NEW YORK — If New York City's bus routes were students, nearly a quarter would be flunking, half would be barely passing and just one would get high marks, according to a new report from a bloc of transit advocacy groups.
The Bus Turnaround Coalition released its annual report cards Wednesday for 248 city bus routes, assigning each one a letter grade based on speed and reliability in 2018 using real-time MTA data.
The results show incremental improvement but continued trouble on the system that carries more than 2 million riders on the average weekday. Some 73 percent of the routes got D's or F's, and just one got an A: the Q52 Select Bus Service in Queens.
"Many times people say, 'My bus is the worst' when actually all buses in New York City are terrible," said Stephanie Burgos-Veras, a senior organizer at Riders Alliance.
Some 58 routes across the city got failing grades, 30 fewer than the year before, the coalition says. But the bus system continued to hemorrhage passengers in 2018 with ridership dropping 4.7 percent, while the average bus speed fell to 6.6 MPH from 6.8 MPH, according to the coalition.
Local buses were even worse with an average speed of 6.4 MPH — slower than the subway's ubiquitous rats, which can sprint faster than 8 MPH, said Mary Buchanan, a research associate at TransitCenter.
The Bus Turnaround Coalition also assigned bus performance grades to each of the 51 City Council districts for the first time this year. The results were similarly dismal — 46 got D's or F's, and none got an A or B, Buchanan said.
Last year did see some improvements in bunching, the phenomenon of two buses arriving right behind one another that hurts reliability on the system.
Some 11 percent of buses were bunched on routes with arrivals scheduled at least every 15 minutes, down from 14 percent in 2017, the coalition found. Buchanan attributed some of that improvement to New York City Transit's efforts to dispatch buses so that they can be more evenly spaced.
Other improvements have also helped on certain routes, the coalition says. On the Q52 route on Cross Bay and Woodhaven boulevards, for instance, adding bus lanes, consolidating stops and allowing passengers to board on any door drove bunching down 66 percent last year compared to 2017, according to the coalition.
The MTA and the city have committed to using such tools to improve bus service. Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration plans to ramp up the installation of technology that helps buses move through traffic intersections as part of an effort to increase bus speeds 25 percent by next year.
The city Department of Transportation says it has already brought that technology to nearly 600 intersections. It has also installed almost 40 miles of new bus lanes and brought Select Bus Service routes to 16 corridors together with the MTA, the department said.
"We agree that bus riders in our city deserve better, which is why we're taking action now," de Blasio spokesman Seth Stein said in a statement. "We have a plan in place to increase bus speeds 25% by 2020 with actions that include doubling the miles of bus lanes installed every year, improving 5 miles of bus routes per year and accelerating the installation of traffic signal priority to 300 intersections per year."
The buses are also a priority for New York City Transit President Andy Byford. His transit overhaul plan released last year called for redesigning the city's bus route network and rolling out 2,800 new buses within five years. His agency also wants to speed up boarding by using all doors.
But officials should move faster to make changes that can help commuters, said City Councilman Ben Kallos, whose Upper East Side district got a failing grade.
"What do we say to all the commuters who had a rough commute this morning, who didn't get to work on time, who lost money or may have lost their jobs because of the bus that never showed up, the bus that showed up bunched or the bus that got caught in traffic because there was no bus lane?" Kallos, a Democrat, said.
The MTA says its redesign of Staten Island's express bus network has made average bus speeds 12 percent faster, and a redesign is now underway for The Bronx. But Max Young, the agency's chief external affairs officer, acknowledged that there is still "an enormous amount of work to do on this issue" despite recent progress.
"In order to achieve this goal we need congestion pricing to pass, in order to reduce traffic on the streets and provide additional technological and infrastructure improvements," Young said in a statement.