hailing drivers, and then if he can couch it in the right terms, the “wealthy and elite private car owners.”

    He doesn’t even have to hit 25% to succeed. Most riders will celebrate every 5 minute increment saved on their commute. He just has to make it noticeably obviously better.

    Good luck Mayor de Blasio.

  2. Daniel January 10, 2019 at 2:03 pm #

    The referenced source refuses to comply with the EU regulation “General Data Protection Regulation” (https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-topic/data-protection_en) so I’m unable to read it. Do I miss something? Perhaps other creative ideas like removing the front door? That’ll save the time for opening and closing

  3. El_slapper January 11, 2019 at 4:22 am #

    what scares me in the article is “by 2020”. That’s just huge. Even the money-only measures seem to take more than 2 years for such a big transit area.

  4. Kyle B. January 11, 2019 at 10:04 am #

    Any thoughts on how “All-door boarding via fare-card readers at rear doors, and roving fare enforcement” will work? I saw this for the first time in San Francisco and was very impressed with how efficient it was for passenger loading.

    At least until they implement the new fare card system, I don’t believe there’s any proof of purchase that would allow them to check for fare-beaters, hence the paper receipts currently needed at SBS stops. NYC also needs some plainclothes fare enforcement, not the SWAT team-esque obvious ones they’ve had in the past on the SBS.

    Either way, looking forward to the details.

  5. Jay Ashworth January 12, 2019 at 10:49 am #

    I’ve owned a number of cars that logged average speed, and I paid attention to that over longer periods of time–and I’ve spent some time on buses with cars in the shop–and my experience of the St Pete/Tampa Metro is that, even including all the available interstates around here, the long-term average urban speed of advance in this urban/suburban area is 30mph for cars, and about 15mph for buses (with all stops averaged in).

    Has the Mayor given any *details* about how he plans that?

    Or is he just hip-shooting?

Leave a Reply