MTA, NYCDOT announce plan to improve bus service

Aug. 17, 2021
New York City will add or improve 20 miles of bus lanes, including up to five new busway pilots starting in 2022.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) released a plan to improve New York City’s expansive bus network.  

The MTA and NYCDOT will build off ongoing efforts that have already yielded faster bus speeds, and implement new initiatives to enhance the customer experience to ensure that the MTA bus system – which carried 2.1 million riders daily pre-pandemic – is ready to support New York City’s recovery.  

“We carry more people on our buses than the next four largest systems in America combined, and for entire neighborhoods across the city – including many disadvantaged communities and communities of color — our buses are the only mass transit option to get to work, to get to school and to access all the opportunities New York has to offer,” said Acting MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Our goal today and every day is to provide bus service for our customers that is faster, more reliable and more accessible. This package of initiatives, including more bus lanes, more busways, better bus lane enforcement and better accessibility at bus stops delivers on that promise.”  

"DOT is proud of the strong working partnership we have developed with the MTA, especially around buses, where we have already worked cooperatively and productively on dozens of routes, improving trips for a majority of the system’s two million daily bus commuters," added NYCDOT Commissioner Hank Gutman. “MTA’s commitment to redesigning the bus network, piloting all-door boarding on local bus routes and boldly expanding bus lane enforcement are transformative changes that complement our own planned expansion of bus lanes and busways. We look forward to starting this joint and reinvigorated effort right here in the Bronx.”  

New and improved bus lanes and busways  

The MTA and NYCDOT say they agree that bus lanes and busways are among the most effective tools for increasing bus speeds. Starting in 2022, NYCDOT will embark on major projects to add or improve 20 miles of bus lanes, including up to five new busway pilots. These projects, developed over the next several months in coordination with the MTA, will be designed to serve bus riders in critical areas of the city.  

Dedicated bus lanes and busways have yielded positive results throughout the city in recent years. On the popular 14th Street busway, travel times have improved by 36 percent in the last year from pre-busway travel times. The improved speeds helped fuel pre-pandemic increases in ridership as well, with ridership up 24 percent on M14 SBS service. In the Bronx, the Bx6 SBS route began operating along dedicated bus lanes in 2017, and travel times improved by 11 to 16 percent.   

 “T[his] announcement marks the beginning of an even closer collaboration between the city and the MTA toward our shared goal of delivering a bus system worthy of our world class city,” said NYC Transit Interim President Craig Cipriano. “This new plan utilizes everything in our toolbox to speed up travel times, giving New Yorkers a clear incentive to choose the bus as their mode of choice.”   

In April, the MTA worked with NYCDOT to launch the 181 St Busway Pilot in Washington Heights, which has increased bus speeds by up to 34 percent, improving commute times for riders on five Bronx routes traveling to and from Manhattan. This improvement followed the installation of a busway pilot on Main Street in Flushing, Queens in January 2021. Average bus speeds along the Main St busway were up to 25 percent faster during peak periods between October 2020 and May 2021.  

In July 2020, offset bus lanes were installed on 149 St in the Bronx for riders on the Bx2, Bx4, Bx17 and Bx19. This installation work has been successful in speeding up trip times in population-rich parts of the borough. Average bus speeds along 149 St were up to 14 percent faster during peak periods between October 2019 and May 2021.  

Contributing to improved performance is NYCDOT’s installation of 16.3 new miles for bus lanes and busways in 2020. These bus lanes and busways are on bus routes that, pre-pandemic, served over 340,000 daily bus riders.  

The projects included:  

  • Brooklyn - Malcolm X Blvd, 0.1 miles; Jay St busway pilot, 0.8 miles  
  • Bronx - 149 St Bus Lane, 2.7 miles; University Ave, 0.1 mi; El Grant Highway Bus Lane, 1.2 miles  
  • Manhattan - 14 St Bus Lane, 0.8 miles  
  • Queens - Merrick Blvd Bus Lane, 5.9 miles  
  • Staten Island – Hylan Blvd Bus Lane, 4.7 miles  
  • Expanded bus lane camera enforcement  

One key to speeding bus service is more frequent and more consistent enforcement of busway and bus lane rules – especially for delivery vehicles and other chronic violators. Bus lane camera enforcement technology currently exists in all five boroughs, and MTA and NYCDOT have agreed to expand camera enforcement to cover up to 85 percent of existing bus lanes by the end of 2023.  

To reach that goal, the MTA has committed to more than tripling the number of cameras onboard buses in 2022, adding 300 cameras, with the plan to add at least 600 more in 2023. Approximately 30 percent of bus lane miles are covered with onboard bus cameras. NYCDOT will complement this effort by adding fixed cameras on up to 15 new corridors in 2022. The fixed cameras will work in concert with the bus cameras to reduce the number of illegal cars and other vehicles in bus lanes.  

Transit signal priority expansion  

The MTA and NYCDOT will expand Transit Signal Priority (TSP) to up to 750 additional intersections throughout the city in 2022. TSP helps buses spend less time at red lights by allowing buses approaching an intersection to get a shortened red light or an extended green light in real time.  

The MTA partnered with NYCDOT to install this technology at more than 1,700 intersections throughout the city since 2012, and the pace of installation has grown substantially despite the pandemic. In partnership with the MTA, NYCDOT added 648 intersections with TSP in 2020. The expansion was by far the largest addition of TSP in any year since the first activation in 2012. New activations occurred in all five boroughs, including more than 120 intersections along the B82 SBS route in southern Brooklyn. This year, more than 300 intersections have already been brought online.  

Bus network redesign  

Bus network redesigns are among the biggest improvements the MTA can do to ensure New Yorkers receive appropriate bus service, which is why the MTA will restart its Bus Network Redesign program this fall, beginning with the resumption of the Bronx local bus redesign that will be implemented next summer.  

The MTA will monitor emerging ridership patterns and incorporate these patterns in its upcoming redesign to better match bus service with current and future travel demands. Public outreach is expected to begin as early this fall. The MTA will coordinate redesign plans with NYCDOT to ensure that the redesigned networks have the needed bus priority.  

OMNY all-door boarding pilot coming to 10 local bus routes  

One of the most anticipated features among bus riders is the implementation of all-door boarding using the authority’s contactless fare payment system, OMNY.  

In December 2020 the MTA announced that approximately 15,000 OMNY readers have been installed on the MTA’s 5,800 bus fleet. On pilot routes, customers using OMNY will be able to enter through any door to speed up boarding times. Exact routes are still in the process of being selected. The pilot will help give the authority a better understanding of the impact all-door boarding can have on travel time, boarding times and OMNY usage. The expectation is to implement all-door boarding on all buses by the time the MetroCard is retired by the end of 2023.  

Commitment to accessibility  

Improving accessibility to the bus network is a top priority for the MTA and NYCDOT. The entire MTA bus fleet has been made ADA accessible, but other barriers remain. NYCDOT will pursue new projects focused on improving the physical accessibility of bus stops across the city and has targeted accessibility improvements for 25 bus stops in 2022.  

Throughout 2021 and 2022, the MTA expects to put more than 800 new buses, approximately 17 percent of its local fleet, into service with more flexible seating options in the priority and courtesy seating area designed to accommodate diverse customer needs. The buses will feature three new, single seats indicated by decals that will be able to flip up to accommodate customers with walkers, folded strollers and other belongings. Two are single aisle-facing seats on the bus operator’s side and one is a forward-facing seat on the curb side. The new buses will also feature wider doors and ramps designed to make it easier to enter and exit the bus.  

Improved bus schedules and real-time information  

All the initiatives laid out by the MTA and NYCDOT look to vastly improve the customer experience. To take advantage of all the existing and upcoming improvements, the MTA will improve bus schedules on at least 15 routes to help reduce travel times.  

In addition to improving schedules, the MTA and NYCDOT will upgrade real-time information for bus riders. The MTA is adding more than 1,000 onboard digital information screens by the end of 2022, bringing the total number of buses equipped with these screens to approximately 64 percent of the fleet. NYCDOT is in the process of developing a new prototype bus time pole that will provide bus riders with real-time information signs at bus stops.