Uptown Transit Riders Fight for 125th Street Select Bus Service

TRAC members participate in a May Day rally. One of the transit rider coalition's top demands is for Select Bus Service on 125th Street. Image via Facebook

Select Bus Service is a big success on First and Second Avenues and 34th Street. Speeds are up, ridership is up, and the MTA is using the time savings to run even more buses along the busy corridors. So where in Manhattan is next for the popular package of bus improvements? One group of uptown transit riders hopes the answer is 125th Street.

The Transit Riders Action Committee is a new project of WE ACT, the northern Manhattan environmental justice organization, founded last year in response to the most recent round of fare hikes. After reaching out to neighborhood riders at bus stops and subway platforms, TRAC asked new members for their priorities in the neighborhood. After generating a long list of options, the new committee voted to focus on three priorities: keeping the fare affordable, improving the condition of Upper Manhattan’s poorly-maintained subway stations, and improving bus trips on 125th Street.

“The buses are incredibly slow,” said Jake Carlson, WE ACT’s transportation equity coordinator. “They are constantly battling for their own piece of the road. It’s an issue that really hinders people’s mobility.” He noted that he often ends up walking crosstown on 125th rather than taking the bus.

Despite slow speeds, bus ridership on 125th Street is sky-high. Four routes travel on 125th Street: the M60, M100, M101 and Bx15. Between them, around 32,500 passengers board on 125th Street on an average weekday, said Carlson, and around 31,000 get off.

TRAC organizers and members have already started to meet with community board members and feel there’s room for persuasion. “When you start talking about the problem, most people get it right away,” said Carlson. “They know what it means to get across 125th Street.”

When it comes to solutions, however, there’s more resistance. “Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine what else 125th might look like,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, WE ACT deputy director. “They sometimes can’t conceptualize, physically, how the street could be transformed.”

Most of the objections, said Carlson, are those that surface before every Select Bus Service project in the city: worries about lost parking spaces or increased congestion. Uptown, there are also concerns about the additional police presence implicit in SBS’s proof-of-payment fare system. “The idea here is that it’s another opportunity for stop-and-frisk,” said Corbin-Mark.

This month, TRAC will step up its outreach and start to meet with the three local City Council members in the area and local businesses along the corridor. At the same time, said Carlson, DOT should be completing its alternatives analysis for improving transit access to LaGuardia Airport, which could include better service along the M60 and 125th Street.