Bronx bus riders and the elected officials who represent them are tired of the MTA’s failure to deliver on its promises.
Some 17 Bronx elected officials signed a letter calling on to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Patrick Foye to amend the MTA plan for revitalizing bus service in the Bronx.
The Fast Forward plan, as it’s called, includes specific consideration for Bronx buses, which according to the MTA are both the most-used and slowest buses in the city. Fast Forward plans to enforce bus lanes, increase bus frequency, and spread out stops a little more in an attempt to improve efficiency.
The plan has another element, however, that’s even more attractive to budget-sensitive lawmakers — it’s cost-neutral, meaning Fast Forward aims to spend the same amount of money on the redesigned system as they spend operating the current, malfunctioning bus system.
With the final plan for buses scheduled for release in September, local elected like Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Andrew Cohen took action.
The officials believe the current Bronx redesign would not make a “substantial difference” in bus service, and that is no effort to create new, sorely needed routes to airports and major job centers.
The MTA produced a report on existing conditions ahead of Fast Forward to gauge where improvements were most sorely needed. That report identified employment centers with more than 9,000 jobs per square mile.
“Those places are in the South Bronx, in Hunts Point, in Co-op City,” said Stephanie Burgos-Veras, a campaign manager at Riders Alliance. She said the new plan did not add routes to get people to those places or other places Bronxites work or would like to work, including the major airports in Queens.
“One of the things riders have been saying is that there is one route to Jamaica, to get people closer to JFK, but there’s no route to LaGuardia,” Burgos-Veras said. “Especially now that there’s all that development happening, and people want to work there.”
In addition to adding routes to job centers, advocates want to ensure buses will run frequently and at all hours, since many workers clock in outside of traditional 9-5 schedules.
“Bronx bus riders don’t work 9-to-5,” said Ramona Ferreya, a member of Riders Alliance, an advocacy group pushing for mass transit reforms. “They work in retail, hospitals and other non-traditional jobs.”
Cohen believes the plan demonstrates a lack of commitment to improving conditions in the Bronx. While some changes can be made while remaining cost-neutral, he said, there are many others — like adding more buses and bus lanes — that cannot happen without increasing spending.
“Without that kind of financial commitment, we will just be making improvements at the margins,” Cohen said.
Advocates are also concerned redesigned routes would create the need to change buses more than once on short trips, increasing commute times dramatically.
The MTA estimates more than 80 percent of bus commuters in the Bronx spend 30 minutes or longer traveling, with just over half reporting they spend 45 minutes or more getting to their destination.
One of the most important factors in improving bus service is adding and enforcing bus lanes, the MTA said, which right now are frequently blocked by parked cars. While the plan found that buses ran around every eight minutes during the day, they were frequently stuck in traffic.
The plan identifies key bus corridors that could be improved with traffic signaling and bus lanes including stretches of Broadway and Kingsbridge Road that are frequently clogged with vehicles.
“I think that the bus service in the Bronx is very, very crowded,” Cohen said. “It’s crowded later in the evening, if I’m still in my office at 7 or 7:30, and I see the bus go by and it’s still completely full. Service is not good enough.”
Although the letter wasn’t addressed to him specifically, New York City Transit Authority president Andy Byford said the MTA was “absolutely willing to consider an increase in funding, given the bounds of what’s possible.”
Seeing there might be some wiggle room to get the MTA to spend more money was reassuring for Burgos-Veras, but she’s not ready to step back from her advocacy efforts just yet.
“We’re glad to hear that the MTA is willing to explore additional investments,” she said. “We’re happy that they have heard us and understand the need. But we will continue to fight to make sure that it will be enough.”
Cuomo and Foye have yet to respond, and Cohen hopes the MTA does not ignore a chance to make real change.
“It’s an opportunity for the MTA to actually sort of sell bus service, that it’s good, that it works, that it can take people around,” Cohen said. “I hope that they take advantage of that opportunity.”