By Amal Yamusah
On the afternoon of December 11, passengers boarded the M79 bus that runs from 79th Street and 81st Street, between East End Avenue and the 79th Street Boat Basin. They quickly realized that they’d be better off walking to their destinations than sitting on a bus that crawls through New York City at an average pace of 3.2 mph.
The Straphangers’ Campaign recently gave the M79 bus route the Pokey Award, given to the slowest bus in New York City , and compared its pace to the average human walking speed—3.5 mph.
The bus route’s slow speed has sparked a conversation about all crosstown buses, the obstacles these buses face, and what the MTA and other advocacy groups plan to do about it, and about transportation as a whole in New York.
One commuter we spoke to, Teminsanren Okotieuro, 22, an aspiring filmmaker from Fort Greene, agreed that crosstown buses are notoriously slow. Until recently, when he moved from Flatbush Avenue to Fort Greene, he took the B41 to commute downtown daily. “It was a struggle every day,” he said. “The streets are so congested with cars, bikes, and people that it’s almost impossible to get places on time unless you leave an hour or so early.
Okotieuro, who used the B41 to commute to his job in downtown Brooklyn, said he was frequently late for work as a result of the slow bus.
“It’s hard for professionals and students to rely on these buses because slower buses mean you get to class and work later than you would otherwise,” said Jason Chin-Fatt, 32, a Field Organizer for the Straphangers Campaign. “And the thing is, it’s not necessarily the bus’s fault. There’s a lot of congestion and poor road infrastructure that makes it hard for buses to move at a steady pace.”
So how do buses move faster?
According to Chin-Fatt, the Straphangers and other advocacy groups in New York City support the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation’s joint project to expand Select Service Bus throughout the boroughs —the branch for New York City of bus rapid transit. This expansion means that buses will have designated lanes and infrastructure to quicken their pace. “ The DOT and MTA are working together to install more routes across the city,” Chin-Fatt said. “If we can speed up the buses through bus rapid transit, passengers can get to their destinations quicker.”
Christopher Gooding, 22, an analyst at JP Morgan who lives in Crown Heights, and who used to take the B44 bus, agrees that buses can become more efficient, but only if they figure out a way to get passengers to their destinations faster. “People are exploring other, potentially more expensive, means of transportation in order to avoid these buses,” Gooding said. “It’s a shame. The bus only costs $2.50, and so is technically worth the money, but is certainly not worth the time.”
The Straphangers Campaign said that the city does, in fact, have a comprehensive plan for buses in place to speed the commutes. They expect the plan to help Mayor DeBlasio keep his campaign promise to provide 20 Select Bus Service routes during his stead. . The MTA could not be reached.
“There are two very important features that Select Bus Service planning process doesto enhance service,” Chin-Fatt said. “First, there’s the opportunity to pay fares before you board the bus. Second, there are plans to redesign streets to make them more pedestrian friendly.”, Redesigning streets present lots of opportunities for safety improvements for all users of the road including cyclists and pedestrians as well as affecting traffic flow.
New York City Department of Transportation redesigned Ninth Avenue in Manhattan in 2007, and traffic flow has been noticeably better since. The main elements of this design include a 200-mile bicycle route, congestion-free surface transit, curb extensions that shorten crossing distance, and parking spaces that align with curb extensions. The redesign took buses and their needs into account.
“The buses are a part of a greater attempt to clear and organize streets—The DOT have a comprehensive plans in place to improve traffic flow, make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and allow for buses to move faster,” Chin-Fatt added.
The Straphangers Campaign reported the DOT and MTA’s work on Select Bus Service has proven that it can be implemented swiftly in some cases. Along the Bx41 route in the Bronx they were able to install the system within a year. Riders have also seen a savings in their commute times. According to the campaign, riders along the Bx12 SBS route, riders save about 10-15 minutes in each direction of their commute. As a result, ridership on the Bx12 SBS has grown.
The Campaign said it is confident that the MTA’s expansion plans will result in an increase in ridership, and ultimately, will save passengers time, which is especially important in a city where every minute counts.