The B64 bus. Source: Robert McConnell for The Bergen Network

THE COMMUTE: Here are my predictions about the MTA’s plan to systematically eliminate B64 service. Divide and conquer!

  1. Chop off its head and its tail;
  2. End service overnight;
  3. Severely cut its service frequency;
  4. Eliminate weekend service eroding its ridership base further, then finally…
  5. Eliminate the route entirely by directing riders to more inconvenient alternative routes.

The MTA already accomplished Steps 1 and 2 in June of 2010. Step 3 will be implemented this September. I am surmising that Steps 4 and 5 are planned along with a similar plan to eliminate the B2. More on that later.

Southern Brooklyn Service Adjustments Effective in the Fall

Two weeks ago, in my article “MTA: No More Cuts Please,” I mentioned routine service adjustments for Manhattan and how it would save $900,000 annually. That figure, it turns out, is the amount saved by making service adjustments citywide. I explained why service cuts are bad and why routine service adjustments are good, provided service is rearranged and not cut. Brooklyn’s routine adjustments also go into effect this September and December. Routes in the Sheepshead Bay area affected are the B1, B4 and B82.

According to the Staff Summary requesting the MTA Board to make these changes, average B1 PM peak service will be decreased from every three minutes to every 3.5 minutes, increasing the percent of guideline capacity from 87 to 92 percent. (The discussion begins on Page 123 and the table of adjustments starts on Page 126.)

B4 service in the AM Peak will increase from every 15 minutes to every 12 minutes reducing guideline capacity from 107 percent to 80 percent.

AM peak B82 service will also increase from every five minutes to every 3.5 minutes. PM peak service will also increase from every six minutes to every 4.5 minutes, also to reduce overcrowding. Guideline capacity will be reduced from 128 percent to 92 percent and from 108 percent to 75 percent, respectively. However, evening service will be reduced from every eight to every nine minutes, increasing guideline capacity from 85 percent to 100 percent.

Finally, Sunday evening B4 service, which now terminates at Coney Island Hospital, is being cut from every 20 minutes to every 30 minutes, increasing guideline capacity from 31 percent to 47 percent. Of course this assumes that everyone who now waits 20 minutes for a bus would be just as willing to wait 30 minutes. Most likely, some passengers would seek an alternative since many buses do not keep to their schedule and waits, at times, could even exceed 30 minutes. Guideline capacity will not increase to the projected 47 percent but probably only a few percentage points, with the remaining passengers walking further to another bus or train, switching to another mode of travel, or not making their trip altogether. The MTA, however, is blind to such realities.

The Importance of these Adjustments

Considering the number of bus routes operating in Southern Brooklyn, these adjustments are relatively minor. What is interesting however, is why service probably is increasing or decreasing on these routes. AM peak demand on the B4 most likely increased as Sheepshead Bay residents were forced to reschedule their trips earlier in the day since the route no longer runs there during the midday. Likewise, B82 service increased due to the elimination of the B64 south of 25th Avenue and the addition of Limited Stop service, which occurred simultaneously, adding service to the route and making it more attractive by speeding bus service. Sunday evening B4 service demand decreased, with the route shortened and buses no longer operating into Sheepshead Bay.

Back to the B64

Although the service adjustments are not too significant for Sheepshead Bay, they are significant for our Bensonhurst neighbors because the B64 service is being severely cut. The B64 operates primarily along Bath Avenue and Bay Ridge Avenue in Bay Ridge after acquiring the western portion of the B1 a year ago when a through 86th Street route to Fourth Avenue was finally implemented. That idea first surfaced back in the 1960s and was partially implemented back in 1978 after I, unknowingly, revived it. This worthwhile idea was considered again by the MTA again in 1993, and finally became reality east of Fourth Avenue after 50 years.

However, in typical MTA fashion, they chose to improve the B1 at the expense of another route, the B64, cutting back service from Coney Island to 25th Avenue, ending one vehicle access from Bay Ridge to Coney Island, in effect since the 1890s when trolleys made the trip. They also cut access to the 86th Street subway station in Bay Ridge at the other end, forcing riders to either endure an additional 10-minute bus ride to the Bay Ridge Avenue station, probably losing their seat on the train in the mornings, or having to walk a quarter-mile further to the new B1 to continue to use the same subway station. To ensure riders switch to the B1, at the same time the MTA also eliminated the only other alternative, taking the B8 to the 95th Street station.

Here are the details for Step 3 mentioned in the first paragraph: AM Peak B64 service is being cut from every nine to every 10 minutes (increasing guideline capacity from 71 percent to 86 percent). More importantly, midday service is being cut from every 15 to every 20 minutes (increasing guideline capacity from 54 percent to 72 percent).  PM Peak service is being cut from 10 minutes to 12 minutes (increasing guideline capacity from 53 percent to 68 percent). Finally, evening service is decreasing from every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes (increasing guideline capacity from 46 percent to 61 percent).

My Prediction for the B64

Next year, when ridership further declines after next December’s service cuts, the MTA will propose to eliminate weekend service. (Step 4.) Finally, they will propose elimination of service along 13th Avenue and along Bath Avenue. They will retain Bay Ridge Avenue service either by rerouting the B9 from 60th Street west of 13th Avenue, or rerouting the B4 from Bay Ridge Parkway, also inconveniencing passengers on those routes. They will do this in the name of streamlining service to eliminate duplication and increasing efficiency. The effect however, will be to further erode bus service and patronage.

Next Monday, find out why they do not want service along Bath Avenue and how similar plans probably exist to also eliminate the B2 in Marine Park.

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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  • Al D

    “The MTA, however, is blind to such realities.”  This article reminds me of my high school economics class.  The MTA is apparently operating from the false premise that demand for their bus service is inelastic.  However, demand for their service, as you rightly point out, is relatively elastic, particularly in the example you put out there and also for the B64 (and I am in support of your conspiracy theory). 

    There are plenty of alternatives to the B4, cousin Sue can pick you up at that time of day, I’d bet that plenty of cabs linger at CIH for ‘illegal’ pick ups, the B36 and B1s are there.  Maybe you’d even walk instead on a pleasant evening.  Or ride a bicycle. Or even buy a car.

    There seems to be a larger attempt to eliminate routes or route times with relatively low ridership.

    But calculating based on inelastic demand without presuming some sort of ‘bleed’ rate is rather myopic.

    • Allan Rosen

      Glad you posted this because I wanted to say more but the article was getting too long. I’ve been saying for years that demand is more elastic than the MTA believes.

      There is a larger attempt to eliminate routes with low ridership.  The MTA would love to eliminate its 50 worst performers.  What they don’t realize is that that also hurts its good performers because some people use a poor performing route to access a route that performs well.  If the low performing route is eliminated, they can’t get to the high performing route, so ridership on that route drops as well.

      Also, after you eliminate the 50 worst performers, you will still have another 50 worst performers.  So do you eliminate them as well?  If you keep doing this, after awhile, there will not any routes left.

      What the MTA should be doing is what I did in 1978.  I took 3 low performing routes, the B1, the B21 and the B34 and restructured and combined them to make one strong route (B1) that takes people where they want to go.  In 1978 the B1 ran every 20 minutes, the B21 ran every 15 minutes, and the B34 every 10 minutes.  The B1 I created now runs every 3 minutes.  If the MTA used a similar philosophy, they could also create strong route from weak ones, rather than eliminating them.

      • ajedrez

        The member you referred to as having a very extensive knowledge of the system mentioned how the current B64 is very similar to the former B34 (I think. I’ll have to check the post again, but I know it was one of the routes you mentioned that was part of the pre-June B1). The B34 failed, but was made successful through a combination with other routes, but this time, the MTA seems to be doing the reverse.

        • Allan Rosen

          The MTA isn’t doing anything in reverse.  The 1978 changes that turned the average B34 into a great performer by sending it all the way to Brighton Beach instead of terminating at 25th Avenue, were thought up by me while at City Planning (except for the B50), not by the MTA.  We had a federal grant to study the Brooklyn system. I used the philosophy of turning 3 bus trips into 2 bus trips since very few are willing to take 3 buses.  I figured this would encourage ridership and I was right.  Because of my ideas you can get from Brighton Beach to 18th Avenue and 86th Street directly with one bus.  Pre-1978, the route you would take the indirect route of the B21 from Brighton Beach Avenue (15 min headways), Ocean Parkway, turn right on Avenue Z to Sheepshead Bay Station, change for the B1  (20 minute headways), along E 14th Street to Avenue X to 86th Streeet to the last stop at 25th Avenue and then wait 10 minutes for the B34.  How long do you think that trip took?  How many people so you think were making it by bus as opposed to car service?   Now, I’m sure many people are making that trip by bus and the trip takes less than half the time.

          We fought for 4 years with the MTA to get those changes done and they only were made after an environmental group took them to court! On the other hand, the MTA’s cuts / changes take two bus trips and turn them into 3 bus trips, exactly the opposite of what I was trying to do.  Any wonder why they continue to lose ridership?

  • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

    Vis a vis the B64, however, that plan for the B1 had been proposed, and the demand for an 86th Street crosstown has existed for many years. I can’t really blame the MTA for wanting to do that plan.

    That said, there are no real destinations along the B64 anymore other than Xaverian High School, and it’s a real quandary on where to send the B64 (or B4). I personally would probably delete the B64 and send the B4 to Xaverian, where savings could be gained by interlining the B4 and B9. I would see the B4 (with a slight re-route as more important for network coverage. I would keep the B4 route westbound to 7 Avenue, and then route it northward to Ovington and Bay Ridge Avenues. The B4 currently ends in the middle of nowhere at its west end, and I see Xaverian as a better end.

    As for the B8, the MTA needs to restore service to 95th Street, as a recent traffic reconfiguration on 7th Avenue by Fort Hamilton Parkway now forces all traffic onto Fort Hamilton Parkway, and restoring full-time service to 95th Street would reduce deadhead costs as I see it.

    • Allan Rosen

      The 86th Street crosstown was first proposed in the 1960s by the Bay Ridge Community.  I learned that in 1975 when I came to them from City Planning with my plan for a through 86th Street route (B86) which would have begun at 101 St and Shore Road using the portion of the B16 which would have been shortened and continued as present all the way down 86th Street.  I also proposed creating separate Fort Hamilton Parkway and 13th Avenue routes. I would have routed the B64 from Coney Island, along Stillwell, Bath Avenue (not Harway) to 18th Avenue, left on 18th, then Cropsey to the 95th Street Station.  (At that time the B8 did not go there.) 

      I eliminated flipping the B1 and B64 after three weeks of study looking at the data, as not a good option.  The TA then proposed that in 1993 along with an F Express, then cancelled both for lack of funding. They also proposed your suggestion of rerouting the B4 to Bay Ridge Avenue west of 13th Avenue which we rejected. The only way I would agree to that is if the B9 were extended all the way down Shore Road and the B16 shortened.  Then it wouldn’t be that bad if the western piece of the B4 were rerouted.

      • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

        A redrawing of the western Brooklyn map is probably what is needed; how long back does the current B16 route date back? Because with a proper reroute of the B16 down 13 Avenue (granted, it would miss the N train connection) to Bay Ridge Parkway or 65 Street (giving B16 riders a connection to the Pathmark at 60th and 13th) and a reroute of the B4 (but doing so at 7 Avenue and not 13 Avenue) could make the B64 redundant.

        • Allan Rosen

          If you provided a through 13th Avenue route and rerouted the B16 straight along Ft Hamilton Parkway to pass in front of Maimonides Hospital, a major traffic generator that has no north-south access, you would not need the B64 along 13th Avenue.

          The B16 dates back to the beginnings of bus service, probably the mid -1920s when buses only had about 20 seats.  The 13th Avenue bridge did not exist at that time so a 13th Avenue route was not possible, which is why I guess it switches to Ft Hamilton Parkway.  The bridge was built in 1934 after being fought for for years by businessman Dominic Sabato. That’s when the bus routes should have been changed, when the bridge opened. It was named for him several years ago.

          There are very few transfers between the B16 and the N train, so that’s not a major concern.  Far more people need to go to Maimonides Hospital.

          Rerouting the B4 at 7th Avenue creates a big distance with no east west service from 69th to 86th Street from Shore Road to 7th Avenue and no east west service from 60th Street to 75th Street, from 7th to 13th Avenue.

          • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

            Come to think of it – that may be a good place to send the B64 – up to Maimonides Hospital; I would then run it down 10 Avenue to the B35/B70 terminus.

    • dkupf

      The B70 now covers what the B8 used to do.

      • Allan Rosen

        No. the B8 was cut from 95th Street  back to the VA Hospital at all times except late night when the B70 does not run.  Except for after midnight, you can no longer get on at Cropsey Avenue west of 18th Avenue to get to the R train.  IF you live near 18th Avenue, you can still take it to the D train, but that is a longer trip from around 14th Avenue than it was to the R train.

        • dkupf

          Which is why I agree with the B64 operating via the VA Hospital, 7Av, 92 St, 4 Av to 86 St, then returning via 86 St and 7 Av, and, of course, restoring the B64 to Coney Island.  The B64 would be able to immediately gain back the riders it lost.

          The problem is that the service planners prefer to lose $800,000 in operating costs over adding service that would cost $800,000.  Why? Less overhead.

          Proof that the service planners are also anti-union.

          • Allan Rosen

            I think you mean lose $800,000 in revenue not operating costs

  • dkupf

    Go to http://brooklynbus.tripod.com/ for a possible solution to this mess.

    • Al D

      I could not find anything on this site about actually speeding up service, and making it more consisten, such as moving stops at short blocks to every 3, or providing dedicated bus corridors so they do not have to compete with cars and delivery trucks.  Is this, in reality, a deck chairs solution?

      Example, if I can drive between Bay Ridge and Sheepshead Bay, point to point in 15 minutes, why take a 45 minute bus ride (with who knows how long a wait time) that may or may not take me point to point?

      • Allan Rosen

        You are correct. The site only deals with routing issues. Speeding up buses is another concern.  It would be nice to have it take 15 minutes by bus from Bay Ridge to Shepshead Bay, but I don’t think there is enough demand for that even if people did get out of their cars.  What you are talking of is a limited bus which still would only connect one one small part of Bay Ridge to one part of Sheepshead Bay anyway.  However, better routes still would help.
        Next Monday, I address this issue with a proposed bus line on 65th Street.  Since there is a route on 60th Street, a new one on 65th Street could make limited stops as you propose, but I don’t think the number of buses would justify removal of a traffic lane for buses to have their own corridor.

        Three block spacing is a tricky issue.  Yes, that would speed up the buses, but not in all cases.  It only works on moderately used bus stops.  Where they are heavily used, bus stops would become overcrowded and the increased loading times would cancel out the benefits of fewer stops.  People would also have to walk farther to get to a bus, so theoretically bus routes should be spaced closer together to meet the walking guideline of 1/4 mile.

        Where bus stops are very lightly used, three-block spacing also makes no sense if most of the stops are usually skipped anyway and the bus usually stops every 6 blocks anyway.  All that does is make it take longer to get to the bus stop increasing the likelihood that you will miss the bus walking to the stop which is further away, adding 10 minutes to your trip.

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