Taxpayers will be boosting subsidies to two private bus lines Staten Island commuters call unreliable — and the agency in charge says a ridership drop due to the MTA’s route redesign is to blame.
Board members of the city’s Economic Development Corp. have approved an additional $804,000 for Academy Bus, the Hoboken, N.J.-headquartered company that supplies service along the routes now called the SIM23 and SIM24, according to the minutes from a May 8 meeting.
The newly approved funding brings to a total of $4.3 million this year’s contract between EDC and Academy, in an arrangement to serve the transit-starved South Shore that’s been in place since 2001. Academy took over in 2014 after a previous company went bankrupt, according to the meeting record.
“The redesign has resulted in a significant loss in revenue for Academy due to lower ridership and fewer revenue miles,” the minutes state.
Riders waiting in Midtown Manhattan for their rides home sounded off about service they call spotty — and say it doesn’t surprise them that ridership is on the downswing.
Jay Reyes, 42, said three scheduled buses had simply not shown when he was waiting for the SIM23 earlier this week on 34th Street. At rush hours, buses are supposed to arrive three to four times an hour.
“I can see why they’re losing riders,” said Reyes, a Tottenville resident. “They’re pretty unreliable.”
Two commuters waiting for the SIM24 — which like the SIM23 reaches Staten Island via the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey — complained that unlike MTA buses, the Academy routes lack GPS tracking that can tell riders when the next bus will arrive.
“There’s no way to track buses, so if I miss a bus there’s no way to track it,” said Lisa Angelo, a 31-year-old Huguenot resident. “So there are no updates except for from other riders on Facebook, and you just have to keep checking that.”
Angelo and another commuter both recalled the time that a SIM 24 bus broke down in New Jersey during an evening commute last month.
“They break down a lot,” said Ivan Martinez, 54. “I was on the side of the road on the highway and everyone had to get out and wait for another bus to come.”
EDC is about to renew the Academy contract for one year in September, while preparing to hand over responsibility to the city Department of Transportation next year.
With DOT approval, Academy Bus has made several adjustments to the two routes since New York City Transit’s August 2018 launch of Staten Island’s redesigned bus routes. In Manhattan, they once again run along 34th Street to and from the Lincoln Tunnel, after running into snarls on congested 42 Street.
Pleas for an MTA Takeover
An MTA spokesperson acknowledged that ridership on the two private bus lines has declined since the redesign launched last August, even as the authority reports that bus ridership rose boroughwide.
“The Staten Island Express Bus Redesign has been a resounding success that has attracted riders to new routes, increased reliability, added more service, and sped up trips, saving a significant amount of time for customers and saving resources that we have reinvested into making the service better,” said Amanda Kwan, an MTA spokesperson.
According to the MTA, ridership on the SIM 23 and 24’s previous iterations, the X23 and X24, was on the decline before the redesign.
“We continue to monitor the network closely and keep an open dialogue with all of our stakeholders to improve service, including discussions with the City on how to improve performance on the SIM23 and SIM24 routes so that those customers can also benefit from the improvements resulting from our network redesign,” said Kwan.
Route ridership numbers, released annually to the MTA board, are not yet publicly available for the period following the launch of the remapped Staten Island lines.
Staten Island was the first of the boroughs to undergo a bus-route redesign at the behest of New York City Transit President Andy Byford, a process rolling ahead in The Bronx and getting underway in Queens.
South Shore Councilmember Joe Borelli told THE CITY that he wants the MTA to take over operations of the two bus lines, which service Annadale and Prince’s Bay on Staten Island.
“I’m more concerned that this is still the last place in the city that doesn’t have actual MTA service,” Borelli told THE CITY, alluding to past MTA takeovers from private companies of numerous routes in the boroughs.
Another effect of the private service, he notes, is that SIM23 and SIM24 riders cannot take advantage of the MTA’s new OMNY contactless fare payment system, which recently rolled out on all other Staten Island buses.
“MTA service has been better than private service, and it’s not going to improve much unless the MTA takes over.”
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