August 3, 2009, 1:02 PMBloomberg Calls for Free Crosstown BusesBy
SEWELL CHAN AND MICHAEL BARBARO
G. Paul Burnett/The New York TimesCrosstown bus routes, like the M23,
have traditionally been among the slowest in the city.
Updated, 5:27 p.m. | Manhattan’s notoriously slow crosstown buses —
like the M34, M42 and M50 — move at such a snail’s pace that the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority should stop collecting fares on
them so that the buses can load riders and take off more quickly,
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed on Monday afternoon as part of
what his re-election campaign called a bold plan for reforming mass
“Plain and simple: the M.T.A. needs to do more. Much more,” the mayor
said at a campaign event at West 34th Street between 10th and 11th
Avenues. “Our mass transit system is far behind.”
The mayor’s announcement comes months after the authority, which has
faced steep fiscal pressures, raised fares and tolls, pushing the base
subway and bus fare to $2.25. There aresome signs of weakening support
for the mayor — an independent who has promised to yet again pour tens
of millions of dollars from his personal fortune into his campaign —
although his major Democratic opponent, City Comptroller William C.
Thompson Jr., is still unknown to many voters.
In a 33-point proposal spanning subways, buses, roads, ferries and the
operations of the authority, the mayor appeared to be trying to assert
a greater role for the city in mass transit as he seeks a third term
in the November election. He will face hurdles: Unlike the Police
Department and the school system, the M.T.A. is subject to very little
control by the mayor, who controls only 4 of 17 votes on the
Some critics of the mayor criticized the announcement as political
grandstanding. “Mayor Bloomberg is doing what he does best: using his
office as a bully pulpit to beat down and silence working people,”
Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers
Union, which represents subway and bus workers, said in a statement.
“Bloomberg should restore the funding for mass transit that has been
cut under his administration.”
The mayor called for a number of measures that will probably be
popular with riders, even though Mr. Bloomberg has no direct power to
put them in place: extending the V line from the Lower East Side into
Brooklyn, and providing express service on the popular F line;
providing “countdown clocks” that indicate when the next subway is
arriving, a feature now only available on the L line; and reopening
Long Island Rail Road stations in the Queens neighborhoods of
Glendale, Richmond Hill and Elmhurst, to give residents more options
in reaching Manhattan.
(The idea of expanding the use of CityTicket — an M.T.A. program
started in 2004 that offers riders discounted fares on the Long Island
Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad when traveling within the city
limits — had already been put forth by Mr. Thompson, among others.)
Other elements of the Bloomberg transit plan build on existing
efforts. For example, the mayor wants to improve the renovation of
subway stations, reopen a 5.1-mile abandoned rail line linking the St.
George ferry terminal with several neighborhoods in the northern part
of Staten Island, and expand the bus rapid transit experiment that the
authority has begun along Fordham Road in the Bronx. All are projects
that have already been discussed or implemented over a period of
Some points in the plan are more innovative. Crosstown buses have been
infuriatingly slow for decades, and the plan argues that most
crosstown riders are already using the subway, so that the authority
gains little in additional revenue by collecting fares on crosstown
“Any loss in revenue will likely be offset by the gain in travel
times, which may reduce operating costs by allowing the authority to
run fewer buses,” the Bloomberg campaign states. If letting riders
board without paying proved successful, the paper added, “the
authority should expand it to other appropriate crosstown routes,
along with routes in Jamaica,” where buses also run slowly.
Other elements of the Bloomberg campaign’s plan include:
• Using smaller, more fuel-efficient buses to provide service on
existing bus routes during less popular periods, like nights.
• Using technology deployed for military vehicles in Iraq and
Afghanistan to track bus movements, with help from the city’s
Department of Transportation.
• Creating a high-occupancy-vehicle express lane on the westbound
Gowanus Expressway, whch would reduce commute times for motorists
coming from Staten Island or southern Brooklyn.
Expanding ferry service and ferry linkages, a proposal long championed
by Representative Anthony D. Weiner, who ran for mayor in 2005.
• Giving the Police Department, which already controls policing in
the subways, supervision over M.T.A. communications and surveillance —
a proposal likely to raise hackles within the authority.
• Creating a TransitStAT program — similar to the CompStat program
deployed since the early 1990s to monitor police responses to crime
patterns — to regularly provide online updates to the public about
• Creating an integrated, contactless “smart card” for transit riders
— similar to London’s Oyster Card or Hong Kong’s Octopus Card — that
could eventually supplant the MetroCard.
• Turning over the M.T.A.’s customer-service information
responsibilities to the city’s 311 call center, one of the Bloomberg
administration’s signature accomplishments.
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