To travel to a previously mentioned doctor’s appointment in Morningside Heights yesterday, Startsandfits.com took the M60 bus across town on 125th Street. Buses in New York City are unbelievably, notoriously slow. The M34 travels at an average crawl of 4 miles per hour. My M60 is significantly faster at 9.7 miles per hour, according to the straphangers campaign. You can get to Philadelphia on Amtrak faster by the time the M15 finishes one circuit of its route. At base, the most important reason for this is that, despite the fact a bus can carry the equivalent of 100 single-occupancy vehicles, they are forced to occupy the same space as the regular auto traffic. Other cities provide solutions to this problem. London keeps cars out of its center city by charging drivers to enter the central city, speeding the buses enormously. A number of other cities have begun bus rapid transit, which provides buses their own right of way separate from the car congestion. This has the added benefit of encouraging still more people to ride the bus when they see how much quicker it is. Of course, if General Motors hadn’t systematically dismantled our nation’s streetcar lines, the streetcars that formerly plied the avenues of Manhattan might have continued to operate to this day.
Because New York City’s buses are stuck in with general traffic, there are a number of other factors that contribute marginally to their slow speed.
The driver of the bus I rode yesterday was a very gregarious fellow who enjoyed using the bus’s internal P.A. system. He announced every street clearly and exuberantly. For example, “Seventh Avenue — Also known as Adam Clayton Powell … [pause] … Junior Boulevard,” and: “Eighth Avenue. Frederick Douglass Boulevard. For that guy who wanted to go to Columbus Circle, get out here and transfer to the M10.” [Note: Better advice would have been to get off at the next stop and take the A or D trains one stop, but maybe "that guy" wasn't up for riding the subway for some reason.] He energetically tackled some of the bus slowness problems head on. He had taped a message that said, “This is the M60. Please have your MetroCards and transfers ready. Thank you.” Then he transmitted that message over some kind of external P.A. system every time the doors opened. It seemed to help a little, but there were still people who somehow didn’t realize they needed their MetroCards until they had already gotten on the bus! He also used this P.A. system to harass a bunch of drivers who had parked in a bus stop. “Hey, move up a little! This is a bus stop. Look at that cop over there! He noticed you! This is a bus stop. Move forward!” Motorists don’t respect the No Parking in Bus Stops rule very well, so the buses move even slower. The amazing part is that buses have external P.A. systems. I had no idea.