No major changes planned for buses

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Change is finally coming for bus riders in the Bronx. Just not so much in this part of the Bronx.

New York City Transit Authority president Andy Byford has long discussed the changes he wanted to implement along the borough’s routes, which he’s described as among the slowest in the nation.

His plan focuses on alleviating bus “bunching” by spacing out stops, adding bus routes in the Bronx, and making existing routes more direct and more connected to other bus routes and subways. He also wants to ease boarding tie-ups, and prioritize buses on city streets with new dedicated bus lanes.

One of those lanes has already been proposed for the Marble Hill stretch of Broadway, immediately prompting protests from shops and restaurants along that stretch fearing the removal of some parking spaces could hamper business.

The changes were a long time coming, considering many of the bus routes have remained virtually the same since they were converted from the trolley lines of the 1900s, or simply acquired from private operators when they were absorbed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Many of the complaints have centered on such routes and stops not adapting to the changing population and development of the Bronx.

The plan introduces two new local bus routes in Manhattan and the Bronx — the cross-borough Bx25 and the M125 — as well as a new express Bronx-Manhattan route, the BxM5, which is meant to provide peak service between Mount Vernon and Midtown.

Routing of Bronx to Manhattan express buses will change — the BxM2 and the BxM18 will be rerouted to the Henry Hudson Parkway to avoid traffic on Lexington and Fifth avenues.

Most routes in the northwest Bronx will not change, however, as MTA officials determined they are relatively direct and have high ridership, although routes will see some stops removed. Limiting stops increases bus efficiency and timing, and reduces “bunching,” where buses are too close together and arrive at stops at the same time or within minutes of each other.

In all, some 400 Bronx stops will be removed, increasing the average space between those stops from more than 880 feet to just under 1,100. MTA officials had pushed for more stops to be cut, but the needs of local communities were taken into consideration, they said. Many retained stops are near schools or hospitals that need frequent bus service, while others are in particularly hilly or difficult-to-reach areas.

Of the local lines, the Bx7 will lose 13 stops, compared to just a handful from the other lines. The BxM1 will lose a stop, but will get another added, while the BxM2 will add one stop, and the BxM3 will get two more. All three express bus schedules, however, are expected to change.

Route and stop changes aren’t the only plans, however. The MTA wants to improve bus service all-around, beginning with the addition of the OMNY payment system allowing riders to pay fares with smartphones and other devices on all buses by next year. MTA hopes to allow such “touchless” fare collection to expand to all bus doors by 2021, with the intention to speed up boarding times at stops.

Other improvements like protected bus lanes, queue jumps — which allow buses to move through an intersection before other traffic — and other additions, like bus bulbs and curb changes, will be studied before the overall plan goes into effect, officials said.

Transit activists have said the plan does not do enough to improve bus service in the Bronx.

“Staten Island got $10 million for 40,000 middle-class riders,” said Stephanie Burgos-Veras, campaign manager at the Riders Alliance, said in a release. “The state needs to invest much more in the 650,000 Bronxites who depend on buses to get to work, school and other appointments.”

Critics have attacked the MTA’s attempts to not have to spend more money in efforts to change and improve service.

“In short, Gov. Cuomo needs to raise the stakes, think bigger, and act bolder,” Burgos-Veras said. “There’s a lot more than a new bus map riding on the Bronx redesign.”

The changes aren’t going into effect quite yet. The MTA plans to host a number of community meetings this winter, speaking to community boards, and distribute literature both online and on bus routes.

Public hearings will continue into the spring before the MTA board votes to finalize the plan. If everything remains on schedule, the new bus system will officially go into effect next fall of 2020.

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