Thursday, July 24, 2014

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MTA Explores 'Bus Rapid Transit' to Reduce Commutes

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A new MTA committee looking at innovations in transit is hearing a lot about faster bus service. And as transit reporter Jose Martinez reports, it's something that supporters hope is eventually transplanted to the city from abroad.

The city has seven Select Bus Service lines, which promise speedier rides with tweaks to how to pay fares and hop on.

So what's the next big thing for bus riders?

It's called Bus Rapid Transit. And supporters say it's just like riding the train.

"It is really like the reliability and comfort and dignity of a train experience for the cost of implementing bus service,” said Elena Conte of the Pratt Center for Community Development.

But you won't find it here in New York, at least not yet.

True BRT service, like what you see in cities like Bogota, Colombia, requires roads with at least six lanes, bus-only spaces and a center median for stations. There, riders can pay fares before boarding a bus at platform level.

The former mayor of Bogota says it's worked in his city, where the TransMilenio opened in 2000.

"People who used to take three hours now take 40 minutes in their transport. Basically, TransMilenio works exactly as a subway,” said Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota.

As a member of the MTA's new Transportation Reinvention Commission, he's now touting the idea as one that could serve the city well.

"It's not the traditional, very slow buses where you go almost faster walking. This is a totally different system,” said Peñalosa.

And where in the city might you see what transit advocates like to call world class Bus Rapid Transit? It could be Queens, where city Department of Transportation officials say they're considering the Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevard corridor for BRT.

That route could conceivably link the Rockaways to LaGuardia Airport, and to subway lines along the way.

"We could connect a community like the Rockaways that has narrower roads to some real bona fide world class transit service if the Bus Rapid Transit that's being contemplated extends out there,” said Conte.

As for Select Bus Service, officials say it's been a hit.

"To be able to say that along these SBS routes, we've seen a decrease in travel times of 20 percent while seeing an increase in ridership of about 10 percent says a lot about the success of Select Bus Service,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

For now, that will have to do.

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