For the first time anyone can remember, the New York City Transit president appeared at an award ceremony on Monday that recognized the most problematic buses across the five boroughs for the month of May.
The annual Pokey awards are handed out to bus routes known for being notoriously slow. The distinction is bestowed by the transit advocacy group NYPIRG, which has held the event since 2005 in hopes of drawing attention to routes that need improvement.
After awarding the M102 route that runs from the East Village to Harlem a golden snail on a pedestal for its phlegmatic average speed of 4.6 miles per hour, organizers were paid a surprise visit by Richard Davey, the New York City Transit president who was appointed to the role in May.
“I’m sorry I didn’t wear a black tie to accept the award,” Davey said at the ceremony in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “[I] heard this event was going on to highlight some of the challenges we have for our bus customers, I don’t think we could agree more.”
Davey blamed blocked bus lanes from slowing down buses across the city.
It drives me crazy, I see it all the time. Ice cream trucks and other delivery trucks parked in bus lanes
“It drives me crazy, I see it all the time. Ice cream trucks and other delivery trucks parked in bus lanes,” Davey said, blaming commercial vehicles for clogging up streets. “And what I think is probably even more disappointing is they build that into the cost of doing business.”
NYPIRG collaborated with the nonprofit organization Transit Center to help crunch average speed times for 77 of the MTA’s bus routes with the highest ridership during the month of May. Mary Buchanan with Transit Center, declared the runners-up pretty pitiful too.
“The 15 slowest, high-ridership buses in New York City all travel slower than 5.5 miles per hour even though they carry over 150,000 daily riders,” she said. “Not to brag, but I can run a marathon faster than these buses can.”
There are currently 100 cameras installed in the front of buses that will automatically ticket vehicles blocking bus lanes, which Davey said will increase to 400 by the end of the year.
He said the city’s commitment to add 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes over the next three years should also improve bus speeds.
Another award is given to the bus route that suffers from the worst bunching. Known as the Schleppie, the award is given to a route that has the worst instances of late buses, and then have several buses show up at once. The award features two elephants lumbering along, and was given to the B12 that runs from Lefferts Gardens to East New York in Brooklyn, for having nearly 20% of its buses suffering from bunching this past May.
“Clogged streets, double-parked cars and lines to get onto buses that go down the sidewalk are all culprits,” Megan Ahearn of NYPIRG said, referring to the causes of bunching and slow buses.
The 2019 Pokey winner, the M14, once clocked in at an average speed of 4.3 miles per hour. When 14th Street was designated a bus-only, route the M14 was also converted to a Select Bus Service (SBS) route – allowing commuters to pre-purchase their tickets before boarding – it decreased the amount of time buses wait for riders. Last June, the M14 had an average bus speed of 5.9 miles per hour.
The MTA remains reluctant to allow all-door boarding for fear of fare evasion, even though it could speed up bus times. The OMNY readers, which are installed on all buses in the front and rear, are only used in both locations on SBS buses. OMNY can only be used on regular buses at the front. The MTA reports that 10% of bus riders use OMNY, compared to 40% on the subways.