THE COMMUTE: Yesterday, I discussed at length the faulty methodology used by the MTA in its Customer Service Bus Satisfaction Survey.  Today, I will interpret what the results are really saying.

The Service Results  (Comments in Italics)

  • Overall Local Service – 70 percent satisfied. Limited and Select Bus Service are included in this number.
  • Overall Service Availability – 68 percent satisfied.
  • Frequency of Service – 65 percent satisfied.
  • Bus Wait Times – 58 percent satisfied.  Notice how low this number is as compared to the others. In other words, 42 percent of the riders believe they have to wait too long for a bus. If the sample could be broken down by route or time period, the number of dissatisfied riders for lightly-serviced routes would be much higher.
  • Bus Service Reliability – 77 percent satisfied. Poor question since it does not ask the respondent to exclude maintenance in their definition of service reliability. Maintenance satisfaction is a separate question and is rated highly.
  • Predictability of Travel Times – 73 percent satisfied.  This only shows that riders can fairly accurately predict where their buses will get stuck in traffic or that they will have to wait longer than they should for a bus and also factor those variables into their travel time predictions.
  • How fast the bus gets you places – 81 percent satisfied. Now here is an interesting question: If 81 percent of local bus riders are satisfied with how fast they can get places, why is the MTA going ahead with its Select Bus Service (SBS) initiative if not only to reduce operating costs? When stating the case for SBS, the MTA claimed bus riders are generally unhappy with slow bus speeds and that is their primary motivation for moving forward with the project. You can’t have it both ways. Either local buses are fast or too slow, not both.
  • Convenience of Bus Routes – 87 percent satisfied.  This one is easy to explain.  Those who feel the routes are not convenient are not riding the bus and therefore not included in the survey.  (They are using the dollar vans, walking, or making longer trips on the subway to reach their destinations. See also yesterday’s column under “Missing Questions.)
  • Ease of Making Travel Connections. – 86 percent.  Since only 58 percent are satisfied with bus wait times, we can either conclude that most connections are to the subway, or wait time is not considered by the respondents in answering this question and instead they are only considering proximity between transferring bus stops and subways stations.

In conclusion, the MTA is not honest and cannot be trusted. They first draw their conclusions, then pick and choose the data they want to show to back up those conclusions. In this case the MTA wanted to show that a majority of riders are content with the service they provide.

The biased nature of this survey is no different from the way the MTA declared last year’s service cutbacks a success although the data suggested otherwise; the way they slanted the facts when minimizing the disadvantages of the service cutbacks; or the way they withheld information regarding the proposed B44 Select Bus Service, for example, that through traffic will share a single lane with those waiting to make a left turn south of Avenue X when the exclusive lane is in effect.

As I stated, half the time your local bus trip will go smoothly. Even with the all the built in biases, 42 percent of those surveyed believed they have to wait too long for a bus. Pleasing more than half the people should not be the standard for doing a good job. There are very serious problems with local buses and those need to be addressed.

This survey makes it appear that the only problems facing bus riders are not knowing when the next bus will arrive and the need to increase bus speeds although 81 percent of the people are already satisfied with bus speeds, as the MTA also claims. It is no coincidence that they are addressing both these issues.

Other serious problems like the need to update routes that have needed change for over 50 years to better serve major institutions like Maimonides Hospital or fairly recent land-use changes like the development of the Spring Creek Gateway Regional Shopping Center are ignored. Accessing Gateway is at least a 90-minute trip from Sheepshead Bay requiring double fare for most, while only a 20-minute trip by car most of the time. The survey provides a convenient excuse not to address problems like routing issues and the need to minimize bus bunching.

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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  • Knickzmetz

    Is anyone surprised that an agency like the MTA picks and chooses what information to divulge to the public? I’m sure that Jay Walder was paid a nice fat cat salary, which included 4-5 detective-grade police bodyguards that were seen on the news either calling on their cells or texting during “down time”. He took the money, did a lowsy job and now has run off to the Far East.

    The bus service in all of the outer boroughs is a disgrace, while the fares keep rising. This is never going to end unless we can get someone to run the MTA with an iron hand. Expenses have gone through the roof as a result of adding more layers of supervisors and managers, many of which get paid astronomical over-time, especially when they are close to retirement.

    • Allan Rosen

      Managers do not get overtime.

      • Anonymous

        That’s true. Yet I read somewhere that there are over 200 people in MTA management that make over $200,000.00 per year.

        • Allan Rosen

          That’s another issue. I think, however, that number includes those earning that amount through overtime. I don’t believe the number is that high for managers only. Very few earn over $200,000 I believe, but way too many earn over $100,000. Doing the same work at a City agency would earn them about $70K max. With the increases over the years any manager who has been there over 30 years would be earning around 100K by now and many do not work hard or deserve it. Some of those “managers” do not even have anyone reporting to them.

  • Anonymous

    Big surprise? Asking the MTA to conduct an honest survey is like expecting the Fox to guard the hen house.

    One thing about bus schedules and those posted at stops. I’d like to see an independent survey done to show the inaccuracy of this material. My experience has been that they are not. About 40 percent of the time if I wanted to make an estimate the schedules are wrong by at least 10 minutes. I’m not even sure if that’s only because the drive was stuck in traffic or on a coffee break. A good example would be the B1 stop at Avenue X and Ocean Parkway. Early on a Saturday morning the drive is late by as much as 10 minutes. What could be holding the bus up that early?

    • Allan Rosen

      The schedules are correct if they are up to date. It’s the arrival times that are off. He’ll will freeze over before the MTA surveys that which they claim is entirely do to traffic and is not their responsibility. Traffic isn’t, but trying to keep the buses on time is.

      I’ve reported several drivers taking 15 or 20 minute breaks in the middle of the route. The MTA does investigate those.

      • Anonymous

        I’m not surprised the drivers are taking these long breaks. After all they need a respite from screaming at those horrible passengers who constantly complain about late buses and dismal signage.

        I don’t take the buses too often but, if I’ve seen drivers get up out of their seats in front and walk back into the bus to debate rather loudly with passengers about 4 times this year, something must be going on. What kind of customer service training do these employees get? It’s been reported that 70 drivers have been assaulted by riders in the past year. I wonder why.

        • Allan Rosen

          I don’t think these assaults are due to the conduct of the bus drivers. Most are too scared shit to start up with the passengers. The reason assaults are up is that the public is very frustrated that these long standing problems I spoke of are allowed to continue and nothing changes. They need to vent and the bus driver is the only person they can vent to. Does the MTA make it easy to complain? No. Is there a phone number for complaints? No. Because they know it would be overflowing all the time and they would then have to do something. Yes, you can email complaints but most will not do that especially when all you get is a form response like: the Authority does its best to ensure buses move as fast as possible, but we are not responsible for traffic. We are working on the Select Bus Service Program to improve your trip. Thank you for riding the MTA.

          Before they promised that SBS would help, for 15 years they were promising bus bunching would be solved when GPS tracking is implemented systemwide. Meanwhile they are doing nothing to solve the problem. Now all they are promising is that GPS tracking expansion to the entire system wil enable you to know how long you will have to wait for a bus. Not a single word if it will be used to help improve reliability.

          Guess those unhappy passengers assaulting bus drivers weren’t included in the survey.

  • LLQBTT

    Just to pick 1, otherwise I’ll be writing all day…How can the ease of making travel connections be so high?  Buses do not wait for connecting buses and many times seem to try and leave the transfer point quickly if they see passengers rushing to try and connect. (and not just in rush hours)

    Bus stops can be inconveniently located at some transfer points, the B62 at Williamsbug Bridge Plaza is a good example, though I cannot, off hand, think of 1 at Sheepshead Bay.  Oh yeah, how about the B36 at Nostrand?  The stop is in the middle of the block, away from the B3 and B44.  Perhaps that tstop could be moved instead to share a stop with the B3 or B44, instead of making people run half way up the block in the hopes of connecting with a bus that may or may not wait for them.

    Also, and if I can add, you seem a bit pre-occupied with the lightly used B4.  There are so many other routes with higher ridership that need work, and are essentially unchanged for decades, such as the B68.  Maybe a B68 Limited could connect the major transfer points, where most riders are, anyway.

    • Allan Rosen

      As I stated it appears that respondents were not thinking about waiting times when answering the question about travel connections. The MTA does not place too much concern with the placement of stops to ease travel connections. Their prone concern is safety and having most of the stops after the traffic light.

      Incidentally, the B36 stop you are complaining about is the one they are planning to eliminate after the introduction of the B44 SBS. They announced that at the CB 15 meeting last month.

      I am concerned about many Brooklyn bus routes. I have been only writing about the B4, the B1, and the SBS though. Didn’t want to bore everyone with all my other ideas for rerouting. You can see them at http://Brooklynbus.tripod.com. I should warn you that the site has not been
      updated in over 3 years.

      As far as Limited on the B68, I do not think that is a good idea. Riders would be attracted from the subway which is a more efficient way to travel and service would be denegrated for those having to rely on local buses. To improve service on that route, there would have to be some enforcement against the many double parkers all along Coney Island Avenue. Current enforcement is virtually non-existent. The City places a priority on raising revenue from those parking at expired meters and oes not give summonses for the purpose of moving traffic better. That is the problem in a nutshell. The MTA can’t do anything about double parking.

    • ajedrez

      I don’t think a B68 limited would really be necessary, because anybody traveling a significant distance will be on the subway (either the F or B/Q, depending on which part of the route you are on)

      He did advocate for the B68 to be split, with the southern half going from Coney Island to 18th Avenue and then using the B11 route to go to Borough Park, while the northern half would be an extension of the B75 to Kings Highway (I guess now it would be the B61)

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