View Full Version : The City's Slowest Bus

November 13th, 2003, 07:39 AM
November 13, 2003

Beats Walking? At 3.4 M.P.H., Not This Bus


The M23 bus, named the city's slowest, barely edged two other glacial crosstown buses, the M42 and the M66.

If you ride the M23 bus, chances are you are not in a hurry.

"It takes an awful long time," Norma Dean, 71, said yesterday, bundled in her coat and hat and riding the bus across town.

Earlier that day, Ms. Dean, slowed by a bad leg, had clambered out of the subway at 23rd Street and the Avenue of the Americas and made a quick mental calculation. She had a dental appointment across town and no bus was in sight. Was it faster to walk? Apparently it was.

"I never saw one pass me," she said. "And I walk slow."

But this time she was in no rush to get home, so she did not mind riding a bus that now has the distinction as the slowest in the city, having been named yesterday by transit advocacy groups in the second annual Pokey Awards for the city's pokiest bus routes.

Transit officials concede that New York City has the slowest bus speeds in the country, and there were 20 buses on this year's list, including the M23, with average speeds below 5 miles per hour during the beginning of the evening rush.

Yesterday, a reporter who rode the bus for several hours found among the M23's long-suffering riders a quality seldom identified with New Yorkers: patience.

"That's about right," a calm James Monroe said when informed that his bus often crawled through traffic along 23rd Street at a glacial pace of 3.4 m.p.h., about the speed of an average pedestrian.

Mr. Monroe, a 67-year-old Vietnam veteran with high blood pressure, rides the bus every day to the V.A. Medical Center New York on First Avenue. He said he could afford to take his time.

"It's convenient," he said, after waiting 15 minutes for the bus at Second Avenue and climbing aboard. A few minutes later, he got off, for a subway ride back to the Bronx.

On the other side of town, David Colbert, 46, climbed aboard at 11th Avenue on his way to his job as an ironworker uptown. "I don't mind it being too slow," he said.

A bus driver explained that the delays were mainly caused by excessive traffic, double-parked delivery trucks and people who were too slow getting on and off the bus.

"A bus is only as fast as its slowest passenger," said the bus driver, who identified himself only as Joe and said he has been driving the M23 route for several months.

Riders also do not understand that bus drivers need to keep to a schedule, he said. Sometimes he has to drive slower or linger at a stop so the light can turn red.

Yesterday, he was slightly behind, so he was chugging along at a brisk clip, sometimes even getting to 18 m.p.h. between intersections, before slowing to skirt around construction and vehicles that blocked the road.

"If I was exactly on, then I'd probably be going a little slower," he said.

The Straphangers Campaign, a group affiliated with the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Transportation Alternatives, another advocacy group, calculated average bus speeds this way: They took a bus's busiest stretch and divided that distance by the time the schedule says the bus should take to cover that ground at 4 p.m.

The M23 barely edged two other crosstown buses in Manhattan, the M42 and the M66, both calculated at 3.6 m.p.h., as the slowest.

The city is taking steps to improve bus speeds, transit officials said. It is issuing more tickets on illegally parked vehicles along bus routes, and several exclusive busways have been set up around the city. It is also moving toward a concept called rapid bus transit, which uses bus-only lanes, specially timed traffic lights and other tactics to speed buses. The idea, pushed by transit advocates, has taken hold in Los Angeles and Europe.

According to Charles F. Seaton, a spokesman for New York City Transit, New Yorkers can expect the idea here, but no timetable has been set.

That means riders of the M23 will have to quietly endure for now.

One of the few people in a hurry yesterday was Lindsey Elenson, 23, who dashed out on her lunch break from her job at College Sports Television at Chelsea Piers to get to the bank on Eighth Avenue. Like many, she said, she detests the M23.

Ms. Elenson recently began forking over $175 a month to drive her car into work and park it. "I couldn't deal with the bus," she said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

November 17th, 2003, 05:31 AM
November 17, 2003

Slow Traffic? Buses Should Be Above It All (2 Letters)

To the Editor:

Re "Beats Walking? At 3.4 M.P.H., Not This Bus" (news article, Nov. 13): Something needs to be done in New York City to move people crosstown and get some traffic off the major crosstown streets.

One alternative might be some type of combination elevator-cable car that would elevate at the curb, then swiftly move above surface traffic to the next avenue stop, where it would descend to curb level to unload and load passengers.

Such an electric transit system would reduce pollution as well as much of the congestion created by ever larger buses moving out from the curb into traffic lanes.

Using modern cable technology, there would be no elevated structure other than the elevator towers at the stops to block the sun or degrade the viewscape. Construction wouldn't tear up the streets or interfere with underground infrastructure.

Isn't it time for creative design solutions to this ever growing urban problem?


Brooklyn, Nov. 13, 2003

To the Editor:

"Beats Walking? At 3.4 M.P.H., Not This Bus" (news article, Nov. 13) notes that passengers who are slow to leave the bus are a major drag on bus times, but doesn't mention the obvious solution.

Instead of putting a sign near the front of buses suggesting that it would be nice if people got off at the rear, how about having the bus drivers actually tell people who approach the front of the bus to exit at the rear?

It's been a long time since I last heard a driver say, "Please exit at the rear of the bus." Instead, drivers passively watch as hordes of people seek to save themselves two seconds by not having to walk half the length of the bus to get off. These individual savings rapidly add up to long delays for buses.


New York, Nov. 13, 2003

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

December 3rd, 2003, 09:59 AM
The back of the bus thing is fine, but I know myself that it is not one of the most widely practiced, or known, protocols for bus behavior.

As for the cable cars, that is a load of hooey. There would be SO many problems with that it would NOT be funny!

I think the easiest thing for now would be to PROHIBIT ANY STREET PARKING on the major busroutes, and ticket cabs doing the random drive by pickups/drop offs. Set up designated drop zones for cabs, allow delivery trucks in certain windows (Early morning, midday, later evening) and you might see an improvement.

The only other thing that would speed things up IMMENSELY would be to create a pedestrian mall above the roadway. Elevated sidewalks in some of the busy areas like Times Square would make the delays due to people waiting to make turns SO much smaller.

But all of these solutions have their inherent problems in a city with SO many people. So I guess the best we can do is walk.