Dec. 16, 2021 By Allie Griffin
The MTA is redesigning the entire bus network in Queens and will release its latest plan early next year, agency officials said Wednesday.
The new plan will replace an initial bus redesign plan that the MTA put out two years ago. The agency has scrapped that original, pre-pandemic plan — which was very unpopular — and has started from scratch, officials said.
The MTA aims to release a “totally redone” draft plan for the borough’s bus routes in the first quarter of 2022.
“During the pandemic, the team has been hard at work…,” Interim New York City Transit President Craig Cipriano said at a press conference following an MTA Board Meeting Wednesday. “What you’re going to see is a totally redone draft plan in Queens.”
The agency had released an original draft plan, which reconfigured all bus routes across the borough, at the end of December 2019. The plan eliminated a number of bus lines and was met with almost instant criticism from residents and local elected officials.
All 15 Queens council members at the time called on the MTA to completely re-do the original draft plan. They rallied on the steps of Queens Borough Hall and sent a letter to MTA officials to demand a new plan less than a month after the original draft was released.
Residents from Sunnyside, Jackson Heights, Forest Hills and throughout the borough slammed the plan. Many put together online petitions in opposition to it and blasted MTA officials at local community board meetings.
They decried the loss of bus routes — like the Q23, Q32, Q33, Q49, Q53 and Q60 — as well as the longer distances between stops the MTA proposed. The original draft plan would have changed the average distance between bus stops from 850 feet to 1,300 feet across Queens.
The MTA received more than 11,000 comments from Queens residents about the original draft plan, according to Cipriano.
The agency ultimately paused the “Queens Bus Network Redesign” — as the plan is known — when the pandemic took hold of New York City just months after it released the original draft plan.
Cipriano said the MTA has been busy redrawing a new plan based on community feedback in the meantime.
“The core piece of redesign efforts is listening to our customers and other stakeholders, electeds and you’re going to see that with the Queens redesign,” he said.
The new draft plan will not be the final plan nor the draft plan proposed in late 2019, the MTA states on the project website.
“Throughout our extensive outreach efforts…, we collected and heard highly constructive feedback from the public,” the website states. “Comments centered around the loss of certain key subway connections, unclear schedule proposals, and wide bus stop spacing.”
Queens residents most frequently expressed their frustrations with changes to the Q49, Q53-SBS, Q32, Q33, and Q66 routes under the original draft plan, according to the MTA. The agency, however, noted that it received both positive and negative reactions on route proposals across the borough.
“This feedback became the primary input for the development of the New Draft Plan,” the project site states. “In this plan, we are working to address as many customer concerns as possible, while still balancing tradeoffs and applying network redesign strategies to improve the bus network.”
The MTA said the new plan will include some of the “well-received” elements of the original draft plan, but that it will look more familiar to the current Queens bus network.
The agency said it plans to use strategies including “using new route types, straightening routes, filling gaps in the bus network, creating new connections, strengthening interborough service, reallocating frequencies, prioritizing buses, and right-sizing the distance between bus stops.”
The MTA will do another round of public forums and feedback collecting when it releases the new draft plan early next year.
Acting MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber said buses are the best way to ensure transportation equity, especially in Queens.
“There’s no place that buses matter more than in Queens…,” he said at the press conference. “It has 2.3 million people but a lot less subway service than other parts of the city so bus redesign [in] Queens is really important and it deserves full attention in the months to come.”
Remember all the promises made in 2005 and 2006 with the creation of MTA Bus? Those who complained about ongoing problems with bus service were promised potential operational savings and service improvements by consolidation of duplicate routes between NYC Transit Bus 4,500 and MTA Bus 1,300 fleets. (MTA Bus is made up of the old NYC DOT private operator franchised Liberty Lines Bronx Express, New York Bus Service, Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses, Triboro Coach Corporation and Command Bus companies). This never happened. The same was true for reducing deadheading costs by reassigning bus routes between MTA Bus and NYC Transit Bus to closer garages for reduction of operating costs. Work rules and contracts between different labor unions representing employees at NYC Transit Bus, Manhattan Bronx Surface Transportation Operating Authority and MTA Bus to continue to prevent significant changes to the status quo. How will this be any different under the proposed Queens Bus Network Redesign? Have MTA and NYC Transit management, along with consultants obtained agreements from labor unions for reassignment of some proposed new bus routes to different depots to obtain these savings/
(Larry Penner — transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, MTA Bus along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)