Mott Haven offers model for de Blasio’s transit plans
One transportation initiative New York City can definitely expect from Bill De Blasio is one already happening: a continuation of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to speed up bus travel with Select Bus Service.
Riders on the Bx41 in Mott Haven and public transit advocacy organizations, like the Pratt Center for Community Development, are looking forward to more of the same.
“We’re kind of excited,” said Joan Byron, the Pratt Center’s director of policy.
Select Bus Service buses travel in dedicated lanes, have special sensors to speed them through lights, and make fewer stops than conventional buses. Riders also pay before getting on the bus, so fickle Metrocards and piles of change don’t slow boarding down.
These innovations have helped the new bus service run about 20 percent faster than plain old buses, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
There are only five of the new lines so far, but the MTA already has another 16 mapped out. The new lines have turquoise branding and a whale-like silhouette, and they headline de Blasio’s transportation “vision” for New York. It’s the way he intends to serve the underserved in the outer boroughs.
The Bx41 began running this summer from the Hub along Melrose and Webster avenues to East Gun Hill Road.
Most of the two dozen pedestrians interviewed in the area didn’t know the new line existed, but those who ride it like it.
Luis Ortiz, who uses a walker, takes the Bx41 to and from doctor’s appointments near the Hub, and said it’s a huge improvement over the local buses.
“It’s the best thing they’ve done yet,” he said.
Some riders, though, complained about cars that obstruct the dedicated bus lanes.
“Drivers park wherever they want to park,” said Coven Green, a Mott Haven resident.
His concerns echoed those of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which promotes environmentally sustainable transportation. It gave gave the city’s Select Bus Service only 35 points out of a possible 100, saying thatimproving the speed of a trip by 20 percent is actually relatively disappointing. The introduction of a similar system in Cleveland made buses there 34 percent faster, according to the institute.
De Blasio’s platform calls for “more than 20” new select bus lines, and the mayor-elect said he is willing to chip in city money for them, even as he said the city couldn’t afford to contribute any more to the MTA, which runs Select Bus Service.
Since buses drive on existing streets, introducing new service is relatively cheap—no tunnels to dig or rails to lay. Moreover, the city’s Department of Transportation controls those streets, and the agency has helped make bus rapid transit work.
The agency “works closely with the MTA in improving bus service,” wrote DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera in an email response to questions, “particularly with Select Bus Service.”
Still, some interpret the emphasis on the new bus service as an admission of defeat. They say the focus should be on new subway development.
“The agency can just turn to buses for a low-cost, but also low-capacity, fix,” wrote Benjamin Kabak at Second Avenue Saga, a much-read transportation blog. “Put some flashing lights on it; require preboard fare payment; and voila, Select Bus Service,” he wrote this summer.
Nevertheless, Kabak allowed that something has to be done now, and Select Bus Service is something.