NYC Is Redesigning Its Slow, Old, and Unpopular Bus System

Like the Empire State Building observation deck and a Circle Line cruise ship, the view from the top of a double-decker bus in New York has long been reserved for tourists and maybe the occasional local cajoled into showing them around. The bus part, however, is about to change: Starting this spring, Staten Island commuters will begin boarding blue-and-yellow double-deckers that will whisk them from their outer borough homes to the heart of Manhattan’s business district.

Yes, New York City is getting a bus makeover, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced this week, complete with 10 electric buses, already testing in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. And if you can believe it, the addition of shiny new vehicles to the fleet isn’t the most exciting thing about it. The MTA is also giving the city’s bus system—all 325 routes and 16,350 stops, used by 2.4 million riders every weekday—a “top-to-bottom, holistic review and redesign,” its first in decades. By reexamining the entire bus system, the city has a chance to fix its routes, ease congestion, give better options to transit riders, and maybe even relieve the pressure on its strained subway network.

In terms of direness, this revamp is closer to an episode of Hoarders than your standard spring cleaning. Since 2009, New York City’s annual bus ridership has plunged by almost 11 percent, even as the city’s population booms and its overcrowded subway flirts with collapse. The pattern repeats itself all over the country. In the LA area, annual ridership is down 25 percent over the same period, as more cars plug up highways and side streets. Austin, Texas, Denver, Colorado, and Washington, DC—all with growing populations—each saw bus use drop in recent years.

The problem isn’t the bus itself. The success of bus networks in countries like Brazil, China, and Germany—where nearly 100-foot-long human-toters have their own lanes and traffic signals, and race through congestion at 25 mph—makes clear that people are down with the things, as long as they’re practical, efficient, and safe. In Manhattan, buses average 5.5 mph. Chances are you could jog at that pace.

Part of the problem is that New York’s bus system was designed around the city as it once was, with lines connecting to the streetcars, busy wharfs, and big businesses of the time. The city has changed, of course. The bus network, not so much. Take the three lines that terminate in Port Richmond, a Staten Island ferry terminal. Those were probably super convenient—until 1962, when ferries stopped using the port.

A recent series of radical bus redesign projects have shown that smarter routing and scheduling can make all the difference. In 2015, Houston cut low-frequency routes in favor of a high-frequency grid that operates 24/7, and improved connections to the city’s light-rail network. Transit ridership climbed 7 percent. Seattle, Portland, and Columbus, Ohio, have seen similar results from their own network rejiggerings.

New York’s plans are still a bit sketchy, timeline-wise, though transit advocates are heartened by the involvement of new New York City Transit Authority president Andy Byford, who stepped into his role in January after establishing himself as a get-‘er-done kind of transit official in Toronto. We do know, however, that the redesign effort will kick off in Staten Island, where new routes (announced last summer) will have their debut in August.

But how does one go about redoing an entire city’s bus network, and making it easier for residents to get around? First things first: gathering data, so you can fit routes and stops to current patterns of living, working, and commuting. Fortunately, most cities have access to a wealth of data about how people are moving around inside of them.

The census offers a good baseline. New York can also track MetroCard use to know how many people are getting on which buses. It has years of GPS data to help determine where their vehicles are most likely to get stuck in traffic. It even has some intel about where ride-hailing companies are picking up and dropping off passengers, offering a better sense of what’s happening on the roads.

There’s the good, old-fashioned, underrated human too. “Operators know which stops are the busiest and which are not, and the most successful agencies we’ve seen in redesigning their networks engage operators at the very beginning,” says Kirk Hovenkotter, who studies transit agencies at the New York-based research and advocacy group TransitCenter.

Even the public can be helpful. In Houston, conversations between the transit agency and various community groups began in 2013, almost two years before the city officially launched its new network. Just know that you won’t make everybody happy. “You’ll definitely get some grumbling,” says Jon Orcutt, who directs communications at TransitCenter. “It’s inherent in change.”

The goal is to get a fresh picture of where people are, and where they go, and make the buses match up. If this neighborhood suddenly has hundreds of thousands more people in it, time for a bus line. If this waterfront area has a new ferry, maybe build some connections to it.

With those inputs in hand, start craft routes that do cure the maladies that plague many a system. Today, many routes curve and swerve, trying to cover the entire map, and get riders as close to their destinations as possible. That sounds nice, but hurts efficiency—too many stops, too many turns—and leads to infrequent service.

Organizations like the National Association of City Transportation Officials have encouraged metros to make long bus routes less circuitous, valuing efficient grid service. Cities are also thinking about cutting down the number of bus stops. This is doubly attractive in places—like a lot of New York—where sidewalk infrastructure makes it easy for riders to walk an extra block or so for the bus. New York (and other cities) are thinking seriously about bus-only lanes, bus stops that don’t block traffic, and traffic signals that give public transit—and not private cars—the jump on green lights. It’s even going for all-door boarding, making it faster to get everybody aboard. When San Francisco’s transit agency did something similar, dwell times at bus stops dropped 13 percent.

Cap that off by sending the buses where the people are, and voila: a bus system that might actually work. Now, NYC just has to fix the dang subway.


Transportation Going Public

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Apple sensor supplier AMS warns of second-quarter slowdown

ZURICH (Reuters) – Chipmaker AMS reported first-quarter sales toward the lower end of its guidance range on Monday and warned of a downturn owing to weaker orders from one of its main customers.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the multinational semiconductor manufacturer AMS (Austria Mikro Systeme) is seen during a annual news conference, in Zurich, Switzerland February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Moritz Hager

AMS did not name the customer, but the Austrian company is a big supplier to Apple, making components for the U.S. technology giant’s iPhone.

“We are not able to discuss the specific customer, but we are seeing significantly lower business from a large smartphones program and that is having a strong impact on the consumer business and the company as a whole,” said AMS head of investor relations Moritz Gmeiner.

For its second quarter, AMS said it expected sales to drop to between $220 million and $250 million, down from the $452.7 million in sales it reported for the first three months of 2018.

The downturn was based on weaker orders and lower forecast orders in the months ahead, Gmeiner said.

AMS added that changes in upcoming products, which prevented the pre-production of parts, mean that it also expects reduced utilization of factory capacity, which will hit profit margins.

The company, which also makes sensors used in cars and industrial gear, said the problem would be temporary and that preparations for ramping up production in the second half of the year remain on track.

FILE PHOTO: An iPhone X is seen on a large video screen in the Apple visitor centre in Cupertino, California, U.S., November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

The Swiss-quoted company also confirmed its mid-term growth and profitability guidance, aiming for a 60 percent compound annual growth rate between 2016 and 2019, combined with an adjusted EBIT margin target of 30 percent from 2019 onwards.

First-quarter net profit rose to $99.9 million from a loss of $19.9 million a year earlier.

AMS shares have gained 8.1 percent this year, outpacing a Stoxx 600 Technology Index that has gained 0.7 percent.

The company’s stock has struggled of late, however, amid fears that Apple increasingly plans to use its own chips rather than buy them from third parties.

Weak results from Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) this month also spread concern about softer demand for smartphones.

Analysts have said that AMS obtains about 35 percent of its revenue from Apple, with mobile phone components making up the vast majority of its business with the U.S. company.

AMS supplies optical sensors that play a key role in facial recognition – one of the most distinctive features of Apple’s flagship iPhone X, which was introduced late last year and appears to have helped to drive AMS’s recent results.

Reporting by John Revill; Editing by David Goodman

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India's Infosys to renew focus on digital services

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Infosys Ltd, India’s second-biggest IT firm, plans to renew its focus on digital services as it looks to boost growth amid shrinking profit margins in its legacy business and rising competition from local and international rivals.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Infosys is pictured inside the company’s headquarters in Bengaluru, India, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa/File Photo

Digital services – such as cloud, big data and analytics which accounted for more than a quarter of Infosys’ revenue in year to March 2018 – are a massive opportunity, Chief Executive Salil Parekh said on Monday at the company’s first analyst meeting in nearly two years.

“The idea is – this is a huge market, how can we be more relevant for our clients’ future through this market,” Parekh said.

India’s $154 billion software services industry, led by Tata Consultancy Services and No. 2 Infosys, is facing a margin squeeze in its legacy business such as routine infrastructure maintenance as clients increasingly demand more work for less money.

Digital services are the new, big long-term opportunity for most Indian IT firms as they help Western clients transform traditional businesses and prevent them from getting disrupted by tech-savvy and agile start-ups.

Infosys, earlier this month, reported a rise in profit and forecast healthy revenue growth for the year, but its outlook on profit margins failed to cheer investors.

On Monday, Parekh said Infosys had set a three-year roadmap. “The first year in fiscal 2019 to stabilize where we are, the second year to start to build momentum and (the) third year to start to accelerate where we can have more and more share of our clients’ relevance and that will obviously translate, overall, to a better Infosys,” he said.

Bigger rival TCS on Monday became the first Indian company to hit the $100 billion market capitalization mark, riding on the back of a record quarterly profit and a weaker rupee.

Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Euan Rocha and Susan Fenton

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