Home > Early Rapid Transit in New York

A Review of New York's Transit Situation (1923)

From nycsubway.org

erj19231006-555a.jpg

Present and Proposed Rapid Transit Lines in New York City.

Electric Railway Journal · Vol. 62, No. 14 · October 6, 1923 · pp. 553-559.

A Review of New York's Transit Situation. Conditions Getting Worse Daily — Yearly Growth Is Almost as Great as Entire Traffic of Buffalo — Mayor's Plan Would Disrupt the Present Rapid Transit Lines — Municipal Operation Means Waste of Money. By LeRoy T. Harkness, Member New York Transit Commission.

The Author Brings Out that in New York City: 7,500,000 people are transported daily! More than 700,000 ride in one direction in one hour! Every day 2,500 more rides are taken than were taken the day before; 100,000 more a week; 150,000,000 more a year! In general, population doubles every thirty-three years; traffic every twelve to fifteen years! Last year the total traffic was 2,590,313,699! In 1860 each person traveled forty-three times per year; in 1920 each person traveled 404 times! In the past fifty years traffic multiplied nearly forty times; facilities increased only about five and three-quarter times! In two years the ticket sales at Times Square Station increased 9,000,000! The transit lines could carry 35,000,000 passengers in twenty-four hours — one-third the population of the United States! They actually carry 7,500,000 because most people travel in certain directions morning and evening!

"All the studies made by the commission indicate that in congested districts street cars are nnore effective in moving large numbers of people than are buses when consideration is given to variations in weather and other conditions. The proper field for buses is to take the place of some of the trolley lines outside the congested areas and generally to serve the outlying districts as feeders for rapid transit and other lines." — Commissioner Harkness.

"FURTHERMORE, and in passing, one myth ought to be disposed of — that of the 5-cent fare. We have not in reality a 5-cent fare in New York today; it is 6 cents. The abolition of free transfers during the disintegration of the surface lines has added just about 1 cent to the fares paid by the riders on those lines through either an added fare or a 2-cent charge for transfers. On the rapid transit lines the passenger pays 5 cents and the city pays one cent out of taxes. The 5-cent fare has not been saved — it has merely been camouflaged. The Transit Commission reorganization plan is the only constructive suggestion yet made for its restoration." — Commissioner Harkness.

Every day and in every way transit conditions in New York City are getting worse and worse.

Every day, on the average, there are 2,500 more travelers than there were the day before. Last year about 150,000,000 more rides were taken than were taken the year before. This means that an increase as large as the total traveling public of Rochester, Syracuse and Utica combined — 156,488,293 — is poured into our street railways every year.

These figures are so staggering we cannot fully grasp them. One hundred and fifty million is a big figure, but how big is it? By comparison it shows that the annual increase in New York is about three times the total yearly passengers in Albany (53,562,883), and approaches the total traffic in Buffalo (215,529,528).

In 1900 the first subway, costing about $50,000,000, was started, and put in partial operation in 1904. Nearly ten years were allowed to elapse before the Dual Subway plan of 1913 was put into effect, costing for construction and equipment about half a billion dollars. That project has been completed except for the Nassau Street line and the Fourteenth Street-Eastern line, both of which have been held up by adverse action of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

Again ten years have elapsed before the starting of new subways. We are continually making the same mistake of building a subway and then waiting till it is swamped before starting another. In the past fifty years traffic multiplied nearly forty times; facilities increased only about five and three-quarter times.

Finally, in August the Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved the routes and general plans of the Washington Heights extension in Manhattan and the Crosstown line in Brooklyn. The construction cost of these lines will be in the neighborhood of $60,000,000. This approval puts the Transit Commission in a position to drive forward the building of these lines, but unfortunately nearly five years must elapse before they can be constructed, equipped and put in operation. In May, 1922, the Transit Commission laid out a five-year building program to cost $218,000,000. This is the least that should be done. The question immediately occurs. Where does all this tremendous traffic come from? Increases in population alone do not account for it. Traffic increases more than twice as fast as the population. It is the increase in population multiplied by the greater use people make of transit facilities.

The figures show this strikingly. The population of New York with number of revenue passengers on its urban transportation lines by twenty-year periods has been as shown in the table below.

It will be seen that in sixty years the traffic has multiplied about forty-five-fold, while the population has multiplied only five-fold. The population has grown from 18 to 39 per cent per decade and the traffic has increased from 49 per cent to 200 per cent, the high percentage following the opening of extensive new lines. In general, the population has been doubling about every thirty-three years and the traffic has been doubling about every twelve or fifteen years.

In 1860, on the average, each person rode forty-three times a year; in 1870 the average number of rides per capita increased to 103, in 1880 to 152, in 1890 to 218, in 1900 to 246, in 1910 to 321 and in 1920 to 404.

There must be considered too not only the increases in population and in the riding habit, but also the added difficulties of carrying people to and from congested districts. For example, the Equitable Building houses 13,000 people. It took a year and a half to build the Equitable Building, but it takes nearly five years to build a subway to carry its people to and from work. The 13,000 people, most of whom keep the same hours, are carried largely at the same time. A car in the subway will accommodate 130 of them and ten cars make up an express train, therefore it requires ten trains to carry the people who work in the Equitable Building. This is the full capacity of a two-track subway for twenty minutes.

Year Population Revenue Passengers
1860 1,174,779 50,830,178
1880 1,911,698 290,417,029
1900 3,437,202 846,353,058
1920 5,620,048 2,273.336,533

Entering into New York City's transit problem is also the number of visitors and commuters that come into the city. It is estimated in a recent report made to the Transit Commission that this amounts to more than 500,000 people a day. Nelson P. Lewis, formerly chief engineer of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and now associated with the City Plan Survey of New York, estimated that in 1920 in the so-called Metropolitan District there was a population of about 9,000,000. The detailed estimates of prospective increases have not been completed, but Mr. Lewis' preliminary figure for this district for 1960 — thirty-seven years hence — is 20,000,000.

The magnitude of this suburban traffic — present and prospective — amply warrants the work already initiated by the Transit Commission looking to the provision of separate adequate facilities for it. Competent advice is to the effect that both the Grand Central and Pennsylvania Terminals will be outgrown within the next seven years.

The Flatbush Avenue Terminal of the Long Island Railroad — the terminal of heaviest traffic of any two-track railroad in the world, is already outgrown. More than 34,000,000 passengers a year go through it.

Figures on Future Traffic

We have considered the past growth. What of the future? In connection with various aspects of its work, the commission has had careful studies made of prospective traffic and has had the benefit of a careful survey made by the New York Telephone Company. These studies indicate a population of about 6,500,000 in 1927 and of more than 7,000,000 in 1932. Judging by the increases of the past the traffic in 1932 unless choked by lack of new facilities will be more than four billion passengers per year.

The traffic is already being choked. The 16,000 taxicabs that are crowding the streets and throttling surface traffic are an indication of the overflow from the transit lines of a considerable part of the public that would rather pay more and avoid the crowding.

Traffic congestion, especially on the rapid transit lines, has long passed the point of acute suffering. There is not only the physical suffering and menace to health, but the indiscriminate crowding of women and young girls on the transit lines in the rush hours is debasing and demoralizing. The whole situation is a disgrace to the city of New York.

At best it will take nearly five years before big trunk line subway systems can be placed in operation. The two lines — the Washington Heights extension and the Crosstown line — that the commission finally secured authorization to go ahead with a few weeks ago are only a beginning. They will only very partially keep up with the increased congestion. It is almost frightening to contemplate what must happen in the next four or five years before any major relief can be given. It is all very well to talk about traffic being reduced because of the choking effect of congestion. People, and more and more people, will try to crowd themselves on the transit lines. At the present time railroad operation in Greater New York is the most intensive operation anywhere in the world. Comparatively little can be done to add to the service that is being given. Tracks in the rush hours are crowded very nearly, if not quite, up to the limit.

These are some of the things that may help, although it must be recognized that anything but major subway construction is merely a palliative:

The engineers of the Transit Commission are already preparing plans for the lengthening of local station platforms both on the Interborough and B.-M. T. Lines. This will substantially increase the local service, and as the congestion gets worse more people may be content to take a little longer time and ride on local trains, thereby relieving the worst crowding, which is on the express trains.

Both subway companies have been ordered to buy more equipment, and large additional orders will probably be placed in the near future. The Interborough company claims that it has been prevented from keeping the present equipment in first rate order and from getting more cars because of the alleged failure of the city authorities to carry out the contract obligation to provide inspection, storage and repair facilities.

Ten years ago the city agreed to build the Nassau Street line, extending from a connection with the Center Street loop at Chambers Street down Nassau and Broad Streets to the Montague Street tunnel. Construction plans, specifications and contracts were prepared by the Transit Commission at large expense for this work, only to have them rejected by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. The construction of this line would give very material relief to the whole Brooklyn transit operation.

Similarly in 1913 the city agreed to build the Fourteenth Street-Eastern line, extending from Fourteenth Street and Broadway to East New York, and the work on the subway portion was actually started in 1916. When the commission came into office the subway work was largely completed, but it was only after many months that it was able to secure authorization for the contracts for station finish and trackwork. Nor is this all. The subway portion of the line only goes a short distance in Brooklyn and will serve a comparatively limited population. The great service of this line is to reach the population further out toward East New York and the districts beyond East New York served by existing elevated railroads. At the present time these people are being brought by a roundabout way over the Williamsburg Bridge and down through the Center Street loop, where they must change and walk two blocks — most of them on the street surface in all sorts of weather — to reach the Broadway subway. It is without exception the most acute and potentially dangerous situation on any of the transit lines.

The completion of the Fourteenth Street line from East New York will take these people on practically an air route to Fourteenth Street and Broadway, where most of them will be within easy walking distance of where they want to go. The operating contract and the route and general plan which have previously been approved by the present Board of Estimate and Apportionment and the Mayor call for an elevated railroad, practically all of which is over an old right-of-way of the Long Island Railroad on which freight trains are now being operated. The Transit Commission rushed forward plans for this elevated extension in accordance with the provisions of the contract with the operating company, secured bids and submitted them to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment about a year and a half ago. That board rejected the bids on the ground that although the city was bound by a contract to build this elevated line the board now preferred a subway. The operating company, on the other hand, stated that the substitution would mean several years more delay and a continuance of the acute condition at Canal Street and insisted upon a compliance with the terms of its contract. The matter has therefore stayed at a deadlock and the commission has been unable to get this line under way. It could be built in about eighteen months, would relieve the most acute condition in the city and would give the greatest single measure of relief that could be given anywhere within so short a time.

But it would seem that all these things, important as they are, will fall far short of relieving a situation that is bound to grow worse until the new subways come in. There is one method that is drastic, but in my judgment will very likely have to be availed of. That is what is called "staggering the peak," or, in other words, regulating the hours at which people go to and come from business. At the present time the bulk of the traffic is compressed within two hours morning and evening, 700,000 passengers being carried in one direction in one hour. Great relief can be occasioned if by statutory enactment or otherwise it were required that people in certain businesses should start and leave half an hour later or half an hour earlier, as the case might be. This would spread the peak over three hours instead of two, greatly reduce the crowding and at the same time permit carrying a greater traffic. The difficulty is to get the public to do this voluntarily. Such a system was put in operation during the influenza epidemic under plenary Health Department authority. It worked well then. I think we will have to resort to it again.

There are two main things to be done, and fortunately on these the ground work is well advanced. The first is the reorganization, combination and rehabilitation of existing lines, so as to enable them to give the maximum of service. The commission's plan for readjustment of the existing conditions has been made public so need not be repeated here. [See Electric Railway Journal, Oct. 1, 1921, page 557.]

The Interborough company has already been reorganized and saved from a receivership. The old B. R. T. (now the B.-M. T.) after several years in the hands of a receiver has recently been reorganized and put in solvent condition. The plan and scope of these intermediate reorganizations were largely influenced by the Transit Commission working in close co-operation with Judge Julius M. Mayer of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. Hence, both companies are now so organized that the Transit Commission's plan for the municipal ownership and unification of all the useful properties in the city can be carried out.

There is one vital point that must be kept in mind in all subway discussions and which is the base of the commission's reorganization plan: The state Constitution limits a city's borrowing power to 10 per cent of its assessed valuations. New York city is always nearly, if not quite, up to that limit. There are certain exceptions to this constitutional provision, notably the one affecting subway bonds. Subway borrowings may be exempted from the debt limit if the bonds are self-sustaining. The first subway built in 1900-1908 is self-sustaining and nearly $50,000,000 expended on it was exempted and used over again. The 1913 transit program, in which the city has invested nearly $250,000,000, is not self-sustaining and the money invested represents a frozen credit. Over $10,000,000 a year for interest and sinking fund payments are now included on this account in the tax budget. The crux of the commission's plan is to make the transit lines at all times self-sustaining so that nearly $250,000,000 can be released for new subways. This will constitute a revolving fund and will finance more or less automatically all needed future extensions. It will allow what we have long so badly needed — a consistent, continued building policy of putting forty or fifty million dollars' worth of construction under contract every year.

Furthermore, and in passing, one myth ought to be disposed of — that of the 5-cent fare. We have not in reality a 5-cent fare in New York today; it is 6 cents. The abolition of free transfers during the disintegration of the surface lines has added just about 1 cent to the fares paid by the riders on those lines through either an added fare or a 2-cent charge for transfers. On the rapid transit lines the passenger pays 5 cents and the city pays 1 cent out of taxes. The 5-cent fare has not been saved — it has merely been camouflaged. The Transit Commission reorganization plan is the only constructive suggestion yet made for its restoration.

New Subways the Only Solution

With regard to new subways: The only solution of the problem is the building of new subways on an enormous scale. More than a year ago the Transit Commission outlined a plan that would take five years to carry out at a cost of $218,000,000. Seven lines in all were proposed.

After the Transit Commission had adopted these plans the Mayor of the city made public a so-called subway plan extending over a period of fifteen years. This included a description of various map or paper routes all over the city and called for the recaption of the lines built by the city under the 1913 subway program and leased to the Interborough and B.-M. T. companies, the contracts providing that those lines could be taken back at any time after ten years upon the city paying the companies the amounts of their investment plus 15 per cent.

The Mayor's plan called for an expenditure of more than a billion dollars, but without the slightest trace of any plan for financing the cost. Furthermore, the layout of the lines violated fundamental rules of engineering and in the face of the need for utilizing every available agency to meet the enormous increases of traffic the Mayor urged a plan that would split apart and disintegrate the present system.

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment turned down the commission's subway plan without ever officially giving a reason. Thereafter, and for a number of months, the attention of the city board and certainly that of the Mayor was concentrated on attempting to get legislation abolishing the Transit Commission, turning all the powers of the commission, including that of regulating service, rates and capitalization of transit companies, over to a city board and giving the city the power to engage in municipal operation of all transit facilities. As soon as' the Legislature adjourned the commission, in a final effort to secure action, slightly modified two of its routes — the Washington Heights extension and the Crosstown line — to agree as nearly as might be with two of the Mayor's routes. After repeated requests the Board of Estimate finally appointed a conference committee, presided over by Dock Commissioner John H. Delaney, who had been Transit Construction Commissioner and thereby had a thorough knowledge of transit matters. The conference finally led to the approval of these two routes and the commission is now in position to drive forward the construction plans, contracts and specifications, and as soon as completed to submit them to the Board of Estimate for the necessary consents and appropriations.

Mayor's Plan Means Disintegration

The Mayor's plan, or, more properly, the theory underlying it, requires more extended consideration. The paper maps or routes included in it are of themselves relatively unimportant except as they are founded upon the principle of disintegration. One route or another, if based on fundamental engineering considerations, should readily be adjusted with another route or routes. The Mayor, however, proposes in the first place to recapture such of the existing lines as are recapturable. By recaption is meant the right retained in the 1913 subway contracts for the city to take back the new lines at any time after ten years by paying an amount which at the tenth year equals the company's investment plus 15 per cent and decreases by 1/39 part each year thereafter. But only part of the existing rapid transit system — to say nothing of the surface lines — is subject to this right. The first subway built under the 1900-1902 contracts is not subject to it. Neither is the Manhattan Elevated system nor the company-owned elevated and rapid transit lines in Brooklyn.

This would be the result of the adoption of such a policy and it needs to be carefully considered by the citizens of New York because all signs point to a determined effort on the part of the present city administration to carry it out.

In the first place it would cost something over $180,000,000 in payments to the Interborough and B.-M. T. under the terms of the contracts. This would be an actual cash outlay out of the city treasury and would not add a single seat nor a single strap.

So much for that. Now to consider the disintegrating effect:

In 1913 the city extended the old subway line on the east side of Manhattan south of Forty-second Street north into the Bronx by building the Lexington Avenue extension. Similarly, on the west side it extended the old Broadway line south of Times Square to downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn by building the Seventh Avenue extension. The subway contracts provide for "swapping" one of these new extensions for one of the old lines. That would mean that transfers or connections from one line to the other would be cut off. This would also do away, in large part at least, with the joint service in the Bronx whereby Manhattan Elevated trains operate over the subway extensions.

In Brooklyn a great part of the transit relief under the 1913 program was furnished by linking up new subway lines with existing lines such as the Brighton Beach and Sea Beach lines already owned by the Brooklyn company. The city cannot recapture these old company lines and the recaption of the new lines would mean the breaking apart of the present joint operation. Thousands of passengers coming in over the Brighton Beach line would have to transfer at Malbone Street in Flatbush and pay an additional fare to go over the Broadway line. A similar situation would be the case with the Sea Beach service at about Fourth Avenue and Sixty-fifth Street. So also the tremendous traffic coming in over the Broadway Elevated in Brooklyn would be deprived of the present free transfer to the Broadway subway in Manhattan.

The purpose of this part of the so-called plan is not to give transit relief, because it will not give transit relief. Recaption of the existing lines in and of itself will not add a single new facility, but on the contrary will disintegrate and interrupt the existing avenues of traffic and multiply the number of additional 5-cent fares. The underlying purpose patently is to get possession of a part of the rapid transit system so that it can be municipally operated.

Expressing it briefly, the difference between the Transit Commission's plan and that of the Mayor is:

The commission believes in eliminating existing abuses of private operation, reorganizing, combining and rehabilitating present lines and utilizing every available agency to meet the present traffic congestion and the enormous increases that are indicated for the future. The Mayor's plan is bent upon splitting apart the existing lines and entering upon the field of municipal operation on part of those lines even though that spells disintegration and additional fares.

The commission laid out a conservative plan for the expenditure of $218,000,000 in five years, and provided the way, through its reorganization plan and the exemption from the debt limit of the present investment, for adequately financing this project and all future ones. According to his estimates the Mayor's plan calls for the expenditure of about $900,000,000 for construction over a fifteen-year period. Estimates of the commission's engineers — the men who have actually built the New York subways — show that the bare construction cost would be at least $1,150,000,000. With municipal operation the city would have to spend scores of millions of dollars for equipment for these new lines. No provision has been made in the estimates for this. In addition the Mayor's plan contemplates paying out of the city treasury to the transit companies for recaption an amount in the neighborhood of $180,000,000. If it were possible to carry all this out in toto it would probably entail an expenditure in the neighborhood of a billion and a half dollars. To provide for this absolutely unparalleled expenditure there is no financial plan except as the city administration might expect to fall back upon the ordinary annual accretions to the debt limit. As a matter of fact these are altogether insufficient to meet either the commission's or the Mayor's subway projects, and are practically taken up by the normal increases in city functions such as schools, streets, paving, sewers, and the like.

Recently, the Comptroller officially reported the present debt limit to be about $76,000,000. This, however, did not take into consideration $60,000,000 for the Staten Island tunnel or the cost of various other projects.

Proposed Staten Island Tunnel a Waste of Money

Before leaving subway matters, there is one instance of the city's activities that I cannot forbear referring to. Under a separate act of the Legislature passed in 1921 the Board of Estimate has gone ahead with a project to build a tunnel to Staten Island. This is laid out as a combination freight and passenger tunnel, and in this respect it conflicts both with the plans of the Port Authority and of the Transit Commission. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment is already letting contracts for this work, and the cost is estimated at $60,000,000. It does not fit into the complete scheme outlined by the Port Authority for freight development and as laid out would only connect for freight purposes with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. No contracts have been let for this operation and so far as freight is concerned if and when the tunnel is completed the city will practically be at the mercy of the railroad companies in fixing the terms of the lease. So far as transit operation is concerned this tunnel is a complete misfit. To allow for freight operation the grades of a tunnel have to be in the neighborhood of 1 per cent, while for transit operation they may be in the neighborhood of 3 per cent. Stated concretely, this means that the present tunnel has to be so deep at the shore line of Staten Island that access to it can be only through deep 'elevators, and the railroad only rises to the surface away in the center of the island. Therefore it conflicts with well-considered plans both from the standpoint of freight and transit development.

The Transit Commission's plans for Staten Island contemplate a tunnel that would rise near the shore lines both of Staten Island and Brooklyn and readily connect with existing lines in both boroughs. The city, however, is committed to going ahead and spending $60,000,000 on this project. For this amount of money the Transit Commission could not only provide a proper and adequate rapid transit tunnel to Staten Island but could revamp and rebuild the existing transit lines within that borough so as to give the whole island as good transit service as there is in the city. The spending of $60,000,000 or more on this ill-conceived project represents to my mind the grossest waste of public funds that I have seen in an experience of over twenty years in municipal affairs.

Present Buses Not Municipally Owned

Finally, with regard to surface lines and buses: It has been popular in certain quarters to refer to the surface systems as antiquated and obsolete. The truth of the matter is that they carry about 40 per cent of the travel of the greater city, 57 per cent in Brooklyn, and large districts, especially in Brooklyn, are absolutely dependent on them.

New York has had for a number of years an exceedingly well-managed bus line operating on a 10-cent fare — that of the Fifth Avenue Coach Company. Several years ago, at the time of the Brooklyn transit strike, one of the city departments arranged as an emergency measure to put a number of buses in Brooklyn along the lines paralyzed by the strike. These were buses operated by individual owners and supervised by a city department. This marks the start of the so-called municipal operation of buses. After transit conditions returned more to normal, injunctions were obtained against the continued operation of these buses, and generally they were withdrawn from Brooklyn. During the early days of the receivership of the New York Railways the receiver discontinued operation on several crosstown lines, and these buses were put in to take their places. They bear on their sides the words "Department of Plant and Structures," but in reality are not owned by the city, nor by that department, but are owned by individual operators.

At about the time of starting this bus operation the Board of Estimate and Apportionment passed a blanket resolution authorizing the Commissioner of the Department of Plant and Structures to grant permits to individual owners of buses. The city Charter lays down in detail the procedure that must be followed in granting rights to use city streets, and the public service commission law requires that in addition a certificate of convenience and necessity must be obtained from the Transit Commission. No attempt was made to comply with these statutory requirements, and in the litigation that ensued the Supreme Court of the state of New York repeatedly held this bus operation to be illegal.

In the fall of last year the commission conducted an extensive investigation into this bus operation and found it honeycombed with politics and what a local politician once termed "honest graft." For example, permits were quite generally given on the recommendation of district leaders, bus drivers were laid off for not voting, and an old-time partner of the head of Tammany Hall known as "Fish-hooks" McCarthy was given bus permits on the Eighty-sixth Street "cream" line on a telephone request. On one of the lines in the Bronx it was proved beyond question that two local politicians were drawing down two-thirds of the profits on a line operating on a 15-cent fare, for which they had done nothing but obtain the permit. When these situations were called to the attention of the Commissioner of the Department of Plant and Structures, while on the stand before the commission, his answer was that he was not interested "so long as they were Democrats."

Finally a suit for injunction was started by one Schafer as a taxpayer based not on the illegality of the actions of individual bus operators but based upon the broad ground of the illegality of the action of public officials in authorizing and continuing this wildcat system. A decision in Schafer's favor was handed down by Justice Mullan in the Supreme Court last summer and the commission intervened and asked for and obtained a stay while it was investigating the matter. An appeal was taken to the Appellate Division, which affirmed the decision of the court below. Subsequently an application was made by the city authorities for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. This leave has recently been denied by that court, and it is this last decision that has brought the bus situation to a focus.

Immediately upon learning of the decision of the Court of Appeals the Mayor called a meeting of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and resolutions were adopted asking the Governor to call an extraordinary session of the Legislature to authorize the city to spend $25,000,000 for buses and to engage in the business of municipal bus operation.

There has been no need for a special session. The matter of municipal bus operation is a large public question that should thoroughly be thrashed out and decided at a regular session. On the merits it isvvery simple and easy to hold the matter in abeyance until after the Legislature meets in regular session next January. All that is required is for the Board of Estimate to act in accordance with the provisions of the Charter and grant rights which will expire by their own time limit at the end of, say, six months. On the basis of such action the Transit Commission is prepared promptly to give its certificates of convenience and necessity. The grants by the Board of Estimate may be either to the individual bus operators or to associations of them, and they may contain such terms, conditions or requirements as that board sees fit to impose. One term it must impose under the Charter: That the bus operators shall pay compensation to the city. The Fifth Avenue Coach Company is required under its grants to pay the city 5 per cent of its gross receipts, which amounts to about $250,000 a year. Under the illegal operation that has been carried on the city has not received a cent, and in addition has spent considerable money for salaries of starters, superintendents and the like.

This very significant fact should be kept in mind: The demand for an extraordinary session on the socalled bus emergency is not for the purpose of maintaining the status quo or to keep the present small operators going. The demand is for authority to spend $25,000,000 of city money for buses and to engage in municipal bus operation. This does not mean a continuance of the present condition but a substitution for it. The present bus operators are to be put out of business and their places taken by municipal buses and municipal employees.

Bus Costs and Field Analyzed

It has been blithely assumed and promised that the $25,000,000 municipal bus system would pay on a 5-cent fare. So far as I have ever been able to ascertain no real study has been made by the proponents of the plan to find out if this is so. True, the present wild-cat bus operation is on a basis of a 5-cent fare, but in that case nothing is paid to the city and there are no maintenance and depreciation reserves, and the commission's counts indicate a degree of overcrowding and a condition of equipment that would not be tolerated in normal operation. On the contrary, the Fifth Avenue coaches are well run and the whole property is efficiently managed. The plain fact of the matter is that on a basis of efficiency and thorough maintenance and repair the cost of operation takes more than 8 cents out of every 10 cents collected by the Fifth Avenue Coach Company. Investigations conducted by recognized experts employed by the commission of conditions not only in New York but in other cities in this country and abroad indicate that in general 3-1/2 miles is the maximum distance that a bus can profitably be operated on a 5-cent fare.

Buses have their part in any modern transportation system and an important part. The trouble with the surface lines in New York in large part is due to their being throttled. To render good service and make monay a surface car must move at a fair rate of speed. Broadway, for example, has the lowest mileage per hour of any surface system I know of — less than 5. The remedy for the present ills of surface transportation in New York are those indicated by the Transit Commission some time ago. It proposes to eliminate a considerable part of the present track mileage as being no longer necessary and to straighten and improve the existing routes. This would leave certain streets free for vehicular traffic and give the streets on which trolleys are retained the right of way for railroad purposes. The provision of additional streets wholly for vehicles would fill a great need. On the streets reserved for railroad purposes parking of cars should be prohibited at least during rush hours. By this means and through greater care in letting the cars through on cross streets ihe schedule speed should very materially be increased. This in turn would draw considerable traffic because if we could go uptown in a surface car at a reasonable rate of speed we would greatly prefer doing that to going down into a subway or climbing up onto an elevated.

All the studies made by the commission indicate that in congested districts street cars are more effective in moving large numbers of people than are buses when consideration is given to variations in weather and other conditions. The proper field for buses is to take the place of some of the trolley lines outside the congested areas and generally to serve the outlying districts as feeders for rapid transit and other lines.

Sources

Electric Railway Journal, McGraw Hill Company, Digitized by Microsoft, Americana Collection, archive.org.









http://www.nycsubway.org/wiki/A_Review_of_New_York's_Transit_Situation_(1923)
Copyright © 1995-2012 www.nycsubway.org.
nycsubway.org is not affiliated with any transit agency or provider.