Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to "do something big" for the city's 2.5 million daily bus riders and increase bus speeds by 25 percent over the next two years. On Thursday, the mayor appeared at an NYPD tow lot to announce the creation of seven new dedicated tow teams that will patrol the five boroughs with the specific job of keeping bus lanes clear.
"This is going to be crucial—clearing out those lanes, making sure that the buses can move. And it's really clear to all the folks out there who think about or ever think about parking in a bus lane—don't do it," the mayor said. "Don't do it because these good public servants are coming to get you out of that bus lane if you're blocking millions of New Yorkers from being able to get where they need to go."
Buses in New York City move at an average speed of 7.4 miles per hour, and 4 mph in busy commercial districts. This helps explain why bus ridership in New York City has been on the decline since 2014.
De Blasio was joined by State Senator Brad Hoylman, who said that the Riders Alliance, as part of their Bus Turnaround campaign, identified the three bus lines that were the slowest in the city, and they all happen to be in his district, which covers a large swath of Manhattan. Hoylman said his constituents have aptly named them The Turtle (the M50 at 4.5mph), The Sloth (the M23 at 4.3mph), and The Slug (the M42 at 3.9mph).
"The average human speed is 3.1mph just walking,” said Hoylman. “Squirrels can run at a faster pace than these buses.”
The fine for parking in a bus stop or a bus lane is $115, with an additional $185 if the car is towed. The NYPD said that bus lane and bus stop violations have increased by 28 percent in 2019, and moving violations in the bus lanes have increased 612 percent; towing has increased seven percent.
Additional efforts to speed up bus lanes will include restarting the Select Bus Service program with route additions, and a focus on transit signal prioritization, meaning intersections where traffic signals stay green for oncoming buses before going back to their regulated schedules. The Mayor’s Office says that the goal is to add traffic-signal priority at 300 intersections per year, doubling the number of intersections where buses get green lights.
De Blasio, who frequently takes his motorcade from Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side to the Park Slope YMCA, urged his fellow motorists to resist the temptation to park in the bus lanes.
"I know it is hard to find a place to park in New York City. I drove myself around for a long time," the mayor said. "I circled the block a whole long time looking for a parking space in my neighborhood. I understand what every-day New Yorkers go through, but again it may be tough to find a parking spot, but I can tell you where you shouldn't even think about parking and that's in a bus lane because there will be consequences and it's not worth it."
(The median annual income for New York City residents is around $55,000; for car owners it is $85,000.)
Asked why he didn't include clearing blocked bike lanes into the new enforcement crackdown, de Blasio responded that they weren't as important. (The mayor has previously said that drivers who block bike lanes for short periods of time should not be ticketed.)
"There’s lots of enforcement also for bike lanes but right now we’re talking about a part of our mass transit system that needs real help. It’s 2.5 million riders a day. Bike lanes are important, but they by no means reach that kind of number."
The Department of Transportation estimates that there are an average of 460,000 bicycles trips in the city every day. In contrast, the mayor's highly subsidized ferry system carries around 13,700 people each day.
Asked about the last time he took a bus, the mayor replied that it was sometime last year.
"I think it was during Bronx Week last year, but I’m not 100 percent sure, we can you get the exact date and place, but it was really cool. The Select Bus Service was really fantastic."
The mayor added, "I’ve always been more of a subway guy than a bus guy, though. I have to give you full disclosure. In my history, before I had a car, which is before 1999, overwhelmingly subway, only occasionally buses."