I was fortunate enough recently to get access to a really good and detailed report that showed the quite appalling demise of the New York City bus network.The report graphically illustrates that more people use buses in NYC than any other form of public transport. However, there is absolutely no infrastructure what so ever to support it. As a result some key networks like Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, are losing 1 in every 4 journeys, a ridiculous 25% of bus journeys just do not operate.
That is unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination and for a city of such a size I find it incredible that there is absolutely nothing being done to put the legitimate and sensible case for the role of the bus. Sadly this trend is not unique to New York, London has seen significant loss of bus use over the last three years with no sign of any improvement if anything bus use in the city centre is actually diminishing. Like New York the bus network is the lifeblood of the City and needs to be fit for purpose and supported with sensible working partnerships.
New York operate a big fleet as you might expect, 5,700 buses, 330 routes and 16,000 stops it serves over 2 million people every day however it is in decline and slowly but surely losing its way. The new industries that are growing in NYC like health, education, hospitality, etc are not being well served by the bus network, and it is not able to react to meet the needs of employees, clients, and customers. Given its importance it is woefully underfunded and neglected, more resources are poured into subways, commuter trains and bridges, and yes while lip service is paid to supporting the bus no real money is spent, and as a result passengers are evaporating fast.
The network is tired, the buses old, its routes are slow, unreliable, long, meandering ,confusing and congested, this is of course in direct contrast to modern passengers expectations which are that bus services should be fast, reliable, frequent, accessible, connective, and easy to use bus services. So, clearly a massive disconnect between what is offered and what’s expected, And when that happens then you get free fall, in the last 8 years the MTS bus system has lost 100 million passengers. In the five areas that make up New York, these areas have struggled, in Manhattan passengers are down 16% since 2011, and Brooklyn has dipped by 4%.
The vital statistics are depressing, Agatha Christie once said, find the motive and you will find the murderer, and the numbers prove why it is failing. The average NYC bus travels a pathetic 7.4 miles an hour the lowest average speed of the 17 biggest bus Companies in the USA. The average bus spends half its time on the road stationary (21% at red lights, and 22% at bus stops.) Average speed indicate decline against slowness, so Manhattan routes are a measly 5.5 mph, hence 16% down. Brooklyn only a bit better at 6.3 mph, the Bronx 6.5, When you compare the better performing routes Queens at 8.1mph, and Staten Island at 11.4 double that of Manhattan. It is not hard to understand why decline is dominant.
So amidst the despair where can we take comfort and heart, well there is a cunning plan put forward by the author of the report, who has delivered in fairness a really good and impressive 15 point plan. The solutions are out there and they are sensible and not really that expensive, especially when you consider the exceptionally costly alternatives that bring no where near the value that the bus can offer. The problem is however not in the solutions but in the will to deliver them, and as ever that comes down to commitment and delivery, that requires strength and brave political will to deliver on the plan. Let’s hope that the City Fathers and Mothers for that matter, wake up and smell the coffee as they say over there.