OneNYC 2050 : Volume 8 of 9 : Efficient Mobility

Modernize New York City’s mass transit networks

The City must help reverse the decline in transit use by supporting plans to fix unreliable subway performance and optimizing streets for the efficient operation of buses. In addition, new capacity is needed to accommodate the mobility needs of a growing population, and foster our regional economy, including efficiency improvements to existing mass transit, evaluations of transit expansion, and new transportation options such as NYC Ferry and the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX).
Modernize The Subway System And Improve Affordability And Accessibility

The precipitous decline of subway reliability and performance has underscored the need for massive, system-wide repairs and upgrades, as well as major reforms to management and operations. Carrying out this significant system overhaul to improve performance and capacity requires new sources of dedicated revenue to sustainably fund modernization and maintain a state of good repair. Beyond funding, the MTA requires a fundamental reimagining of its structure, practices, and vision for the future to meet the needs of all New Yorkers.

The subway must also be affordable and accessible. The Fair Fares Program, which provides half-priced fares for low-income New Yorkers, will help defray transportation costs for low-income families. However, lack of Americans With Disability Act (ADA) accessibility excludes people with mobility disabilities from too much of the system, and must be remedied.

  • Fund the MTA Capital Plan
    The MTA’s substantial capital needs require significant, dedicated funding sources. The City supports the congestion pricing plan enacted in the New York State Fiscal 2019-2020 Budget that dedicates revenue to a lockbox for MTA capital and prioritizes subway upgrades, bus improvements and expanding transit availability. The enacted budget also includes governance reforms to improve operations, management, and construction practices. With additional dedicated revenue from an internet sales tax, a progressive mansion tax, and a progressive real estate transfer tax, the budget provides significant revenue to help modernize mass transit and bring the system to a state of good repair.
  • Endorse New York City Transit’s Fast Forward Plan to modernize subways and buses
    Beyond fundamental reforms, the City endorses the New York City Transit Fast Forward plan to modernize and upgrade the subway and bus system, and will advocate for its cost effective and timely delivery. The plan also focuses on redesigning the bus network, increasing accessibility, and deploying a new contactless fare system.
  • Support significant changes to MTA capital planning and project delivery
    To effectively deliver the improvements needed, the MTA must tackle its persistent cost overruns and project delays. Expanding the use of design-build to deliver its major construction projects provides the opportunity to minimize cost, accelerate delivery, and incentivize performance. Even so, the MTA must undergo a radical transformation in its planning and project-delivery processes. The City supports the independent audits required in the State budget to maximize efficiency, including the creation of a unit of internal and external experts to review all large-scale projects.
  • Offer discount MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers through the Fair Fares Program
    Launched in January 2019 in partnership with the City Council, Fair Fares NYC helps low-income New Yorkers manage their transportation costs, allowing them to buy MetroCards for half the regular price. The first phase made Fair Fares available to approximately 130,000 New Yorkers receiving cash assistance and/or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In fall 2019, the City plans to expand the program to eligible New Yorkers living at or below the poverty line in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), enrolled students at CUNY, and certain military veterans.
Photograph of a wheelchair user boarding an accessible bus.

Wheelchair user boards an accessible bus.

  • Increase subway accessibility
    Roughly 75 percent of subway stations remain inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Although some progress has been made, people with mobility disabilities and parents with strollers still face formidable obstacles. MTA’s Fast Forward plan strives to bring our transit system closer to compliance with the ADA. The MTA plans to make more than 50 stations newly accessible within five years, so all subway riders are never more than two stops from an accessible station. In partnership with the MTA, the City will continue to close gaps in accessibility and call for improved language access to enable better navigation of the mass transit system.
  • Use City zoning tools to increase accessible entrances
    The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) will work closely with the MTA to expand citywide the zoning tools recently created as part of neighborhood rezonings, which require developments adjacent to transit stations to consult with the MTA about providing an easement for elevator and/or stair access to stations. In order to ensure the transit easement does not impair the value of privately-owned sites, the proposal would in turn provide limited zoning relief.
  • Advocate for better language access to help all New Yorkers and visitors navigate mass transit
    Navigating the subway and bus system in New York City is mostly only possible in English, which creates a hardship for millions of visitors and the nearly 25 percent of New Yorkers with limited English proficiency (LEP). While the MTA posts service notifications in the languages of the communities most impacted, it should continue to improve language access for rider navigation. This could include multilingual digital signage, recorded service announcements incorporating multiple languages, and/or improved customer-service training and resources for staff to serve riders with LEP.

Photograph of an elevated train in Queens, NYC.

  • Explore further opportunities for subway expansion
    The capacity of the subway system must be expanded to serve the city’s growing population. The completion of the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway in 2017 was met with great acclaim, providing new transit options for the Upper East Side, freeing up capacity on the Lexington Avenue lines, and relieving surface congestion in the area. Subsequent phases of the Second Avenue Subway will provide important capacity and connections to accommodate passengers traveling to the core from other parts of the city, particularly from Queens. The MTA should continue exploring other opportunities for system expansion, such as the study underway to explore extending the 3 and 4 subway lines along Utica Avenue to Kings Plaza in Brooklyn

Map of Fast Forward, an advanced signaling for 5 million daily riders within 10 years.

Fewer than a quarter of subway stations are equipped with elevators.

Map of subway stations with and without elevator access.

Source: MTA


Recent improvements to the Bx6 South Bronx Crosstown corridor showcase the critical role New York City plays in speeding up the bus network. The Bx6 is a critical bus route connecting 24,000 daily riders to eight subway lines, Metro-North Railroad, and 20 bus routes. Seventy-six percent of households within a quarter-mile of the route do not own a vehicle, yet the existing route was notoriously slow, averaging 56 minutes to travel just 4.8 miles due to significant congestion and persistent double-parking issues.

In 2016, the Department of Transportation implemented a series of aggressive bus priority improvements focused on the half-mile bottleneck on 161st Street to improve speeds in this section, and reliability on the full route, including New York City’s first two-way center-running bus lanes, and repurposing a preexisting tunnel under a major arterial to bus-only. These improvements led to significant speed increases of between 15 percent and 45 percent, depending on the direction of travel.

Photograph of Select Bus Service bus in NYC.

Improve Bus Performance By Expanding Bus Priority Citywide

The City recognizes the opportunity buses represent for expanding the capacity and accessibility of the region’s transit network, while helping to achieve critical sustainability goals. The Department of Transportation (DOT) will work with the MTA to dramatically improve bus service through the installation and improvement of bus lanes and enforcement to ensure bus priority in bus lanes. Furthermore, DOT will double the current pace of implementing transit-signal priority intersections that will prioritize buses as they travel through city streets. In 2019, bus priority projects benefiting 600,000 daily bus riders will be underway in all five boroughs.

Support the redesign of the bus network through street improvements in every borough
Over the next few years, the MTA, with support from DOT, will be redesigning the bus network in all five boroughs. Planning for new bus priority projects on our streets will occur in tandem with MTA’s bus network redesign process, which is already underway for the Bronx and will then focus on Queens.

  • Improve bus speeds by 25% by End of 2020
    To facilitate better and more reliable service, bus lanes will be installed at an average of 10–15 miles per year (up from seven miles per year), with five miles of existing citywide bus lanes to be upgraded annually. The City will also pilot the installation of two miles of physically separated lanes, with work starting in 2019.
    New York City will continue to advocate for the Select Bus Service (SBS) Program, which includes dedicated bus lanes, signal priority, off-board fare collection, and all-door boarding—critical components to an overall improvement in bus speeds citywide.
  • Expand prioritization of bus lanes through NYPD tow-truck crews and camera enforcement
    The enforcement of bus lanes is critical to improving performance as illegal parking slows down buses and increases travel times for riders. In an effort to keep bus lanes clear, the MTA will install an Automated Bus Lane Enforcement (ABLE) system on 123 buses serving SBS routes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with plans to expand based on success of the pilot. The ABLE system captures license plate information and multiple pieces of evidence to enforce bus lane violations. To further support enforcement efforts, NYPD will use seven dedicated tow-truck teams to keep bus lanes clear.
Provide New Yorkers With More Transit Options

NYC Ferry and BQX projects demonstrate the City’s commitment to developing new transit options to connect underserved neighborhoods and shorten lengthy commutes. By introducing new, affordable transit routes, the City can help reduce crowding on existing routes and bring reliable and resilient transit service to new parts of the five boroughs.

  • Expand NYC Ferry to improve connections to Staten Island, Coney Island, the West Side of Manhattan, and Eastern Bronx
    The City will expand NYC Ferry routes, launched in 2017, to serve 11 million riders annually by 2023, up from 4.1 million today, adding routes to Staten Island and Coney Island, and a Throgs Neck/Ferry Point Park stop to the Soundview route. While the NYC Ferry is already the same fare as a subway and bus ride, going forward, the City will seek to integrate it with other mass transit systems, and explore the use of alternative fuels and electrification of ferries, as these technologies continue to develop and become more affordable at scale.
  • Advance the BQX
    The City is currently conducting an environmental review for the BQX, a state-of-the-art streetcar route being planned by the City to connect waterfront communities from South Brooklyn to Queens. The BQX will add new mass transit capacity and advance the City’s sustainable mode share goals, and willl be resilient in the event of flooding. The system will run on tracks flush with the existing roadway—mainly in dedicated lanes to increase reliability—and BQX streetcars will be ADA accessible.

Map of NYC Ferry routes in New York City.