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Unions Agree: Let Bus Drivers Kill People With the Right of Way

Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers

Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers

Just about all of New York’s major labor unions signed a Transport Workers Union letter demanding that MTA bus drivers be allowed to legally injure and kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way.

The letter, dated June 11, was sent to New York City Council members [PDF]. The unions want the council to pass a bill that would exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

The letter was signed by heads of the New York State AFL-CIO, the New York City Central Labor Council, the Hotel Trades Council, 1199SEIU, the United Federation of Teachers, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, and others.

One union chief who didn’t sign the letter: Pat Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents NYPD officers.

After the requisite lip service to “the goal of reducing traffic accidents,” the unions object to “arresting, handcuffing and charging bus operators like common criminals for accidents that do not involve speeding, texting or some other form or demonstrably reckless behavior.”

The implicit meaning of that statement? Hitting and killing someone with the right of way is just an “accident” if you’re driving a bus. Union officials who signed the letter agree with TWU that bus drivers should not be treated like other motorists. “Bus Operators are in a class by themselves,” the letter reads.

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MTA Finds Replacement for Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the front of each bus featured two flashing blue lights to help passengers distinguish between SBS and local buses. Years after Staten Island lawmakers exploited a legal technicality, forcing the MTA to shut the lights off, the agency has figured out a solution.

With flashing blue lights no longer an option, the MTA is changing the destination displays at the top of each Select Bus Service vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

The lights are important because they help people determine whether an approaching bus is an SBS vehicle, which riders have to pay for before boarding, or if it’s a local bus with on-board fare payment. With no way to distinguish between the two, passengers take longer to board and bus trips get slowed down.

Later this summer, the MTA will change the front-facing destination displays on SBS buses to distinguish them from local buses. The new signs will likely use different colors than the MTA’s default orange or yellow signs, and they may also flash to be more visible to riders at bus stops.

The first route to receive the new lights will be the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues, according to minutes from the Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee [PDF]. CB 6 has been leading the charge to get the flashing SBS lights restored. The MTA will make a formal announcement about the change soon, said agency spokesperson Kevin Ortiz.

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StreetFilms
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The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway

Just when you think you’ve seen everything in the transportation world, you encounter something different. That happened to me on an infrastructure tour in Cambridge, England, when my guides showed be this guided busway.

The video only shows a short segment of The Busway, but it’s fascinating. The wheels of the bus run between grooved concrete slabs along an old rail line. The system also handles drainage without burdening the sewers: Stormwater is absorbed by the ground.

At 16 miles, the Cambridge guided busway is the longest one in the world. Bus speeds can reach up to 55 mph.

A busy biking and walking path runs right next to the route. You won’t find railings separating the busway from the trail. There’s no honking or flashing lights like you would find in the USA — just common sense.

Streetsblog USA
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Fewer People Are Riding the Bus Because There Are Fewer Buses to Ride

Source: The Century Foundation

In most big American cities, bus service shrank between 2006 and 2012. No wonder bus ridership is dropping too. Graphic: The Century Foundation

Remember when the Great Recession decimated transit agency budgets, but the White House and Congress refused to step in and fund bus service while spending billions of dollars to subsidize car purchases? Well, the hangover continues to this day, leaving bus riders in the lurch.

Last year, bus ridership in America shrank 1 percent. While rail ridership grew 4 percent, enough to lift total ridership slightly, buses are still the workhorse of U.S. transit systems, accounting for most trips. If bus ridership is shrinking, something is wrong.

Jacob Anbinder at the Century Foundation has been poring over the data. He notes that in most of the nation’s biggest cities, bus ridership was on the upswing until the recession. Since then there’s been a noticeable falling off. His chart below shows bus ridership in America’s ten largest urban regions:

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston

It’s not surprising that bus ridership fell when a lot of people were out of work, Anbinder says. What’s disturbing is that bus ridership is still slumping even as the economy has picked back up.

But the explanation is simple enough. As Anbinder shows in the chart at the top of this post, a lot of transit agencies cut bus service during the recession, and for the most part it’s still not back to pre-recession levels.

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Q44 Select Bus Service: Bus Lanes for Flushing and Jamaica, Not in Between

Main Street in Flushing will receive offset bus lanes, as will downtown Jamaica, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Downtown Flushing and Jamaica will receive bus lanes, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

DOT and the MTA have released the plan for Select Bus Service on the Q44 linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx, which serves 44,000 passengers daily. The areas that need bus lanes most — downtown Jamaica and Flushing — are in line to get them, but not the rest of the route.

Earlier this year, nearly a dozen Queens elected officials asked DOT for Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in this part of the borough. But two pols — Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz — opposed bus lanes in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills. In April, DOT indicated that Lancman and Simanowitz would get their wish.

The plan released yesterday by DOT calls for bus lanes [PDF] on Sutphin Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, and on Main Street in Flushing between Northern Boulevard and the Horace Harding Expressway. The rest of the 14-mile route won’t have them. DOT says bus lane segments were chosen “based on bus speeds, vehicle speeds and other factors.”

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

In addition to bus lanes, the project will speed up Q44 service with off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and signal priority to keep buses from getting stuck at red lights. Bus stops will be upgraded with shelters, seating, and real-time arrival information. Traffic signals in downtown Flushing will also get computer-assisted coordination aimed at keeping traffic flowing.

Most of the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between parked cars and the general traffic lane. Other stretches will run along the curb and only be in effect during rush hours — at other times, they will be parking lanes.

By putting bus lanes in the central parts of Jamaica and Flushing, DOT will help riders bypass what is probably to worst congestion along the route. However, because of limits imposed by Albany, the bus lanes will not be camera-enforced. Until the state legislature expands NYC’s bus cam allowance, riders will by relying on local precincts to ticket drivers breaking the law.

The project includes some pedestrian safety measures in addition to bus bulbs, including median refuges at seven intersections on Main Street between 41st and Reeves avenues. The Department of Design and Construction is already planning to widen the sidewalk on Main Street between 38th Avenue and 41st Avenue. Left turn restrictions will also be added at six intersections on Main Street, which is a Vision Zero priority corridor.

The Q44 extends north across the Whitestone Bridge and along the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Bronx Zoo. No bus lanes are planned for the route in the Bronx.

DOT unveiled the proposal at a meeting last night in Flushing. A second open house is scheduled tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Jamaica. DOT says Select Bus Service on the Q44 will be implemented later this year.

6:50 p.m.: Post updated with additional information about pedestrian safety measures on Main Street.

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DOT and MTA Years Behind Schedule on Traffic Signal Tech to Speed Buses

Equipment for transit signal priority is inexpensive and has a proven track record of boosting NYC bus speeds. So why is it years behind schedule? Image: DOT [PDF]

Transit signal priority is inexpensive and has a track record of boosting NYC bus speeds. So why are plans to implement it years behind schedule? Image: DOT [PDF]

Bus riders spend a lot of time stopped at red lights, but they don’t have to. A technology called transit signal priority, or TSP, speeds up transit trips by adjusting signal timing so buses hit more green lights and fewer reds. TSP has a proven track record in New York, but on several routes, implementation is years behind schedule.

Transit signal priority uses GPS devices on buses to send a signal to a traffic management center, which can then either hold a green light as the bus approaches or shorten the amount of time a bus is stopped at a red light.

According to NYC DOT, the technology has sped bus trips between 10 and 18.4 percent. A recent evaluation of signal priority on the M15 Select Bus Service [PDF] said “the system is working well… [and] the city has the option to deploy citywide.” The problem is that only a handful of routes are outfitted with TSP.

The city’s 2011 PlaNYC update set a goal of adding transit signal priority to 11 routes citywide, but didn’t set a target completion date. So far, the city and the MTA have rolled out transit signal priority on just three corridors. Seven routes remain in various stages of planning or study.

New York’s first TSP system was installed at 14 intersections along Staten Island’s Victory Boulevard in 2008. Signal priority cut bus travel times by 16 percent during the morning rush hour and 11 percent during the evening [PDF], and 19 additional intersections on the route are in line to get it.

The city’s first Select Bus Service route, the Bx12 on Fordham Road, received TSP later in 2008, covering 35 intersections over 2.4 miles between Broadway in Manhattan and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx.

Since then, the only route to receive upgrades has been the M15 SBS, which in May 2013 received signal priority for 50 buses and 34 intersections along 2.2 miles of its route south of Houston Street. The M15 was the first in the city to use newer technology that communicates with the traffic management center, the MTA says, with Victory Boulevard and Fordham Road relying on older “line of sight” devices.

Bus riders on other routes are still waiting for improvements, in some cases years after blown deadlines.

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A Bus Design Flaw Is No Reason to Gut the Right of Way Law

As part of its campaign to make it legal for bus drivers to injure and kill people, the Transport Workers Union says flawed bus design is to blame for bus drivers hitting pedestrians while turning.

Ella Bandes was killed by a bus driver turning right in 2013.

According to WABC, the TWU claims “half of all recent bus accidents” in NYC and nationwide occurred because drivers were prevented from seeing pedestrians while turning left. TWU and the Amalgamated Transit Union say the issue is that driver visibility is obstructed by the left-hand windshield pillar and the driver’s side rear view mirror.

“There’s a blind spot that’s 14 inches wide that obscures not only one pedestrian but as many as 15,” ATU International President Larry Hanley told WCBS. The unions say “newly-designed” buses are the problem.

Of the nine crashes in 2014 where an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian, three drivers were reportedly turning left and five were turning right. I looked back through media reports on those eight crashes. Most didn’t have photos from the scene, but of the three that did, each bus was a different model.

In a statement, the MTA said bus drivers are trained to see pedestrians by “leaning into and out of their mirrors while seated to ensure that their line of sight is not obstructed.”

Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday that if it poses a threat to safety, bus design should be looked at. “But in the here and now,” de Blasio said, “our message to everyone in this city, whether they work for the city, or they work for the MTA, or a private individual, is you have to drive safely. You have to yield to pedestrians. You have to respect that there’s new laws now that clearly penalize those who do not yield to pedestrians.”

If it turns out that MTA buses were built in such a way that endangers people, by all means, fix the buses. But as the mayor indicated, everyone who drives in NYC must yield to people walking. A bus design flaw is no reason to gut the Right of Way Law.

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As Subway Trips Climb, MTA Bus Ridership Continues to Stagnate

Total MTA Subway and Bus Ridership, 1970-2014

While subway ridership hit a 65-year high last year, the story for surface transit in NYC is different. Bus ridership has yet to recover from a major round of service cuts in 2010, and in 2014 it lost some ground, according to new stats from the MTA.

After the MetroCard boom in the late 1990s, bus ridership has dropped 10 percent since 2004. Over the same period, subway ridership increased 23 percent.

The city’s bus network is operated by two different MTA divisions: New York City Transit, which runs most of the routes throughout the city, and MTA Bus, which runs primarily in eastern Queens. NYCT bus ridership fell 1.6 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year. The borough-by-borough picture was mixed, however, with small gains in the Bronx and Staten Island.

The most significant ridership declines in recent years have been in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and in 2014 the drop was again especially sharp in Manhattan, which saw a 5.8 percent decrease. Select Bus Service routes were not immune. On M34 SBS, ridership declined 11.2 percent, and trips fell a combined 8.6 percent on the M15 local and M15 SBS on the East Side. Both routes received SBS upgrades several years ago, leading to increased ridership immediately afterward.

In the two boroughs where total bus ridership went up, so did SBS ridership. The Bx41 on Webster Avenue received SBS upgrades in 2013, and the improvements led to a 21.4 percent ridership gain last year. Trips on the city’s first SBS route, the Bx12, which launched on Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway in 2008, increased 3.4 percent in 2014. On Staten Island, ridership climbed 7.2 percent on the S79, which received SBS upgrades in 2012.

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Rangel: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Kill People With the Right of Way

Congressman Charlie Rangel condemned the Right of Way Law earlier this week, joining the Transport Workers Union to argue that the law should allow MTA bus drivers to kill people who have the right of way.

Photo: Politic365

Speaking to bus drivers and TWU officials Monday at the Mother Clara Hale Depot in Harlem, Rangel said it was “stupid” to charge bus drivers with a misdemeanor for injuring and killing people with the right of way, according to Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, a Right of Way Law critic who has devoted a lot of ink to the TWU campaign to exempt drivers from the law.

Echoing the TWU, Rangel said that hitting people who are walking or biking with the right of way is just part of the job of driving a bus.

“Common sense would indicate that when (lawmakers) were thinking about this, the last thing in the world they were thinking about is a bus driver doing their duty would be arrested,” Rangel said. “Right now, we should be calling the mayor and telling him, ‘Don’t embarrass yourself.’ Anybody can make a mistake and this is just one big damn mistake, that’s all, because isn’t a joke [sic].”

After years of drivers hitting people with virtually no accountability, the Right of Way Law gave NYPD and prosecutors a tool to impose at least some consequences against motorists for harming people who were following traffic laws. To Rangel, applying this law consistently “doesn’t make any damn sense at all.”

Speaking of making no damn sense at all, the TWU unveiled more propaganda blaming victims for getting hit by bus drivers:

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Harlem Bus Lane Foes: Good Streets for Bus Riders “Trampling Our Liberties”

Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Camera-enforced bus lanes have trampled on the freedom to double-park on 125th Street. Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Community board meetings in central Harlem have officially gone off the deep end.

A DOT plan to extend bus lanes and add turn restrictions on 125th Street was shouted down last night by the same hecklers who have filibustered street safety improvements at Community Board 10 for years. Noticeably absent from last night’s meeting: People who ride the bus on 125th Street.

Bus lanes on 125th Street have already sped up bus trips east of Lenox Avenue. Extending them west to Morningside Avenue would spare tens of thousands of bus riders from getting stuck in traffic. Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the western end of 125th, is a big backer of the bus lanes, while Council Member Inez Dickens, who represents the middle section of the street and is closely tied to CB 10, is not.

Last night’s ridiculousness crescendoed when onetime City Council candidate and regular community board attendee Julius Tajiddin channeled Patrick Henry to make his case against dedicating street space to bus riders. “Your progress is trampling on our liberties,” he said. “Give us freedom!” The three-quarters of Harlem households who don’t own cars probably have a different take on “freedom” than Tajiddin.

CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle nodded in agreement. “It’s a lack of respect… It’s almost like the project is going to go with or without our approval,” she said earlier in the meeting. “It doesn’t take into consideration the cars, the trucks, the tour vans on 125th Street.”

DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said that while DOT intends to expand bus lanes this summer, it is willing to make tweaks in response to CB 10’s concerns. For example, she said, the agency had already removed proposed left turn bans at St. Nicholas Avenue, and is willing to toss out additional turn restrictions if CB 10 makes even an informal request.

MTA officials had less patience for last night’s nonsense. “Freedom is the ability to get across 125th Street 33 percent faster on a bus,” said Evan Bialostozky, senior transportation planner at MTA New York City Transit.

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