BY MADELEINE THOMPSON
Since 2003, bus ridership in New York City has dropped 16 percent, according to the city-based grassroots organization Riders Alliance. City buses carry around 2.5 million riders every day, but at a town hall held by State Senator Daniel Squadron last week it was clear many aren’t too pleased.
“We’re missing a bus coming down Broadway to service us from 14th Street,” one SoHo resident said at the event. The M6 “used to come down Park Avenue and they did away with it. I’d like to see it come back. I’ll take any [bus].”
In response, Squadron said the area still hasn’t recovered from the bus cuts of 2010 and mentioned the M5 as well. “You’re seeing that in the terrible service you’re getting on the M5,” he said. “The M5 became everything and got terrible. It’s a real problem.”
Noah Pfefferblit, Community Board 1’s district manager, said the M6 had also been brought up at multiple meetings recently. “[The MTA is] breaking it into two sections because it currently goes all the way from Lower Manhattan to Washington Heights, and as a result the service is very unreliable,” he said. “The portion that starts down here will go up to, I think, around 37th Street, and then we’ll have another route that starts around there.” In general, however, Pfefferblit said he hasn’t heard an unusual number of complaints about bus service.
The M1 and M5 also cut wiggling paths across almost the entirety of Manhattan, though the MTA recently informed CB1 officials that the agency planned to extend M1 service by just under a mile down to the City Hall area. It currently ends at West Eighth Street. Last year, the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Straphangers Campaign awarded the M1 its “shleppie” award for having large gaps between bus arrivals and for buses commonly arriving bunched together.
“In the realm of unreliable bus service, the M1 is the king,” the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul Steely White, said at the time.
At a City Council transportation committee hearing in early October, residents from the lower half of Manhattan testified that they would like more or better bus service on the M1, M5 and M6 routes, among many others. “Countless constituents, including seniors, those with young children, and people with disabilities have been asking us to help get them better bus service,” said Terri Cude, first vice chair of Community Board 2.
The city Department of Transportation’s commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, said at the hearing that average bus speeds are lower than ever — at 7.5 miles per hour – but added that the DOT is “very focused” on reversing the trend.
A Chelsea resident at Squadron’s town hall said too much emphasis was being placed on the MTA’s Select Bus Service, to the detriment of regular bus service.
“You can see five SBSs go by and one regular one. Some people can’t walk between those long stops,” she said.
Squadron disagreed, saying he would “like to see more investment in protecting those lanes,” though he called the balance of SBS to regular buses “wacky.”
One reason for this, he added, could be the way bus data is collected and made public. The MTA measures bus ridership by the number of passengers who get on each bus. But transportation activists, including the Straphangers Campaign, have asked that the measurements also reflect, for example, the number of miles a bus travels before it experiences a mechanical problem. “We really need exiting numbers, not just entry numbers,” Squadron said. “We’re pushing the MTA to figure out what the math is.”
For those who rely on buses, and for whom the subway is inaccessible, updated data can’t come soon enough.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org