THE COMMUTE: Guess where this bus shelter is.
If you said the obvious, you guessed wrong. Flatbush Avenue and Avenue V is actually about a half mile north of where this picture was taken, right outside of Toys ‘R’ Us just north of the Belt Parkway. Just don’t call a car service to tell them you are waiting at Flatbush and Avenue V when the Q35 doesn’t show up.
The misplaced sign is not the only thing wrong with this shelter, one of the new ones that the city contracted out to CEMUSA to build, replacing the older shelters. There is no route information as required by the contract, only Travel Tips. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) bus stop sign shows the correct bus route and bus stop location but the wrong destination. The Guide-a-Ride — the square box around the bus stop pole — is also supposed to show a route map and schedule but is blank or thoroughly faded.
Although these new shelters have a cleaner look than the previous shelters, and also seating, which was lacking in the prior design, they leave much to be desired. First of all, they were supposed to provide route numbers, maps and schedules that were lighted up, eventually replacing the older Guide-a Rides where possible, which are only useful at night with a flashlight.
However, since day one, CEMUSA has not kept the information up-to-date. At many locations, the information showing which bus routes stopped at a particular bus shelter was incorrect. For example, the shelter at East 16th Street and Sheepshead Bay Road listed just the B4 and not the B49, which also stopped there when it was erected around 2009. In June 2010, the B4 was rerouted to Avenue Z and no longer stopped there. So today, the bus stop sign shows the B49, but the shelter shows B4 and still provides a map of the old B4 route that used to stop there two years ago.
When there is a conflict, what are you to believe, the sign or the shelter?
Instead of updating the signage, maps, and schedules as required by the contract, CEMUSA is quietly eliminating bus information altogether, leaving just a white space. That is exactly what they did across from El Greco. Several months ago the shelter still showed the B4 and B49 stopping there as well as a map of the B4, although the B4 had not stopped there since 2010.
At the bus shelter across from Coney Island Hospital, the shelter lists only the B1 and omits the B36. It never even mentioned the B4 when it used to stop there prior to June 2010. The information on the bus stop sign is correct.
During the winter of 2011, it came to light that CEMUSA was obligated to clear the bus shelters of snow after a storm, not the Department of Sanitation or the MTA, as some believed. The result was that bus shelters were inaccessible for weeks after the many snowstorms that winter, and CEMUSA was never held accountable.
The NYC DOT is the administrator of this lucrative contract with CEMUSA, which guarantees them proceeds from advertising revenue that they split with the city in exchange for erecting and maintaining these shelters. Yet no one seems to be overseeing them. According to Jen B., who posts on BusChat, there are 60 outstanding personal injury lawsuits by passengers injured from falling components or shattering of glass panels due to inferior workmanship. She also accuses CEMUSA for using a low-grade stainless steel and outsourcing to China, which is not in accordance with the contract.
Also, when the contract was signed in 2008, no one foresaw that nearly 600 bus shelters would be removed as a result of the service cutbacks in 2010. I asked John Liu when he spoke before Community Board 15 exactly one year ago if the shelters that were removed would be replaced elsewhere. If not, the city would be earning advertisement revenue for the next 20 years — the length of CEMUSA’s contract — from 600 fewer shelters than CEMUSA is contracted to construct. This would cost the city millions in lost revenue. He promised to investigate but I never received a response.
Forty years ago the only information available at bus stops was that a bus stopped there. In the 1970s, there were some meager attempts by DOT to provide route numbers and strip maps. One such map showing the B21 route, which has not operated since 1978, is still standing!
By around 1990, route and schedule information was finally provided at bus stops for all MTA routes except for the last quarter-mile of a route on the Guide-a-Rides. However, on the bus routes formerly operated by private companies, recently taken over by the MTA, this basic information was lacking until last year and, in some cases — mainly in Queens — is still missing.
Also, it took many years to convince the MTA to make their bus and subway schedules available to the public in a handout format. For more than 20 years they have claimed it was not possible to reduce large timetables into a user-friendly format. Finally they relented, and slowly this information was made available to the public, one route at a time over a period of several years.
Today And The Future
Today, maps and schedules are easily available on the internet at the MTA website, and trip planning can also be done at a variety of sites such as Hopstop.com using a smart phone. This may lessen the need to provide schedules at bus stops, but strip maps are still needed to attract occasional riders. CEMUSA, by contract, needs to provide these maps and schedules, as well as keep them current at their bus shelters, and they are not doing this. In the future, the MTA is looking to Bus Time to provide the time the next bus will arrive at every stop. Still, not everyone uses the latest technology, especially seniors, so are we just supposed to forget about individuals who are technologically challenged?
What Else Is Wrong With CEMUSA Shelters?
Several shelter designs are used. The standard shelter has three seats; a short shelter only has two seats. A double shelter, designed for high-usage locations, has six seats. Very few locations have double shelters. One is at Kingsborough College, but the shelter is labeled as a drop-off location as shown in the inset.
So why would you need a shelter at a drop off location and why should it be a double-sized shelter? At Kings Plaza — where there should be several double- or triple-sized shelters, because of the large crowds usually waiting — CEMUSA saw fit to provide only standard-size shelters, each with only three seats.
Also, if there was more concern for the passenger, even the single-width shelter that provides seating for three could have provided seats for five simply by extending the benches further at both ends. Bus shelters are placed at locations suggested by the local community boards. There are a variety of reasons why every location is not suitable for a shelter, such as the sidewalk being too narrow.
A question asked at the time the CEMUSA shelters were constructed was why were perfectly good shelters being demolished so that new shelters could be installed, when there were so many stops still lacking any shelter whatsoever? Could not the new shelters have first been installed at locations needing them before any were destroyed? Advertising revenue was a consideration, but there were locations along Ocean Avenue where there was only a shelter on one side of the street, and none on the other side. Instead of placing a new shelter where one was missing, the existing shelter was demolished and replaced, and the location on the opposite side of the street remained lacking a shelter. That made no sense.
A glaring example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing was the construction of a new shelter on Union Street and Prospect Park West for the B71 on March 3, 2010, the same day when a hearing was being held a few blocks away at the Brooklyn Museum of Art calling for the elimination of that bus route. The shelter was completed just in time for the route’s discontinuation. I tipped off Channel 5 at the time and a news story was 15 minutes from airtime, but was pulled at the last moment, because DOT insisted that the new shelter would still be used for the B69. When they admitted their error, after checking, it was too late to get the story back on the air according to the reporter. It was rescheduled for the following weekday but breaking news prevented it from being aired.
At Oceanview Avenue and West End Avenue, the shelter lists the BM3 as well as the B49. The BM3 never stopped there. If there are so many errors in our little corner of Brooklyn, how many are here citywide?
Also, a brand new shelter was demolished unnecessarily on Neptune Avenue and Shore Blvd when the B4 was relocated. The terminus of the BM3 could have been relocated to that stop where it was originally, instead of remaining across Shore Boulevard on Emmons Avenue where there is no weather protection.
DOT generally does a good job of maintaining the Guide-a-Ride boxes (The maps and schedules are provided by the MTA to DOT). They kept their promise to update the bus stop signs within three months after the cutbacks. The same cannot be said for CEMUSA. If the MTA is ever to reverse the decline of bus ridership, the occasional bus rider must be provided with accurate and complete information, not information that is missing or contradicting. At the Toys ‘R’ Us bus stop, not only are maps and schedules missing from the shelter, but from the Guide-a-Rides as well, and the route destination is incorrect. However, along Neptune Avenue, where the B4 was eliminated in 2010, one lone Guide-a-Ride still stands with a two-year-old map and schedule covered with graffiti.
Two media outlets I contacted were not interested in running this story about CEMUSA. It was not juicy enough for them. However, when will our elected officials care enough to make sure that CEMUSA is adhering to its contract, and that DOT is properly administering the CEMUSA contract to provide accurate, up-to-date, legible maps and schedules as a means of helping the MTA attract new bus ridership, and enforce other contract obligations? You can blame the MTA for not being responsive, because they are an authority and not under mayoral control, reporting only to the governor. However, what is the excuse for city elected officials not exercising greater control over DOT and CEMUSA?
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).