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Bus Rapid Transit for New York City


New York City has the slowest bus service in America. NYC Transit buses travel at an average speed of 7.5 mph. On bus routes such as the M96, M23, M15, Q32, BX35 and B63, the average speed is 6 mph or less.

That buses are traveling in slow motion is obvious to everyone, especially riders, who rank it the most serious problem with bus service. Slow bus service discourages people from taking buses, especially for work trips where travel time is critical. Slow bus service contributes to very long travel times to work in New York City, as shown by the latest census.

Bus service is slow for many reasons. Traffic congestion is clearly a major factor. But other problems are just as important:

  • Buses spend as much as 30% of their time waiting for passengers to board and exit.
  • Increased crowding on buses due to ridership growth has lengthened delays from boarding and exiting.
  • Traffic signals are not synchronized with bus speeds, so buses are delayed by red lights between bus stops.
  • Drivers often have to slow down to stay on schedule even when traffic is light.
  • Bus field supervisors lack the tools to prevent bus bunching.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a promising strategy for improving bus service. By applying features used in rail service to bus service, BRT can make buses faster, more reliable and more attractive.

BRT has been applied successfully in major cities including Los Angeles and Vancouver, British Columbia as well as cities in South America, Europe and Australia. BRT has produced 15-40% increases in bus speeds and 15-150% increases in ridership.

BRT features showing the most promise for implementation in New York City include:

  • More frequent service where needed.
  • Bus bulbs, which bring the sidewalk out one lane so buses do not have to maneuver into and out of bus stops.
  • Longer bus stops to eliminate delays as buses wait to enter the stop.
  • Bus lanes with raised lane dividers or other physical means to discourage or prevent other vehicles from violating bus lanes.
  • Low-floor buses that can speed boarding and exiting and encourage riders to exit through the rear door.
  • Pre-boarding fare payment at selected high-volume boarding times/locations to reduce dwell time at bus stops.
  • Bus traffic signal priority to help late-arriving buses catch up to schedule.
  • Real-time management of buses to achieve even spacing between buses.
BRT features applied to M15 limited stop buses on First/Second Avenue in Manhattan could dramatically improve bus service.

  • One alternative, using dual bus lanes, low floor buses, raised lane dividers and pre-boarding fare payment during rush hour at six locations, would reduce bus travel times by 21-27% compared to the current limited stop service and reduce the variability of travel time by 38%. Bus riders would save 9-17 minutes for a trip from 125 Street to Houston.
  • A more far-reaching set of BRT features that includes an exclusive bus lane would reduce travel times by 37-53% compared to the current limited stop service and improve reliability by 86%. Bus riders would save 16-34 minutes for a trip from 125 Street to Houston.
Achieving these improvements to bus service on Manhattan's East Side and in other congested corridors throughout the five boroughs will require close cooperation between the Department of Transportation, which controls the streets and bus stops, and New York City Transit, which operates most bus service in the city.

DOT and NYC Transit should identify key corridors for a BRT demonstration program. Candidate demonstration streets include First and Second Avenue in Manhattan and major avenues leading into commercial centers in the other boroughs, such as Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn; Jamaica Avenue, Archer Avenue and Main Street in Queens; and Third Avenue in the Bronx.

A DOT/NYCT demonstration program should begin with sections of several corridors that have heavy bus volumes. The demonstration project should be aimed at testing BRT features listed above. Each demonstration site should be evaluated for improvements to bus travel speeds, reliability of bus travel times and impact on other traffic. Modifications should be made as needed. Results of the demonstration program should then be used to implement BRT features on the rest of each demonstration corridor and in other locations throughout the city.

Download the full report:

"Bus Rapid Transit for New York City" (2.1 megabyte file in Acrobat PDF format)

  • Overview of Bus Rapid Transit
  • Implementing BRT in New York City
  • Alternatives for First and Second Avenue in Manhattan

"Appendixes to Bus Rapid Transit for New York City" (1.1 megabyte file in Acrobat PDF format)

  • Detailed review of BRT Features
  • Details on How Alternatives A, B and C Will Work on First/Second Avenue
  • Modeling Travel Time Savings

Report published June 2002

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