wheels in motion

An Odd Route Planned for New Staten Island Express Bus Service

A section of the proposed Staten Island North Shore Bus Rapid Transit project, Oct. 1, 2019.
A section of the proposed Staten Island North Shore Bus Rapid Transit project, Oct. 1, 2019. Photo: Clifford Michel/THE CITY

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A new type of express bus coming to Staten Island aims to shorten the commute of thousands of riders — by using old railroad lines, elevated viaducts and dedicated bus lanes, according to a draft proposal released by the MTA.

The so-called Bus Rapid Transit line — which has yet to be funded — is slated to feature 14 stops serving several West and North Shore neighborhoods.

The MTA, working with over a dozen agencies, including the Department of Transportation, plans to dedicate a half-mile of Richmond Terrace, heading east from the St. George Ferry Terminal, to exclusive bus use.

Buses also would navigate a combination of elevated viaducts and open cuts along 5.3 miles of road from the former North Shore Railroad, which stopped serving passengers in 1953.

From there, buses would travel 2.2 miles in mixed traffic on South Avenue before terminating at West Shore Plaza, according to a Sept. 18 draft scoping document.

The proposed North Shore Bus Rapid Transit project would take over an unused viaduct.
The proposed North Shore Bus Rapid Transit project would take over an unused viaduct. Photo: MTA New York City Transit

The current buses that connect Arlington, Mariners Harbor, Elm Park, Port Richmond, West Brighton, New Brighton and St. George are typically overcrowded during peak commute periods, according to the MTA. The agency cites the S40/90, S44/S94, S46/S96, and S48/98, which are late by five or more minutes nearly two-thirds of the time.

A Crucial Link for the Carless

Shanna Williamson, a 61-year-old West Brighton resident, said a service upgrade is long overdue.

“I just never know if I’ll actually make the ferry,” said Williamson, who was waiting for an S40. “One bad red light and you could be waiting another half-hour.”

About 73% of transit commuters on the North Shore use buses that serve an area with the lowest car ownership rate on Staten Island, according to American Community Survey data.

“For many folks in the district, the public transportation is not reliable at all,” said Assemblyman Charles Fall (D-North Shore).

A former viaduct station on Staten Island’s North Shore. Photo: MTA New York City Transit

The plan for a bus rapid transit system on Staten Island is nearly a decade in the making. It was born out of the 2012 Staten Island North Shore Alternative Analysis study, which recommended several new transit options between West Shore Plaza and the St. George Ferry Terminal.

But a lack of funding in the MTA’s Capital Program prevented the agency from moving forward with the project, which is now scheduled for completion in 2027.

The MTA had to adjust the plan to address the construction of the Empire Outlets mall, which is located where the bus line originally would have terminated.

Funding Fears Raised

In September, the MTA released its $51.5 billion 2020-24 Capital Plan without any funding for North Shore Bus Rapid Transit.

Fall expressed frustration that the transit plan wasn’t included.

“The community has been hearing about studies year after year — literally since I’ve been in high school,” said Fall, 30. “If there was funding allocated in the MTA’s capital budget plan, I think that would send a message to Staten Islanders that the MTA is serious about improving transportation on the North Shore.”

An MTA spokesperson noted that the agency’s five-year capital plans fund projects farther down the line than the bus system, which is in the planning and development stages. The agency can make amendments to the budget, the spokesperson noted.

A public hearing on the Bus Rapid Transit plan is set for Oct. 17 at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. The public comment period will conclude on Nov. 18, with a new draft of the plan set for a December release.

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