By Sabina Mollot
In an effort to help straphangers get a more reliable idea of when their next bus is coming, the city is installing 48 new countdown clocks at bus stops around Council District 4. The project is being funded with nearly $1 million allocated by Council Member Dan Garodnick, who admitted that there’s still plenty of work to be done in making buses more reliable.
Similar countdown displays are already in place in local routes where Select Bus Service is offered, like the M23, although other SBS routes, including the M15, will be getting new countdown clocks in stops that don’t have them already.
The announcement was made last Tuesday at a bus stop at 68th Street and Lexington, which is one of four where a new countdown clock has already been installed. The other three are in midtown and the other 44 will be installed by the end of the year.
Garodnick, who was joined by Manhattan Borough Department of Transportation Commissioner Luis Sanchez and John Raskin of the Riders Alliance, discussed how unlike other methods of mass transit, bus usage is actually on the decline.
While noting that it’s sometimes the only option for the mobility impaired or New Yorkers who don’t live close to a subway, the speed or rather lack of it at which buses travel, has made above ground mass transit too slow and unreliable for a growing number of people.
“Bus service has declined by 16 percent in the last decade,” said Raskin. “People are voting with their MetroCards. People are starting to abandon the bus.”
Garodnick gave the bus stopping on that block, the M66, as an example of why.
“It’s the 17th busiest out of 40 routes, but it moves at 4.1 miles per hour,” he said. “I can jog backwards carrying my six-year-old son faster than the M66 goes to the West Side.”
His own neighborhood’s crosstown buses don’t fare much better, with the M23 and the M14 both having received “Pokey” awards in past years from the Straphangers Campaign, a distinction given to the slowest route.
Part of the problem, Garodnick said, along with the congestion, is that buses are treated like the mass transit stepchild, always the last to be noticed when investments are being made. Additionally, he cited ongoing traffic issues like drivers blocking bus lanes, double parking and insufficient enforcement.
“We need to step up our game in all these things,” he said. “The countdown clocks are only one piece of the puzzle to turning around our shabby bus service.”
In fiscal years 2013 and 2015, 17 elected officials provided nearly $6 million for the countdown clocks, enough for the Department of Transportation to install a total of 225.
At one point, when asked if he thought the state should be footing more of the bill for this effort, Garodnick said he did, but also didn’t want to hold his breath until the money became available.