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How Cities Stopped Panicking About Fare Evasion and Made Transit Faster

All-door boarding could significantly speed up bus rides for millions of New Yorkers, but MTA officials have refused to endorse it as citywide practice, citing “the very real threat of fare evasion.”

Transit agencies in other cities, meanwhile, aren’t hiding behind that excuse.

Speaking at TransitCenter last night, transportation officials from Boston, San Francisco, London, and Oslo shared how their agencies put the rider experience at the center of fare modernization efforts. They see the possibilities to provide fast, convenient service, and they are seizing them.

“Fare payment isn’t the point of running a bus system, [the point] is getting people to the places they want to get to,” said David Block-Schachter, the chief technology officer at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which like the MTA is currently accepting proposals for a new fare payment system.

Unlike the MTA, however, MBTA is making sure its fare collection upgrade makes all-door boarding “inevitable,” Block-Schachter said. “Our solution is putting the technology in place to enable those policy decisions to be made further down the line.”

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SBS Launches on 23rd Street – Placard Holders Remain Oblivious to Bus Lanes

"Flexible bollards" at Sixth Avenue aim to keep motorists out of buses way. Photo: David Meyer

At Sixth Avenue, “flexible bollards” keep motorists from violating the eastbound bus lane. Photo: David Meyer

Select Bus Service launched on 23rd Street in Manhattan this morning, the twelfth SBS route in the city and the sixth to start up under Mayor de Blasio.

With dedicated lanes, off-board fare collection, and consolidated stops, SBS should mean faster crosstown service for the riders who make 15,000 trips on the M23 on an average weekday.

The bus lanes extend eastbound from mid-block between Tenth and Ninth Avenues to Second Avenue, and westbound from mid-block betweens First and Second Avenues to Eighth Avenue. DOT’s initial 23rd Street proposal limited bus lane enforcement to either rush hours or 7 a.m to 7 p.m., but the agency adjusted its plans after local community boards asked for more bus lane hours. The bus lanes will be in effect 24/7, with the exception of a single westbound block between Seventh and Eighth avenues, which is a commercial loading zone outside of the morning and evening rush [PDF].

This morning riders took advantage of all-door boarding along the route, but illegally parked cars were a problem. Vehicles with government placards filled the north curb between First Avenue and Second Avenue, forcing delivery trucks into the bus lane and buses into the general travel lane.

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The MTA Needs to Measure Service in a Way That People Understand

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This is how Transport for London communicates the impact of bus delays on riders — in minutes, a metric everyone can grasp. Image: Mark O’Donovan/TfL

What if I told you that in the past year, the 4 train had a weekday “wait assessment” of 70 percent, down 1 percent from the previous year? Unless you’re a dyed in the wool transit geek, your eyes would probably glaze over.

But what if I told you that on average, 4 train riders lose three minutes to delays on the morning commute, and the delays are getting longer? That would probably stick with you.

The MTA only uses one of these metrics to communicate service reliability to the public, and it’s not the one that the public actually cares about.

In a post yesterday, TransitCenter made the case for the MTA to move beyond “wait assessment,” which measures the percentage of trains with significant delays, but doesn’t say much about the extent and impact of those delays. Instead, TransitCenter recommends tracking “excess journey time,” which they say is industry best practice because it’s both more precise and easier for transit riders to understand.

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Why Is the MTA OK With High-Speed Car Tolls But Not High-Speed Bus Fares?

Without a fare system that facilitates proof of payment, bus riders will be stuck with the same slow boarding process for another generation. Photo: Ben Fried

MTA officials revealed today that the MetroCard will linger until 2022, though the agency still intends to phase in a new fare payment system starting in 2018. What remains unknown is whether the new system will enable electronic proof of payment, a fare collection method that promises to speed up NYC’s snail-paced buses.

The matter came up briefly during an MTA board meeting, after New York City Transit Vice President for Procurement and Material Steve Plochochi requested approval for an extension of the agency’s contract with Cubic, the company that built the MetroCard system.

Plochochi affirmed that a new fare payment system is still on track to begin deployment in 2018, but said the agency does not want to take a “cold turkey” approach and replace the MetroCard in one fell swoop.

Other than that, Plochochi didn’t divulge anything about the agency’s thinking with regards to the MetroCard replacement. “I really can’t go into details of the proposals,” he said.

Transit advocates have pressed the MTA to commit to a fare system that will facilitate electronic proof of payment on buses. By allowing riders to quickly tap a farecard or mobile device at any door, the technology could significantly shorten the boarding process and speed up buses systemwide.

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A Verrazano Bike/Ped Path Doesn’t Have to Cost as Much as the MTA Claims

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A Verrazano bike path would work perfectly well without this hulking ramp connecting to the Shore Parkway Greenway. Image via MTA/Parsons Brinckerhoff

How much will it cost to build bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Verrazano Bridge? A lot less than the MTA says it will, if the agency removes unnecessary ramps from the project, according to advocates and engineers who’ve reviewed the options.

Last year, the MTA and engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff released a preliminary cost estimate of $300 to $400 million for the bridge paths [PDF]. It was a steeper price than advocates with the Harbor Ring Committee, which has built momentum for the car-free paths, had been expecting. Back in 1997, engineering firm Amman & Whitney had pegged the cost at $50-60 million (in 2016 dollars).

In an interview published yesterday on Urban Omnibus, Harbor Ring Committee chair Paul Gertner attributed the MTA’s high pricetag to the design for the Brooklyn approach, which includes elaborate ramps connecting to the Shore Parkway Greenway. It’s not clear how much the ramp system adds to the MTA’s cost estimate, but the structures would be substantial, with concrete columns supporting a winding bikeway that touches down on the greenway.

“As far as we can tell, [Parsons Brinckerhoff] started with the assumption that it had to start at the waterfront greenway, and then proceeded to design this huge ramp system,” Gertner said.

A greenway landing isn’t worth the extra cost, Gertner told Streetsblog, since it would compel anyone who’s not planning to use the greenway to take a long detour. In the Amman & Whitney plan, the path touched down at 92nd Street by Fourth Avenue, a much more direct connection to the street network.

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All-Door Boarding Works. Why Won’t the MTA Commit to It on Every Bus?

The results are in: M86 buses are moving 8 to 11 percent faster since SBS implementation. Image: DOT

The results are in: M86 buses are moving 8 to 11 percent faster since the implementation of all-door boarding. Image: DOT

Buses on the M86 are moving faster and people have noticed — ridership on the crosstown route is on the upswing again after declining for years.

The improved performance is due mainly to two changes the MTA and DOT launched last year: off-board fare collection with all-door boarding, and “queue jumps” at two locations that let buses move up to the front of the line at traffic lights. With faster boarding and less time in traffic, buses are traveling eight to 11 percent faster, and ridership is up about 10 percent from the previous year, according to the agencies [PDF].

These are the same kind of improvements that the NYC Bus Turnaround coalition wants to apply across the whole system. But while DOT has indicated that it supports more queue jumps, the MTA has refused to get behind the idea of all-door boarding on every bus.

Faster boarding is a big deal because the current boarding process, where riders dip a MetroCard or pay in cash one by one, significantly slows down buses. On the B44, for example, buses used to spend more than a quarter of the time stopping to pick up and drop off passengers. After the implementation of all-door boarding and off-board fare collection, that process became 40 percent faster [PDF].

As the MTA considers bids for its new fare payment system, advocates have called on the agency to ensure the system has the necessary technology for all-door boarding. That technology, electronic proof of payment, would allow riders to “tap-and-go” at bus stops or as they board.

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MTA: Don’t Ask Us to Do More for NYC Bus Riders

NYC's buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

NYC’s buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

Bus ridership in New York City has steadily declined since 2002, and bus riders put up with the slowest average speeds in the nation. But the MTA is in no hurry to fix the problem.

At a City Council hearing this morning, MTA representatives touted the agency’s piecemeal efforts to improve bus service while pushing back against recommendations from transit advocates to address the entire bus system.

Advocacy organizations with the NYC Bus Turnaround Coalition have called for a citywide overhaul of NYC buses. While the scale of their proposal is large, many of the solutions they put forward can be implemented in, say, a single Andrew Cuomo term as governor.

Today, transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and other council members pushed MTA and DOT officials to adopt a comprehensive approach to solve the problems facing the city’s bus system. The MTA insisted that it’s already doing what it can to turn around bus service.

Transit advocates want the MTA to do more, faster. “What we’re calling for in this campaign is much more widespread implementation of those solutions and implementation much more quickly than we’ve been seeing,” TransitCenter’s Tabitha Decker said at a rally before the hearing.

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How Bad Is Bus Service on Your Route? Check This Web Site and See

Just how bad do bus riders have it in NYC? Today the transit advocates with the Bus Turnaround campaign launched a web site that lets you look up any route in the system and see how it performs. Spend a few minutes on the site and you’ll see why ridership has fallen 16 percent citywide since 2002.

There’s a fun (if you can call it that) visualization of the headaches a New Yorker must deal with on a typical bus trip — unpredictable arrivals, slow boarding, frequent stops — and a hypothetical look at the same trip on an improved system where buses are on time, direct, and don’t get bogged down in traffic.

The main feature of the site, though, is a report card for every route, with data on bus speed, bunching, and ridership. You can look up the buses you ride on regular basis or click on routes anywhere in the city. One pattern that emerges — the routes that the most people rely on are doing the worst.

The report cards are based on MTA Bus Time information — a testament to the power of open data.

The Bus Turnaround website was announced at a morning rally where advocats, electeds, and straphangers called for the MTA and NYC DOT to make citywide improvements to the bus network, ahead of a City Council hearing on the subject. Stay tuned for coverage of the hearing later today.

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Will the MTA Deliver Bus Service That People Want to Use?

“You have to have a mass transit system that people want to use,” Governor Cuomo asserted at a transportation-themed press event today. At least he got that much right.

USB ports aren’t going to turn around NYC’s troubled bus system.

Cuomo’s transit announcements tend to glorify grand edifices like a new Penn Station train hall, boondoggles like a roundabout AirTrain link to LaGuardia by way of Flushing, or bells and whistles like charging ports and Wi-Fi on buses. The nuts and bolts of transit service “that people want to use” don’t get much attention from the man in charge of the MTA.

The neglect of core service is most apparent in the deterioration of New York City’s bus system. Since 2002, bus ridership in New York has fallen 16 percent, even as population and jobs have rapidly grown. At an average weekday speed of 7.4 mph, the MTA operates the slowest bus service in America. Riders can’t rely on buses to come at regular intervals instead of clumped in bunches with long gaps between arrivals.

In a recent report [PDF], TransitCenter prescribes a comprehensive approach to turn around NYC bus service, recommending changes to streets, signals, bus routes, fare payment, and dispatching that will make buses run faster and more reliably.

A coalition of advocates has urged NYC DOT (which controls the streets and signals) and the MTA (which controls the rest) to embrace those recommendations. At a City Council hearing tomorrow, both agencies are expected to testify about how they plan to tackle the problem of poor bus service.

So far, the response from DOT has been promising, TransitCenter reports, but the MTA has not acknowledged the scale of what needs to be done.

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MTA Bus Driver Kills Anna Colon, 73, on the Lower East Side

An MTA bus driver struck and killed Anna Colon on East Houston Street this morning. The white arrow indicates the direction the victim was walking and the red arrow indicates the approximate path of the driver. Image: Google Maps

An MTA bus driver struck and killed Anna Colon on East Houston Street this morning. The white arrow indicates the direction the victim was walking and the red arrow indicates the approximate path of the driver. Image: Google Maps

An MTA bus driver killed a senior on the Lower East Side this morning.

Anna Colon, 73, was crossing East Houston Street north to south at around 9:50 a.m. when the driver, who was also southbound, hit her while turning left from Avenue D onto East Houston, according to NYPD.

“[The light] was about to turn red when she was crossing the street,” a witness told the Daily News. “The bus was turning and it ran her over. The bus dragged her body for a few feet.”

Anna Colon. Photo via DNAinfo

Anna Colon. Photo via DNAinfo

Colon died at the scene. The NYPD public information office had no details on who had the right of way. A police spokesperson said the investigation was ongoing.

East Houston at Avenue D is a wide two-way street with concrete medians in the crosswalks. Drivers injured 15 people walking at the intersection between 2009 and 2015, and had injured one other person there this year as of August, according to city crash data.

Another witness told the News that speeding, inattentive bus drivers are a hazard in the area.

“I feel afraid every time I cross that corner. I hold my breath and keep an eye out for a bus,” said local resident Rosalind Collazo. “The buses go fast and don’t stop. It’s not the buses, the cars go fast too. They do U-turns when they are not supposed to.”

Today’s crash was the first pedestrian fatality caused by an MTA bus driver in 2016, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

The Amalgamated Transit Union says wide A pillars and poorly-designed mirrors on U.S. buses impede driver vision. The ATU has called for a design fix to reduce the number of pedestrians struck by bus drivers.

Anna Colon was killed in the 9th Precinct, where officers ticket an average of one motorist a day for failing to yield, and in the City Council district represented by Rosie Mendez.