THE COMMUTE: I have better things to do on Memorial Day than watching buses. But after last year’s mayhem, I thought it was my duty to at least check out the crowding this Memorial Day, especially after the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association’s (MBNA) request for additional beach shuttle buses, which I do not believe is necessary. There was no mayhem this year, but things did not go smoothly either.

I arrived at 5:30 p.m. There were 45 people waiting at the Hastings Street stop and another 25 at Falmouth Street.  The schedule called for a B1 bus every nine minutes and a B49 every 15 minutes. B1 buses were leaving with seated loads or a few standees, which seemed adequate. However, that was not the case with the B49. A B49 bus passes both stops not in service on its way to the depot.  About five minutes later, a B49 picks up passengers from both stops and leaves full with about 75 passengers on board. That is the bus pictured above. About 12 people are left, forced to wait another 15 minutes for the next B49.  They were not going to the subway because they chose to let the B1 (pictured behind) pass by, which had room, disproving the MBNA’s assertion that everyone just wants to go to the subway.  There also was no room on the B49 for any more passengers getting on after Falmouth Street, so waiting passengers between Dover Street and the Brighton subway had to wait half an hour or more for a bus.

When buses are too crowded for everyone to board, it is foolhardy to send empty buses back to the depot when those buses could at least take some passengers to the subway.  But even more could be done. B49 bus schedules could be rewritten so that no buses go out of service at the time when people are leaving the beach. In fact, it had already been done 30 years ago.

When I was Director of Planning in 1981, the bus schedules called for every other B49 bus to go out of service at Avenue U.  Those buses were leaving the beach almost empty, while the buses traveling the entire route were bursting at the seams. I asked Schedules to see if they could send the Avenue U buses to Farragut Road instead, and run off the buses to the depot from there so that buses making their final trip would operate along half the route before going to the depot and would be usable for a majority of the passengers, in effect doubling the existing service.  They rewrote the Schedule and the result was eleven extra trips at a lower operating cost.  Buses leaving the beach were no longer overcrowded.

Apparently, the MTA has now returned to their old ways, except now buses running off to the depot do not even take passengers to the subway or to Avenue U. Now they operate “Not in Service.”  I did not wait around to actually count the number of buses operating “Not in Service,” but most likely it was more than one.  If it was more efficient to operate buses running off to the depot to Farragut Road (Foster Avenue today) 30 years ago, I see no reason why it would not be more efficient today.

At certain times it makes sense to send buses not in service to and from the depot. It clearly makes no sense when buses are so crowded that they are forced to bypass stops forcing extra-long waits.  It is a deterrent to riding the buses.  Yet the MTA cannot figure out why bus ridership is declining.  More on that tomorrow.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

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  • Anonymous

    /FACEPALM <— In CAPITAL letters.

  • http://www.njluxurymotors.com Arthur Borko

    Allen, let’s be 100% honest with each other here. The problem is not that the MTA can’t figure it out. The problem is that the people who’re in charge just don’t care. They don’t care about the riders, they don’t care about the employees. The only thing they care about is their pension. When you worked there and you were in charge you cared, so things got done and positive changes were made.

    That’s all it really takes, for enough people to care. Those in charge today, don’t.

    • Allan Rosen

      Arthur, I don’t agree with you.

      Like I’ve said before, it’s easy to generalize, especially regarding the MTA that the people in charge don’t care.  That just isn’t true.  It is also inaccurate to say that the only thing they care about is their pensions. Here is the problem in a nutshell.  The people who do care, in this case, some bus drivers, dispatchers, and Operations supervisors have some very good ideas.  The problem is no one cares enough to listen to them.

      As far as the people in charge with the power, that is another ball of wax. Most of them also do care, and that includes the President whom I know personally.  The problem is that the people on top do not have the knowledge to know what to do.  The people who actually plan and schedule, Operations Planning, have to do what Budget tells them what to do. Even if they have good ideas, and I think very few of them do, they are not permitted to make the improvements they would like to make.

      Right now the MTA is and has been in for a long time cost-cutting mode.  All they are interested in is cutting costs and they are operating under wrong assumptions like bus ridership demand is inelastic. They are severely in need of a re-education.  That does not mean that they don’t mean well.  There is just no incentive for anyone on top to help the passengers, because that is not their priority, saving money is.  And that makes it very difficult to make any improvements.  As any businessman will tell you, you first have to invest something before you start to reap the rewards.  The MTA is not willing to make the investment. The only reason they are going forward with Select Bus Service is because they are not investing anything.  The City and the Feds are paying for it.  The MTA is supporting it because SBS is cheaper to operate because the buses make fewer stops.  If some people are helped by it, that is only a side benefit.

      • Al D

        Allan,

        And what of value? You can have both value and cost savings in tandem. Does anyone at MTA recognize this?  Your example of running the B49 to Farragut Road (or maybe even Ave J today?) instead of Ave U is a good one.  Those Ave U only buses ran empty most of the time.  And why? so they can make a right on Ave U and return to the depot.

        There needs to be a value discussion. 

        • Anonymous

          Yes you can have value in cost savings in tandem, but it is very difficult.  I’m sure that is what they are trying to do. But in order to accomplish that you have to have people on board who know the system and passenger habits and why passengers make decisions the way they do.  That is lacking at the MTA.  They rely only on numbers.  But numbers are misleading if you don’t know why what caused the numbers to be the way that way in the first place.

          A big part of the problem is arrogance especially at Operations Planning.  Their attitude is that we are the experts so don’t tell us what to do.  Therefore they only react when herds of people get up and protest.  They’d be in much better shape if they listened to the people who really know what is going on.  There is this guy at NYCTransit Forums who knows even more than I do about what is going on today, and he knows it Citywide. (I’m a little rusty since I don’t use buses all that often anymore.)  I think he knows more than all of them put together, just because buses are his hobby, but they would never hire someone like him, and if they did, they wouldn’t listen to anything he said, and he would just become frustrated.

          • ajedrez

            Would that be B35 via Church?

          • Anonymous

            That’s who I had in mind.

  • http://twitter.com/nauticalstar Janelle

    Can’t we just title the article, plainly …. “The MTA Screws Up”?

    • Allan Rosen

      No that wouldn’t be fair.  See my reply to Arthur, above.

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