By Carol Tannenhauser
A proposal to split the M5 bus route, which runs through the Upper West Side could speed bus trips, but it has some residents concerned that their commutes will become a grind.
The M5 is a unique line, given the sheer breadth of territory it covers.
“The M5 is legendary in Manhattan,” wrote Street Photography Magazine. It is the longest bus route on the island, running 12 miles, from the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal at 178th street, to the South Ferry Terminal, where ferries leave for unknown lands, such as Staten Island. The Lonely Planet tour guide called the M5, “a nice route through a bunch of major tourist sites.”
“You can call it whatever you want, but, at the end of the day, it’s a route that is consistently one of the worst performing in Manhattan,” said MTA Spokesman Kevin Ortiz, not unkindly. “It is experiencing delays based on the fact that it is such a long route. The proposal at hand will help mitigate those delays, providing better service for our customers.”
Ortiz is referring to a proposal, introduced in November 2015, to “split” the M5 bus route into two distinct routes, “in the vicinity of 37th street,” he said. Required for its implementation are a public hearing – to be held on April 20th at 2 Broadway – and a subsequent MTA board vote.
“It is not a done deal,” Ortiz insisted. “Any time we do a major service change – and this obviously constitutes one – we hold public hearings and make every effort to listen to what our customers have to say. Their input is always incredibly vital in any decision the MTA makes when it comes to service. Riders can express their opinions about the M5 either by attending the hearing on April 20th or emailing comments to MTA.info.”
Chances are, those opposed to the split will represent the approximately 1,700 people – 14% of the roughly 12,000 daily riders of the M5 – whose trips would cross the new divide, requiring a transfer. (Not such a small thing to an elderly or disabled person.)
Sharon Kapnick, an Upper West Side resident, is convinced it will cause headaches.
“The Upper West Side is already underserved by the bus system,” she wrote in an email to West Side Rag. “The split of the M5 route means that if you go to or return from any area south of 37th St., you’ll have to take 2 buses instead of one. That entails waiting for 2 buses–often standing for lengthy periods of time, sometimes in lousy weather-–instead of one!”
Ortiz emphasizes that the majority of M5 riders – 86% — would not feel the change, except, he said, for the better.
“Splitting the route in two means buses in each of the split sections will travel through less traffic and congestion, thus improving reliability,” he said. “Shorter routes will also mitigate the effects of delays along the route, allowing for better recovery times. As it stands now, there are problems that lead to many buses being ‘short-turned,’ meaning they are turned back in the opposite direction before traveling their full routes.”
“The other thing that is important for customers to know,” Ortiz added, “is that, in conjunction with splitting the M5, we’re also proposing extending the M1 from its current terminal at Astor place down to Worth Street via Broadway to provide another downtown option.”
Meanwhile, it’s probably a good idea to ride the M5 while it’s still going the distance. As Street Photography Magazine said, “[It] runs through every type of neighborhood you can find in New York…an egalitarian bus route…on it you can see wealthy people sitting with working-class folks, Wall Street executives, nannies with children, and senior citizens, all representing every ethnic group imaginable.”
Image via YouTube.