Activist seeks improvements on M11 bus, one signature at a time


The 9th Avenue M11 bus stops outside Columbia University at West 116th Street. Photo: Rob Wolfe.

The 9th Avenue M11 bus stops outside Columbia University at West 116th Street. Photo: Rob Wolfe.

An 86-year-old Midtown resident plans to take her yearlong fight for increased service on the M11 bus line straight to the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Ruth Shapiro, a resident of the Penn South housing co-op in Chelsea, is collecting as many signatures as she can on petitions asking MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco for more M11 buses.

“Every time when I think the schedule says 15 minutes, it takes a half hour,” said Shapiro, a self-employed career coach who rides the M11 two or three times a week to places like her synagogue and Lincoln Center.

The M11 runs between the West Village and Riverbank State Park, going uptown on 10th Avenue and downtown on Ninth Avenue. The schedule promises service every 10 minutes during rush hour and every 15 to 30 minutes most other times.

Shapiro’s is not the only attempt to improve service on the M11. Community Board 4 has sent two letters to the MTA since February saying that traffic congestion and increased tourist visits to attractions such as the High Line Park are causing delays.

But the MTA has been slow to respond and often does not consider complaints about specific bus lines apart from its routine studies of the whole transit system, said Christine Berthet, co-chair of CB4’s transportation committee.

“The community board has very little effect on the MTA. We don’t have a lot of power,” Berthet said. “We have a good relationship with [the Department of Transportation], but not with the MTA.”

The DOT oversees the city’s streets, while the MTA oversees buses and subways.

Deirdre Parker, an MTA spokeswoman, initially said the agency had not received the community board’s letters, but in a subsequent email, she said Prendergast had received the letters and would respond.

The M11 carried an average of 13,000 passengers on weekdays in April, according to the most recent numbers MTA could provide, which ranked it behind 18 other Manhattan buses. But bus ridership across the city has posted large declines in recent years. The M11 lost nearly 700,000 passengers from 2007 to 2012, sinking from an annual ridership of 4.5 million to a little more than 3.8 million.

M11 buses appeared on time both at midday on a recent Monday and at 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday. Passengers waiting along the uptown route stood quietly in the cool breeze. The bus filled steadily, but at many stops, it picked up only a few people or none at all.

Though no complaints were heard on either day before the bus arrived, regular riders said that the buses often were late and frequently arrived two at a time, rather than proceeding in staggered fashion.

Although Shapiro first began to complain to the MTA about a year ago, Claudia Teller, who rides the bus five days a week to her job as an activities director at an assisted-living facility, said the problem has existed for much longer.

“I’ve been working at this job for 10 years, so it’s been going on for a decade,” said Teller, 62. “They haven’t really changed anything about it.”

Jesse Snider, 32, a foreign-exchange dealer for a retail trading company, rides the bus with his wife to take their 4-year-old daughter to and from school. He said that service could vary wildly going uptown or downtown.

“This was very quick,” Snider said as he rode uptown after dropping off his daughter. “But coming down, it was a long time.”

Snider’s wife, Theresa, added that she waited 20 to 25 minutes for the downtown bus.

More buses may be needed, Berthet said, but the real problem is traffic congestion in “two or three places” along the route, particularly where drivers turn from Ninth Avenue into the Lincoln Tunnel.

To speed traffic flow, the city transportation department suggested creating a small dedicated bus lane along Ninth Avenue between West 44th and West 41st streets. The DOT made the proposal to the CB4 transportation committee on Sept. 18, but the changes won’t take effect until next year.

“Once we get that, we’ll see whether it improves,” Berthet said, adding that the board continues to study whether to propose a more extensive bus lane.