What Do You Want From Our Transit System?

THE COMMUTE: Often we forget that we have one of the most extensive and best transit systems in the world. There are not too many other places where you can take a train 24 hours a day without having to rely on a schedule.

Of course. the system is far from perfect. Subways and elevated lines were designed primarily to take people to Manhattan, incorporating parts of an old railroad system built to serve long demolished hotels in Coney Island. It was never extended to the southeast part of the borough or eastern Queens, so direct train service does not exist from there.

The Brooklyn bus system, based on an old trolley network, was set up also primarily for travel to Downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan via the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges. Additional bus routes were added in the 1930s to facility travel across Brooklyn. Relatively few changes have occurred since.

Most jobs traditionally were located within or near Manhattan, so inadequate mass transit elsewhere has not been a major problem and elected officials have not given it a high priority. However, this may be changing.

The Center for an Urban Future reported that between 1990 and 2008, the numbers of people traveling within their own borough jumped by 25 percent, while the numbers of people commuting to Manhattan increased by only 13 percent.

During the same period of time, transit travel between Brooklyn and Queens grew by 32 percent. The average transit trip within Brooklyn is 52 minutes each way, among the highest of any major city in the country.

MTA bus ridership has increased 60 percent since 1990, with projected increases of 30 percent per decade. However, the quality of service has been declining steadily with bus speeds dropping as road congestion increases. The report, available here, also highlighted the unpredictability of bus travel that may range from 30 minutes one day to 50 minutes the next, something the MTA is not even addressing other than through its effort to convert a few routes into Select Bus Service.

The report also highlights the importance of extending GPS to every bus route in the city, something the MTA has been promising and studying for more than 20 years. It is currently in place on only one route, the B63, as a pilot project.\

Much of this increase in bus ridership resulted from the offering of free / bus subway transfers and unlimited MetroCards.  However, service increases have not kept pace with ridership increases. Bus ridership has started to decline once again during the past two years. Recent massive service cutbacks last year have not helped, while subway ridership is continuing to increase.

So one of the questions I pose to you is this: if you could immediately change the system in one respect, what would you change?

Some want the system to just get them where they want to go quickly and safely; they only want a bare bones system that works. Others might be concerned about more comfort – less crowded trains for example. Some are concerned with aspects like cleanliness and want the system to be more user friendly, i.e. time clocks, etc.  Some want attractive looking stations, or at least ones without paint peeling from the ceilings. Others are concerned most about personal safety. Still some wouldn’t be caught dead using a bus or a train no matter what is done to improve the system. They just want to be able to use their car anywhere.

A few may bike, skateboard, rollerblade or just walk to wherever they need to go. My personal pet peeve is the local bus routes, some of which I feel could greatly benefit from a major overhaul, a point addressed in the Center for Urban Future’s report only as it relates to Select Bus Service.

So where do you fit in? What is most important to you?

The other question is what would you most like to see long-range in the next 10 or 20 years? A Second Avenue subway, extensions to Brooklyn subways, a cross-Brooklyn subway or light rail line, Select Bus Service all over, many more bicycle lanes, etc. I’m not interested in comments like “the MTA sucks” or “@&$& the MTA” because they serve no purpose and are not productive. If you feel, however that something within the MTA needs changing, or it needs a thorough overhaul, let’s hear your proposal. Do you have a way to improve the MTA’s finances perhaps?

Our travel needs are changing and our elected officials and transportation bureaucracies need to wake up and recognize this by improving non-Manhattan-based travel, which has long been overlooked. The year 2020 is just around the corner. Time flies faster than you think, except when you are waiting for a Second Avenue Subway to be built.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).