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Some buses move slower than a lawn mower, transit advocates say

M50 Bus

M50 Bus Photo Credit: M50 Bus (Lauren Lancaster)

If you need to get across midtown in a hurry, avoid the M50 bus at all costs, transit advocates say.

That line got the Straphangers Campaign’s annual "Pokey" award Thursday, chugging along at a sluggish 3.5 mph at noon on weekdays, making it the city's slowest local bus.

"You can push a lawnmower faster cross town than it takes the M50 to go from First to 12th Avenue," said Straphangers' spokesman Gene Russianoff.

The M42 bus, which took the title the last two years, made a marginal improvement from 3.6 mph to 3.7, tying for second-slowest route this year.

The survey calls attention to the need to overhaul the bus system, transit experts said.

Bill Henderson of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said one fix was letting buses have signal priority so they can hold a traffic light or start it sooner. Also, a new MetroCard the MTA is developing should work faster with a card-tapping system, he added.

“We need to make changes,” Henderson said. “When the bus doesn’t move any faster than walking, that’s when people stop taking them.”

Transportation Alternatives' executive director Paul Steely White blamed the poor bus service on an "underfunded transit system."

"The M50 might be slow but the bus system itself is racing toward catastrophe at full speed," he said.

Russianoff is hoping for improvements.

“Slow buses are not like the weather, there’s something you can do about them,” he said, adding that one solution would be adding some components of the Select Bus Service where possible, which include dedicated lanes and paying before you board. “Even if you don’t turn a whole route into a select bus service route, there are strategies like paying your fare off board or low floor buses to speed them up.”

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz did not comment on the awards, but called the Select Bus Service, which is on three routes, a "game changer in New York," and added that the MTA is working to bring real-time bus location information system-wide.

M50 riders weren’t at all surprised by the route’s award.

“It’s always slow and never on time,” said Joe Shohfi, 51, president of a software company, who takes the bus to get home. “At a certain time at night, you don’t even know if it’ll show.”

When asked why he still bothers taking the bus, he shrugged, and said, “It’s the best option.”

Brenda Cruzado, who was running late to work Thursday at a car dealership because two scheduled buses never showed up, wasn’t as patient.

“I think next time, I’m going to walk it out,” Cruzado, 33, said. “I think my walking is faster [than the bus].”

A bus driver on the route Thursday who drives several different routes said the M50 was slower than the rest.

“It’s bad traffic,” explained the driver, who said he was not allowed to give his name.

“This trip was pretty good,” the driver said as he pulled into the last stop 10 minutes late.

On Thursday the Straphangers campaign also named the M101/102/103 routes the least reliable, awarding it a "Schleppie," finding that more than a quarter of them either come bunched together or with large gaps between buses. Those buses run up and down the East side of Gotham.

Some other findings in the report:

- Four Manhattan local bus routes - the M50, M23, M42 and M34 - didn't break 4 mph at midday during the week.
?- Sixteen routes in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island were unreliable more than 20% of the time.

- Both Select Bus routes - the M15 and Bx12 - moved faster than their local counterparts. Another route has been added (the M34A), and plans for others are in the works.

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