A Bright Future for NYC’s Buses

Select Bus Service is speeding commute times around the city, and gaining popularity along the way.
Image courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

New York will always be known as a subway city, but buses are the next big thing, according to a strange batch of bedfellows: transit advocates, candidates for political office and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Though this trio rarely sees eye-to-eye-to-eye when it comes to meeting the travel demands of the region’s 15 million commuters, they all agree that better, faster Select Bus Service is a crucial piece of the path forward.

In a late July presentation focused on long-term capital planning, the MTA unveiled a map of 22 potential second-phase Select Bus Service corridors throughout the five boroughs.

This followed closely on the heels of a report by a broad group of transportation advocates and environmental justice groups (including Transportation Alternatives) that recommended: “The next mayor should support Select Bus Service projects to La Guardia Airport and Woodside, Queens, while working to bring 10-15 new bus projects throughout the boroughs during the next administration.”

Iterations of this Select Bus Service theme have been echoed by the lion’s share of mayoral candidates, including Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, Anthony Weiner, Joe Lhota, John Liu, Bill Thompson, Adolfo Carrión, Jr. and Sal Albanese. And City Council Member Brad Lander recently introduced a bill calling for a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network.

So why this outpouring of support for buses in what’s long been known as a subway city?

The problems currently facing New York’s aging mass transit system are four-fold: demand is growing, construction costs are high, budgets are tight and new travel patterns are revealing a need for a network that serves the whole city—not just Manhattan-bound commuters.

Select Bus Service addresses all of these issues by allowing for low-cost, low-investment, high-volume service that’s dynamic enough to meet shifting demands.

It’s also already a success. The Select Bus Service route on Fordham Road in the Bronx has sped travel times by nearly 20 percent and fostered a 10 percent increase in ridership. On 1st and 2nd avenues in Manhattan, the M15 line has brought down travel times by 17 percent and increased ridership by more than 10 percent. And with new lines up and running in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, and another opening soon on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, there’s a lot more to come.

Of course, it seems like that’s just the beginning for New York City’s bus boom. With advocates fighting for change, the MTA signaling it, and mayoral candidates and City Council members backing better service, the future of buses is looking bright.