NEW YORK (AP) – The M14A bus, which travels across lower Manhattan, is the slowest bus in the city.

For its dubious distinction, the route on Tuesday received the fifth annual Pokey Award, a golden snail on a pedestal.

The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives, the commuter groups that bestowed the award, said the M14A travels at midday an average of 3.9 mph, barely faster than a pedestrian’s 3 mph.

The advocacy groups also compiled a list of 18 routes called The Unreliables because buses on those routes often arrived in bunches or with wide gaps between them during the day or departed severely off-schedule at night.

The city’s most unreliable bus is the M1. More than a quarter of the route’s buses show up irregularly, the groups said.

The route, which runs from Harlem to the East Village, received an award with a question mark on a golden pedestal.

“You never know when these buses are coming or if they will arrive in bunched herds or wildly off-schedule,” said Gene Russianoff, the campaign’s staff attorney.

The groups suggested city officials expand hours for bus lanes, widen lanes, install priority signals for buses, lengthen and better identify bus stops and use cameras on buses to catch non-bus drivers using bus lanes.

The city will begin implementing Bus Rapid Transit pilot projects on five routes in 2007. In 2004, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the bus system, spent $3 million on consultants to come up with ways to make buses faster, the groups said. The study is continuing.

The MTA attributed the M14A’s slowness to congestion on 14th Street, which it called a sign of the city’s vibrancy.

For the Pokey, five volunteer surveyors rode 23 bus routes beginning at noon between July 15 and Oct. 9. For The Unreliables, the groups used MTA statistics.

The overall average bus speed worsened slightly, from 6.6 mph in 2005 to 6.2 for 2006, the groups said.

This year’s Pokey winner is slightly faster than last year’s winner, the M34, also known as the 34th Street cross-town bus, which traveled an average 3.4 mph.

About 2.5 million people ride buses on the city’s 207 local routes daily.

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