Bus lines in the Bronx may change soon. And if they do, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hopes it will be for the better.
How precisely it will change — and if it means some bus stops will be eliminated — is still in the works. But soon, the public will have an opportunity to fine-tune the plan.
“We’re not finished yet,” MTA assistant director Jacqueline Carter told members of Community Board 8’s traffic and transportation committee last week. “There’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”
More than 60 percent of Bronx commuters travel by bus within the borough. Because only a few subway stations are handicapped accessible, bus routes are lifelines for people with disabilities, according to the MTA’s report. The Bronx has more than 12,000 households without a vehicle per square mile, with most concentrated along subway lines.
The MTA began redesigning the borough’s 57-route bus network last year under its Fast Forward plan. There, officials hoped to streamline the congested, sometimes sprawling, routes while still serving the city’s fastest growing borough.
The community got together last October to discuss how to improve bus service with the MTA. Those discussions along with study data was then compiled into a 300-page existing conditions report.
Most common complaints were dirty buses and dark bus stops, MTA planner Ryan Zatlin said. Buses are crowed during rush hour, and often late. It’s not uncommon to see two or more buses on the same line bunched up at a single stop.
Riders feel there’s not enough done to punish fare evaders or drivers who park in bus lanes. East-west travel and ferry connections are inefficient, and many riders using a pay-per-ride MetroCard must pay extra for a second transfer between lines.
The community workshops gave participants three trade-off scenarios, Zatlin said. Most said they would rather have more frequent service along core routes rather than spread out along more routes with fewer buses. A majority preferred simple direct routes with a longer walk to bus stops, but more frequent buses. And more than half favored fewer stops along a route for more reliable service and less bus bunching.
Transportation officials conducted community surveys in person and online, MTA planner Francisca Licona said. Approximately 2,750 people responded.
“Some of the key findings were that with travel within the Bronx, the bus service was the most used,” Licona said. Which could make sense, since Bronx trains primarily travel north-south routes with the primary goal to take people in and out of Manhattan. Traveling within the borough is almost exclusively done by bus.
The MTA found that roughly 96 percent of Bronx residents have access to some level of bus service, Zatlin said. Almost 40 percent of those live within a quarter-mile of frequent midday service.
Within CB8, stops in Kingsbridge and the northern end of Riverdale Avenue had some the highest ridership, with up to 7,000 daily boardings at stops closest to subway stations.
The report concluded that Bronx buses are used more than those in other parts of the city, but the service is less reliable than lines in other boroughs. Stops are very close together.
The MTA could address service problems by eliminating some stops in areas where they were deemed too close together, or implementing more express, limited and local lines.
“You spoke about more stops or fewer stops. Why is this an either/or proposal?” committee member Edward Green asked. Seniors want stops that are closer together and commuters want fast service that gets them to work on time.
“There are all sorts of community members that the service works better for rather than the other option,” Green added. “Why can’t two options be available just like they have on the train services?”
Designers are considering local and express options to keep existing stops in place while easing congestion, Zatlin said. Choosing where stops will be added or removed will depend on MTA analysis of daily ridership, nearby senior and disabled riders, topography, and other factors.
“So it’s not so easy as saying, ‘Let’s remove half the stops,’” Zatlin said. “It’s really a careful process.”
The MTA is expected to release a draft plan addressing improvement next month, It will hold a series of town halls afterward, beginning in June.
“This is when the community can come out,” Carter said. “This is a draft plan. Nothing is set in stone yet.”