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MTA bus ridership continues its decline, despite modernization efforts: report

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Manhattan has seen the greatest decline in ridership levels across all five boroughs

While the city’s deteriorating subway system has attracted the bulk of commuters’ ire and media coverage, another vital system has gone largely unnoticed, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer says in a new report.

Despite modernization and an increase in fleet and routes, the MTA bus system has lost 100 million passenger trips in the last eight years, according to Stringer’s report. Manhattan saw the greatest decline with ridership down 16 percent since 2011.

“Falling ridership, major slowdowns, and a bus infrastructure in decline is having an effect across the five boroughs,” said Stringer, in a statement. “If we’re going to have a thriving economy tomorrow, we need to rebuild our bus system today. Of course we have to focus on our subways, but we need to have a bus system that is the envy of the world.”

Stringer has highlighted many factors for this decline: the average city bus travels 7.4 miles per hour, one of the slowest among major bus systems in the country; most buses spend only half their time in motion, and the other half stuck in traffic; and buses also spend a lot of time at bus stops and red lights.

This lack of quality in service largely impacts New York’s low-income and immigrant communities, according to Stringer, and it also unfairly impacts those living outside of Manhattan. Job opportunities in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens have grown by 49 percent, 35 percent, and 34 percent respectively, compared to the five percent increase in Manhattan.

Stringer says that bus service has not responded to this increase, and has identified 12 neighborhoods in the city where there was an increase in jobs but not of subway or bus service. These neighborhoods include Williamsburg, Red Hook, and Norwood, among others.

The Comptroller has also outlined several suggestions on how MTA and the city’s Department of Transportation (both jointly run the bus service) can improve service: Better coordination between the two agencies; a comprehensive review of the bus network to align with the changing travel patterns; reform its stop-pacing guidelines to improve speed and reliability; and to create more dedicated bus lanes outside of the existing Select Bus Service system.

The MTA on its part has directed much of the blame on the city government claiming the city is responsible for building bus-only lanes, enforcing violations and traffic studies. MTA chair Joseph Lhota has also called on the city to swiftly enact a congestion pricing plan to alleviate some of the troubles.

“The bus system and our riders are the victims of a crisis,” said Lhota, in a statement. “Traffic congestion and New York City’s consistent inability to manage traffic flow and enforce existing traffic laws on its streets is killing our bus service and hurting bus riders. The proper and progressive way to deal with the scourge of traffic is for everyone to support a responsible congestion pricing plan.”

All the MTA coverage [Curbed]