Getting the City on Board the Bus
With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) facing a deficit of more than $1.2 billion in their operating budget and an under-funded 5-year infrastructure improvement program, straphangers can count on paying more for bus and train service. And with more people using public transportation, especially in the outer boroughs, the MTA is faced with providing more service with a tighter budget.
“This is a great time to focus on ramping up the use of the very unsexy, but very effective and cost-efficient Bus Rapid Transit,” says Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development. “It’s much cheaper to use roads that are already there, rather than building tunnels, laying track, and building stations. In fact, it costs about $1 million per mile compared to $1 billion per mile for a new subway line.” Already implemented successfully in Bogota, Colombia and Curitiba, Brazil, Bus Rapid Transit involves creating bus-only lanes, kiosks at stops so people can pre-pay, elevated stations that get people in and out of buses quickly, and traffic lights that give buses the right of way. These measures can cut a 50-minute bus trip in half. The MTA and the City Department of Transportation have implemented one of five proposed Select Bus Service routes (a pared down version of Bus Rapid Transit) on Fordham Road in the Bronx. But 20 full-featured Bus Rapid Transit routes with protected lanes and floor-level boarding are needed, and public pressure from transit-starved communities will help. Byron continued, “These bus routes are a perfect complement to our Manhattan-centric subway system because it’s economical enough to deploy widely throughout the city, and connect people with job centers outside of the Manhattan core.”
A grant of $40,000 to the Pratt Center for Community Development helped the organization build public and political support to expand this bus service. It educated civic groups, employers, and churches and encouraged them to join the advocacy efforts. The Center also held neighborhood meetings, citywide forums, and press conferences to persuade City Council members to champion bus routes in their districts. Pratt worked alongside the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Straphangers Campaign, which has fought on behalf of transit riders for the past 30 years.
With our support, the Straphangers Campaign helped win more than $16 billion for transit system improvements in 2004 and 2005, and with a 2009 $50,000 grant, the Campaign advocated and organized for an increased investment in mass transit, with businesses, commuters, and others who benefit doing their part to pay for it. With big projects like the Second Avenue subway line and the #7 extension in the works, it’s more important than ever to make sure the State and City are making mass transit a funding priority now and over the long term. The Straphangers Campaign also continued its efforts to make the MTA more accountable and transparent.