State DOT Pulls Transit Bait-and-Switch on Staten Island

sie_bus.jpgPhoto: SI Advance via MTR.
One of the more common excuses we've been hearing from local pols during the current MTA crisis is that "service never improves," so why bother to fund transit? Set aside, for the moment, the fact that subways and buses are moving way more New Yorkers than they did just a few years ago. Courtesy of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, here's an interesting case study of service actually getting worse and why it happened.

Last month, the state DOT opened the dedicated bus lane on the Staten Island Expressway to cars with two or more passengers. Tri-State's Michelle Ernst has more:

The conversion aims to appease some politicians and drivers who’ve pressured NYSDOT to open the bus lanes to cars since the lanes were opened. But even the commenters in the Staten Island Advance recognize that it will do little to alleviate congestion in the general purpose lanes, and will completely obliterate any time savings currently enjoyed by Staten Island’s bus riders.

The Expressway was widened to add the bus lane in 2005. Now, opening the busway to private cars turns that transit enhancement into a de facto highway expansion. Before the change, average bus speeds in the dedicated lane averaged 50 mph despite lax enforcement of the bus-only policy. With any multi-passenger car allowed in the lane, and even more license for solo drivers to break the rules, buses may soon move at the same speed as the regular traffic lanes -- 25 mph.

"There's already plenty of people carpooling on the Expressway," Ernst said. "This is just going to pull cars from the regular lanes and induce more traffic." The state DOT, for its part, says bus-exclusivity will be restored if riders end up saddled with slower rides.

So where did the political pressure come from? The Advance reports:

Many people welcome the change. Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Michael McMahon and Councilman James Oddo are three elected officials who have been outspoken in their support of the switch to HOV lanes.

Mr. Oddo said upon hearing of the DOT's plan, "Maybe they've woken up," adding, "You have to maximize the infrastructure."

Someone should inform the efficiency-minded Oddo that buses carry a lot more people than cars, and that potentially cutting their speeds in half is no way to "maximize infrastructure." Meanwhile, at least one of those Advance commenters is pinning responsibility on -- you guessed it -- the MTA.