THE COMMUTE: Often we forget that we have one of the most extensive and best transit systems in the world. There are not too many other places where you can take a train 24 hours a day without having to rely on a schedule.

Of course. the system is far from perfect. Subways and elevated lines were designed primarily to take people to Manhattan, incorporating parts of an old railroad system built to serve long demolished hotels in Coney Island. It was never extended to the southeast part of the borough or eastern Queens, so direct train service does not exist from there.

The Brooklyn bus system, based on an old trolley network, was set up also primarily for travel to Downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan via the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges. Additional bus routes were added in the 1930s to facility travel across Brooklyn. Relatively few changes have occurred since.

Most jobs traditionally were located within or near Manhattan, so inadequate mass transit elsewhere has not been a major problem and elected officials have not given it a high priority. However, this may be changing.

The Center for an Urban Future reported that between 1990 and 2008, the numbers of people traveling within their own borough jumped by 25 percent, while the numbers of people commuting to Manhattan increased by only 13 percent.

During the same period of time, transit travel between Brooklyn and Queens grew by 32 percent. The average transit trip within Brooklyn is 52 minutes each way, among the highest of any major city in the country.

MTA bus ridership has increased 60 percent since 1990, with projected increases of 30 percent per decade. However, the quality of service has been declining steadily with bus speeds dropping as road congestion increases. The report, available here, also highlighted the unpredictability of bus travel that may range from 30 minutes one day to 50 minutes the next, something the MTA is not even addressing other than through its effort to convert a few routes into Select Bus Service.

The report also highlights the importance of extending GPS to every bus route in the city, something the MTA has been promising and studying for more than 20 years. It is currently in place on only one route, the B63, as a pilot project.\

Much of this increase in bus ridership resulted from the offering of free / bus subway transfers and unlimited MetroCards.  However, service increases have not kept pace with ridership increases. Bus ridership has started to decline once again during the past two years. Recent massive service cutbacks last year have not helped, while subway ridership is continuing to increase.

So one of the questions I pose to you is this: if you could immediately change the system in one respect, what would you change?

Some want the system to just get them where they want to go quickly and safely; they only want a bare bones system that works. Others might be concerned about more comfort – less crowded trains for example. Some are concerned with aspects like cleanliness and want the system to be more user friendly, i.e. time clocks, etc.  Some want attractive looking stations, or at least ones without paint peeling from the ceilings. Others are concerned most about personal safety. Still some wouldn’t be caught dead using a bus or a train no matter what is done to improve the system. They just want to be able to use their car anywhere.

A few may bike, skateboard, rollerblade or just walk to wherever they need to go. My personal pet peeve is the local bus routes, some of which I feel could greatly benefit from a major overhaul, a point addressed in the Center for Urban Future’s report only as it relates to Select Bus Service.

So where do you fit in? What is most important to you?

The other question is what would you most like to see long-range in the next 10 or 20 years? A Second Avenue subway, extensions to Brooklyn subways, a cross-Brooklyn subway or light rail line, Select Bus Service all over, many more bicycle lanes, etc. I’m not interested in comments like “the MTA sucks” or “@&$& the MTA” because they serve no purpose and are not productive. If you feel, however that something within the MTA needs changing, or it needs a thorough overhaul, let’s hear your proposal. Do you have a way to improve the MTA’s finances perhaps?

Our travel needs are changing and our elected officials and transportation bureaucracies need to wake up and recognize this by improving non-Manhattan-based travel, which has long been overlooked. The year 2020 is just around the corner. Time flies faster than you think, except when you are waiting for a Second Avenue Subway to be built.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Related posts

  • Anonymous

    Extensive and best transit systems in the world? Maybe extensive.. but very very far from being the best. But I’ll try to think about it as being the best … really really hard next time I’m standing on dark, smelly platform with shit dripping down on my head.

    • Eitan

      Hats, my friend. Invest in a hat.

      • Anonymous

        you mean hard hat?

  • http://twitter.com/nicktherat Nick the Rat

    i want to know where the buses / trains are using GPS, i want cleaner buses that dont smell like piss, i want trains and buses to come on time.

    • Anonymous

      THE RATS ON A ROLL TODAY!

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        Shouldn’t you have posted this as CAPSLOCK?

    • Soupy

      trains stink of not only piss, but farts, garlic burps and stinky food from the chinese bakery

  • Allanb

    Put some strippers on those poles, I bet the MTA will make a ton of cash in revenue from riders just from that alone…

    ok ok, seriously, I think just get the trains and buses to run on time and that will be a huge start.

    • Backagain

      hmmm, strippers, well, I’m available for work at the present time…. come to think of it, that would bankrupt the system faster than even the unions!

  • Ron B

    Unfortunately the subway system maintains an anything goes atmosphere. lets say you enter @ SB or Broghton Beach, you will imediately see every glass or steel surface vandalized with graffiti tags. Then if you ride the B you will see scratched tags on every surface. if you look out the window you will see graffiti on every surface the eye can visualize. if you look down, you will see litter and garbage. Once the train goes into the tunnel you will see every inch of tunnel wall covered with graffiti. You will see people freely moving between cars on the Q even though it is illegal. You will see people use the “Emergency Gates” as their own personal exit. You get off at Atlantic, Dekalb, Union Square and enter an elevator with acid tags on the glass. Millions are spent restoring the Brighton Beach Viaduct yet vandals hit the outside of the duct with black spray paint on both sides near Ocean Parkway. The back surfaces of every billboard attanced to the elevated structure is covered with graffiti.
    Is it possible that all of this could be cleaned up and maintained to create a non-gritty experience? Of course it can. One word can sum all of this up. PATH. The path system is a model of how the subway system should be. If you ever exited @ 33rd street from PATH and then entered the subway system, it is like night and day. ALso when the MTA wants to do something about something it can. The subway cars have been graffiti free for 22 years and window scratchitti has been eliminated as well except on the oldest cars. There are stations in Manhattan that are spotless.

    I would like the subway system to look like PATH.
    I would like extensions of the Nostrand Avenue & Utica Avenue Line south to SB and to Flatlands. I would also like to see the Bay Ridge Line restored for passenger service.

    • Backagain

      ya know, you’re complaining about vandalism and graffiti, and blaming the victim!!! How about taking the lowlifes that do this and throwing their butts in jail, or heavily fining them, instead of taking the stance that “oh, they’re artists”, or “oh, they’re just kids”. Don’t blame the MTA for animals in our society.

    • Allan Rosen

      You forget that PATH is a small system and the MTA has to maintain a very large one. I bet if the MTA has to manage a system the size of PATH, they would do just as good of a job.

  • Local Broker

    What doesnt make sense is you can get to the city faster than you could to 4th ave in Bayridge. It takes well over an hour to get to 4th ave in the 90s from here by bus. It takes me 5-7 minutes from exit to exit by car. There should be an express bus that runs along Shore or the Belt.

    • Allan Rosen

      I proposed this once making stops at Bay Parkway and in Sheepshead Bay and the MTA even considered running one from Bay Ridge to JFK via the Belt in 1993. They just don’t want to spend the money to do it.

  • winson

    i would like to revive the IND Second System, which would have greatly benefited the outer boroughs. The 7, A, E, and F lines would have been extended further east into Queens, serving neighborhoods like Whitestone, Queens Village, Hollis, and Locust Manor. the 2 train would have been extended down Nostrand Avenue to the east end of Sheepshead Bay. A new line called the Utica Avenue would have serviced Floyd Bennett Field and Kings Plaza before running north along Utica Avenue, then turn west and run along northern Brooklyn to Manhattan. A line along Woodhaven Boulevard would have connected the IND Queens Boulevard Line with the Rockaways. The BMT Fourth Avenue Line would connect to Staten Island. The Long Island City Line would serve northern Queens, including LaGuardia Airport and East Elmhurst, and the Second Avenue Subway would serve southern Bronx like Throgs Neck. Of course, these expansions will probably never happen.

  • Guest11

    I want a subway system that knows it’s a subway system, not an Amtrak train. No one gets up in the morning and say “Oh, I have to catch the 7:34 at Neck Road.” No one. There is no reason in the world why a train should be sitting at a station for minutes on end, delaying hundreds of people, in order to “meet a schedule.” That is ridiculous.

    In the same vein, there is no reason in the world why a train that is about to leave a station should not wait an additional very small period of time (perhaps 10-20 seconds) so that the passengers of another train coming into the station can connect.

    • Backagain

      what annoyed me was the occasional time when I’d have to transfer to a train across the platform, and the train would be sitting there with doors closed, for minutes, then the train would just pull out. Several times I cursed out the smirking conductor. Still can’t figure out why they would do that, besides some sort of weird power trip.

  • Backagain

    I’m a veteran of the NY transit system of the 70′s and 80′s, where we were discharged daily from trains, train cars had shut windows with no air-conditioning, grafitti and garbage was everywhere. The system now is infinitely better. I don’t own a car, so I rely heavily on buses and trains, and I have only an occasional gripe about service.

    Of course I could be the average American, and demand perfection from everything, and demand it be handed to me for free (with someone else paying for it), and yell and kick and scream if anything is demanded of me. But I’m from the older generation, and I appreciate the transit system as is.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      Oh yes, the bad good old days of the MTA. They do give some of us a different perspective.

      • Allan Rosen

        Nothing like going to the sauna on your way to work to arrive all sweaty and gritty. Hot time summer in the city…

  • Subway Stinker

    Your readers have posted Lots of good ideas but most cost lots of money. Here are some lo-tech and lo cost ideas.
    1. get the 61 Pct. and the Traffic Enforcemtn Agents to ticket peops who use bus stops as their personal, temporary (I’ll only be five minutes) parking spots. 2. Get Sheepshead Bites to file a Foil Request to see how many tickets are given along Avnue u for double parking. I bet the number is low, very low. If the streets were unclogged and the bus stops available to busses not local shoppers’s SUVs, our rides would speed up without spending a dime. 3. Turn the B train into permanent local service; this would double the number of trains serving all the local and express platforms, cost not an extra dime, as long as Sheepshead Bites and you, the readers, don’t let MTA then trim the number of trains running on the Brighton Line. 4. Let the MTA police, rather than the NYPD, enforce fare beats on the busses. Post both uniform and plain clothes officers near the rear doors of those ruckus busses. Make lots of ‘theft of service’ arrests….that habit will die hard. It’s the broken windows theory applied to mopes who fare beat. What not to expect…clean subways. Why? Because our fellow riders are slobs, teenagers who dont have any manners, morons who will never understand that it’s the Maid’s Day Off, and your types who cant tell the difference between a trash recepticle and a market basket. We would need an entire Corps of Sanitation to keep the subways clean given the majority of the current ridership…clueless, classless and no sense they are sharing space with other people.

    • Brooklyn4Ever

      Whatever you do don’t make a call to the illustrious waste of a 61st Precinct. I called them yesterday and got an answering machine. (someone used my driveway as a parking space and I could not get in and wanted them gone). Anyway, an answering machine at a police station? I know that they are a bunch of lazy asses over there, but being that lazy not to pick up a phone??? Don’t expect them to actually do anything.

    • Allan Rosen

      The MTA police is only for the railroads. The force would need to be expanded for them to patrol the buses and trains.

      Also it would cost more for the B to run local because they would need at least one more train to keep the same headway.

      • Subway stinker

        there is no law restricting the mta police to the three commuter railroads. in fact, mta police cars patrol certain bus lanes in midtown and mta officers have been seen issuing tickets to motorists improperly driving in bus only lanes.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    So what is the real bottom line on east-west transit in Brooklyn? Is it yet utilized enough to pay it’s own way? Considering last years service cuts it appears the MTA thinks “not quite”!

    • Allan Rosen

      No service pays its own way.

  • Mike

    An east – west light transit service in central Brooklyn (running along Bay Parkway
    Ave. J and Flatlands?) might bring much needed service to the Flatlands and Canarsee
    neighborhoods while reducing travel time which now depends on bus service.

    As far as the transit systems lack of cleanliness we have ourselves to blame
    because of the way we raise our children and we can also blame the lack of any
    enforcement by NYPD for littering (when did anyone ever see someone get a
    ticket for littering ?) and refusing to enforce existing rules (like no eating on the trains or buses, no placing feet on seats etc.etc.) It seems we have a law for everything in
    NY but nothing gets enforced.

    • Allan Rosen

      Select Bus but not light rail unless you use the LIRR Bay Ridge line.

  • Anonymous

    This is San Fran around 1903- but if you check out the video – transit problems from then still plague our system. Bunched trolleys (busses), bikes, cars cutting trolley’s off, people jaywalking.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same…

    NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS& NO RULES – Just Courtesy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is a fascinating movie. A camera was mounted on the front of a street car 104 years ago (1906). Perhaps the oldest “home movie” that you will ever see ! Look at the hats the ladies were wearing and the long dresses. Some of the cars had the steering wheels on the right side. I wonder when they standardized on the left ? Sure were still a lot of horse drawn vehicles in use. Mass transit looked like the way to get around. Looks like everybody had the right of way.

    Watch the beginning carefully. At the 33 second mark and immediately after an oncoming trolley clears the screen, a well dressed policeman walks across the street from left to right. Notice his right hand that he’s carrying a truncheon (26 inch police baton) and although he appears walking his beat, he looks ready to use it. Imagine the police of today walking down the street carrying a 26 inch club in their hand…???

    This film was “lost” for many years. It was the first 35mm film ever. It was taken by camera mounted on the front of a cable car. The number of automobiles is staggering for 1906. The clock tower at the end of Market Street, San Francisco at the Embarcadero wharf and is still there. How many “street cleaning” people were employed to pick up after the horses ? Talk about going green !

    This film was originally thought to be from 1905 until David Kiehn with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum figured out exactly when it was shot. From New York trade papers announcing the film showing to the wet streets from recent heavy rainfall& shadows indicating time of year& actual weather and conditions on historical record, even when the cars were registered
    (he even knows who owned them and when the plates were issued!). It was filmed only four days before the Great California Earthquake of April 18th 1906 and shipped by train to NY for processing.

    If we could just get everyone to close their eyes and visualize world Peace for an hour, imagine how serene and quiet it would be until the looting started.
    ……………….unknown