Why is this B49 only going so far as Church Avenue? Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: Although buses are scheduled at 10 minutes intervals, if you were trying to get home from Manhattan Beach on the evening of July 4, there is a good chance that you would have had to wait for an hour for a B49. Two weeks ago I reported long waits on both the B1 and B49 buses on a hot summer weeknight during the rush hour, and how service is disrupted on an entire route because the MTA does not pay attention to heavy beach loadings. I decided to return on July 4 to see if conditions would be better or worse.

Since it was very hot again, and a holiday, most people did not start to leave the beach until 7:00 p.m. or later with loadings fairly light before then. Between 5:40 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., B1 buses left Falmouth Street at the following times: 5:40 p.m., 6:13 p.m., 6:23 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. — not quite every 10 minutes as promised. The B49 left at 5:40 p.m., 6:02 p.m., 6:29 p.m., and 6:31 p.m. (the latter being to Church Avenue only, as pictured above) — also not as promised. Each route was two buses short, about two-thirds the scheduled service, during the time I was watching.

As I discussed last time, the allowed running time does not allow for the extra crowds of people boarding to go to and from the beach and, subsequently, it is impossible for buses to maintain their schedule. A bus can lose at least 10 minutes per trip. Rather than making up some of that time by shortening their recovery period, buses were observed taking anywhere from 10- to 20-minute layovers. Now, if you are going to lose 10 minutes on each trip, and not make up any of that time, it stands to reason that near the end of your shift you could be close to an hour behind schedule. That means you either cut one of your trips short, or, kill an extra 20 minutes laying over and skip your final trip of the day altogether. That is why only eight buses left the terminal when 12 were scheduled.

Where are the MTA statistics on scheduled trips that are not provided? Those statistics, if not made public, should at least be made available to the MTA Board, and costs should be determined using actual trips made — not fictional, scheduled trips. Allowing insufficient running time lowers the cost per trip on paper, but this means nothing if all trips are not actually made, which they are aren’t.

Since there was no overcrowding before 7:00 p.m., only erratic waits for buses, I decided to return after dinner to see the real problems. I arrived at 8:20 p.m., just as a B1 bus left Falmouth Street with approximately 40 passengers aboard. At 8:24 p.m. there were 70 people, all waiting for the B49. That appeared to be about a 20-minute crowd waiting since around 8:00 p.m. At 8:24 p.m., B49 bus 9391 bypassed the stop already fully loaded from picking up at Jaffrey Street and Hastings Street. At 8:42 p.m., a second B49, bus 5174, also bypassed Falmouth Street fully loaded. A portion of the crowd then decided to walk to Jaffrey Street or Hastings Street where they would have a better chance of getting on the next bus. This picture shows the remaining crowd at 8:47 p.m.

A crowd waits for the B49 at 8:47 p.m. Photo by Allan Rosen

At 8:51 p.m., two B1 buses came by, one stopping and picking up all the B1 passengers and the other bypassing the stop altogether. Both buses were not crowded, although there was a 30-minute gap in B1 service. Finally, at 8:56 p.m., B49 bus 4226 stops at and leaves Falmouth Street with a full load of about 75 passengers after spending three minutes at that one stop loading. It was now close to an hour since the previous B49 bus stopped there. If bus 4226 bypassed future stops, which was a good possibility, the next bus would not have arrived for yet another 13 minutes.

Although bus 4226 did not arrive at Falmouth Street until 8:53 p.m., it was observed going in the reverse direction to Mackenzie Street at 8:36 p.m. If it spent a combined five minutes at Hastings Street and Jaffrey Street picking up passengers, the bus still took a 10-minute layover when it was already late.

If you were astute, you would have noticed that bus 4226 was the same bus destined for Church Avenue earlier in the day leaving Kingsborough at 6:30 p.m. Since there was enough time for the bus to make it all the way to Fulton Street by the time it returned to Kingsborough at 8:38 p.m., cutting short the scheduled trip from Fulton Street to Church Avenue enabled the bus operator to take his 30-minute lunch break at Church Avenue, which meant that he was already 30 minutes late after only a half day of work.

Again, who is keeping statistics on trips cut short and trips not made at all due to inadequate running time and the failure of the MTA to assign extra buses for heavy passenger loads? These factors throw entire bus schedules into chaos.

Bus Time

On July 1st, the MTA expanded Bus Time to the B61 in Red Hook and Park Slope. I previously alluded that Bus Time could be what the MTA needs to finally get its buses on schedule since it will be possible to see where all the buses on a route are at the same time. I decided to give it a test and was not at all impressed. The biggest problem is, unlike the subway countdown clocks that give an estimated wait time in minutes, Bus Time can only presently give you the wait in terms of miles (The MTA has yet to convert miles to minutes because of traffic conditions, which it cannot now estimate). What you learn is that the bus is one or two stops away, something you can usually see just by looking up the street, or the number of miles the bus is from your stop. So after seeing where the buses were using Bus Time, I decided to ask for the wait where there was a big gap between buses. It told me the next bus was 4.5 miles away. That could be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour away depending upon if the bus’ speed is 4.5 or nine miles an hour. Not very helpful.

I checked a second location and was told there were no buses en route. There was a bus going in the opposite direction, one block from the terminal, but apparently Bus Time cannot see around terminals. That is a big problem if you are boarding near the beginning of a route. A bus could be 10 minutes away, and you would never know. You would get a better idea when the next bus is coming simply by watching buses going in the opposite direction.

Until Bus Time can estimate time in minutes and can see around terminals, its use is very limited. Further, if it is not used to help keep buses on schedule, the MTA would not be making use of its potential. When watching Bus Time on the B61, I also noticed there were five B61s all traveling in one direction and only two going in the other. One bus also spent 15 minutes at its Downtown Brooklyn terminus, allowing the gap between it and its leader to get bigger and bigger. Now why isn’t the MTA using Bus Time to better regulate the B61?

The MTA soon will have the ability to really help the passenger — by reducing bus bunching and also have the information to write better schedules. Will bus reliability be improved as a result of Bus Time, or will we hear more excuses as to why waiting for a bus has to be a crapshoot?

Other News

Assemblyman Bill Colton presented his petition to restore B64 service to the MTA Board on June 27th.

In my series, last March, “The Role of Buses and How to Make Them More Effective,” I asked why the MTA could not operate express bus routes between major interborough commercial centers. I suggested that a market exists, judging from illegally-operated buses between Chinatown and Flushing. The New York Times recently had an interesting article on this subject showing how private enterprise fills in when MTA service falls short.

As passengers were waiting an hour in Manhattan Beach for the B49 on July 4th, others were taking car service. I overheard one conversation between four girls and a driver. “How much to the Junction?” “That will be $25.” And off they went.

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).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • Flatbush Depot

    Good observations. Those are some serious problems with buses running that erratically. I can say without any hesitation that that is a disaster.

    • Allan Rosen

      I keep making the same points about long waits for buses, because other than the riders, most of whom who never complain, no one realizes what a serious problem this is and no one is doing anything about it.  Watch Bus Time when you get a chance and see if the MTA is taking any corrective actions on the B61 or B63.  If they aren’t doing it now, why would they do it after it is fully implemented?

      The original purpose of installing GPS was to better regulate the buses, not to merely tell you the wait time.

      • sonicboy678

        Yesterday, I picked up a newspaper at Flatbush Avenue. I looked inside and saw something on BusTime. The problem (which you already know about) is that it doesn’t actually work with time. The countdown clocks that they had on 34th Street (they’re probably gone by now) actually worked the way BusTime should.

  • guest

    You are not rich. You serve no useful purpose to society. The MTA doesn’t care about you. This is 2012 not 1942. You deserve to wait in the heat and cold and that’s that.

    • HairyGuy

      i am also a poor fat guy and i agree with you. i deserve to be treated this way as a customer in a capitalist society BUT…the mta must be held accountable. it’s more about that than it is about what i deserve

  • LLQBTT

    Where’s Mr. DiNapoli when you really need him to do something? If there’s a budget for 10 runs/hour and there’s only 7, where’d the $ for the 3 missing runs go?  Sounds like graft and corruption to me.  At minimum it’s corruption in the form of abuse or mismanagement.

    Maybe he can forensically audit the MTA (his specialty) for this and introduce some real reform.

    • Allan Rosen

      It’s possible a few rus may be missing. But a more likely explanation is that all the drivers are there and on the road for their eight hours. They are just not making all their scheduled trips because there is not enough running tine allowed in te schedule to pick up all the people. They MTA would like you to believe all the delays ate from traffic which is not true. When I surveyed, the delays stem from the MTA not allowing time in the schedules to pick up all the people. Adding more time costs money on paper, but not in reality because a greater portion of the trips would be made.

  • Henryrollinsrocks

    Very good reporting here!

    • Allan Rosen

      Thanks.

  • Brookiyn67

    The problem is Operations Planning implements a schedule that cannot be kept by the bus driver. The TA has never taken “real world” circumstances into account as far as scheduling is concerned. Instead, they favor “standard intervals” (such as every 8, every 10, 12, 15, etc minutes) over scheduling buses at more appropriate times, such as “x” minutes after a train arrives, around beach crowds as in your example and a lengthy number of other similar examples I could share, but I’m sure you already are aware of.

    The other issue is “layover time” which has been renamed to “recovery time”. Years ago, we had roughly 10 – 15 minutes of recovery time, but that of course, was when there were more buses on the route. With the contractual minimum recovery time established at three minutes, that is now what the TA works with whenever possible. Now, having three minutes recovery time operating along a route that doesn’t have enough real-world running time is a disaster waiting to happen. The TA is not giving bus drivers enough time to run the route, then cuts recovery time so making that time up is impossible.

    There was a time, years ago, where a driver would call console and explain, for example, “This is 8 on the 64. I’m at the terminal down 40 minutes and still haven’t gone on meal yet. What should I do?”

    We used to hear, depending on division, “Go dark to xxx and start there” or simply “Put yourself in place”. That was a time when dispatchers actually “dispatched”. Today, they are clericals jotting down numbers but doing little in the way of service adjustments. Today, we’ll hear more often than not, “Okay Operator, keep going and just get a late slip”.

    So what does that mean? That means this driver’s schedule is thrown out the window in favor of “completing trips”, a feather in the caps of each location chief, but awful for passengers and the general riding public. It also means that driver will take a 20-minute unscheduled meal break as soon as time permits, further delaying that bus — the same bus that could have been “put in place” by supervision, but wasn’t. That’s because when we are put in place, it’s a “lost trip”. A very bad thing for the location!

    So why did the driver take an additional 10 minutes while running 20+ minutes late? Why not?? Restroom break, perhaps? Stretch his legs? Post trip inspection? A combination of all these?

    Point is, if management and supervision isn’t going to help the public by doing whatever they can to provide on-time service, why should the driver? He’s not getting any help. He’s told to make the overtime and call it a day!

    • Allan Rosen

      Thanks very much for your input. I really appreciate it and could easily see why a bus operator would behave the way he does. If management doesn’t care about my needs, why shoud I care about theirs? To tell the truth, if I were a bys operator, I would probably behave the same way.

      The MTA is far too interested in how statistics and costs look on paper, although they bare no resemblance to real world conditions. Until they wake up and start treating employees as well as passengers like they would want to be treated themselves, there is little hope for any improvements despite improvements in technology.

  • Cotb16

    You guys in Manhattan Beach aren’t the only ones who face this transportation problem. Here in The Bronx, we have a similar issue with Orchard Beach service between Memorial Day and the end of June (when the summer schedule “officially” begins).

    When Orchard Beach hosted its fireworks on June 29, Bx12 shuttle buses ran every 15-20 minutes. Each bus was a sardine can, to the point where I, along with a few others, relied on a generous dollar van to get us to the beach that day.

    • Allan Rosen

      The key to providing good and efficient service is to match service to demand. Although the MTA has a better ideas of where and when there is heavy demand than they did prior to 1985, they still do not do a very good job of matching service to demand.  When there is an unusual occurence that is going to repeat it self each year, the MTA needs to learn from it so the same problems do not reappear.

      In the case of Orchard Beach, by now they should realize they need extra service between Memorial Day and the beginning of the summer pick.  It is inexcusable not to provide extra buses for the fireworks.

  • gustaajedrez

    The thing is that at the same time certain routes have too little running time, other routes have too much running time. Out here in SI, students make up a larger percentage of riders compared to the other boroughs, but in a lot of cases, during the summer, you have B/Os dragging the line because the schedule is intended for more passengers to be onboard the bus.

    Ideally, there should be some kind of summer schedule, and then on certain beach routes (Bx5/12 to Orchard Beach, B1/49 to Manhattan Beach, etc), you add the appropriate amount of service. I mean, I doubt you could just transfer B/Os between depots willy-nilly, but it makes no sense for some routes to have a ton of excess running time while B/Os on other routes can’t even complete all their trips.

    • Flatbush Depot

      Yeah, transferring bus operators between depots willy-nilly does not happen due to work rules, champ. They can only change depots at the start of the year.

      • gustaajedrez

        Well, if you can’t transfer the drivers, then just transfer the money. The money you save with less runtime can be used to add runtime to routes that need it.

    • Allan Rosen

      A separate summer schedule would be the only way you could add running time. If you did it all the time, on rainy days, the operators would be dragging also.  There really has to be more flexibility with the schedules.  As I previously reported, B1s leave Kingsborough College packed to the gills at dismissal time.  However on Fridays when classes end early, you have the same number of buses about every three minutes with only about a half dozen passengers each.  That’s why I advocated for separate Friday schedules for some routes.

  • Peppertree5706

    After waiting fifteen minutes and seeing one bus out of service pass by, around lunch hour, I walked through the rear door of a B49 that said Next Bus Please after passengers left the bus. I paid my fare as I got off the bus. 

  • Robertwhitt

    Listen I know that u think the drivers are in the wrong for taking 10 minutes to stretch. Got news for you we are told to get out of seat check your bus stretch and setup the bus up for the next trip. To properly do a good post trip inspection could take at least five or six minutes. By the way where is the MTA fault in failing to provide the service in the first place. Sit in the drivers seat on the bus see what we go through then tell us it not right for us to stretch. Yes it is frustrating with the delays but it is not the drivers fault.   

    • Allan Rosen

      Is the ten minute stretch provided for in the recovery time? That is the question. If the MTA does not allow you the six minutes to do a trip inspection, you should take that up with your union. If you are already 20 minutes late and you take another ten minutes to stretch, that means you don’t care at all about any schedule or how long the passengers have to wait. Yes, most delays are not the bus drivers’ fault. I’ve consistantly blamed the MTA not the drivers. I do sympathize with what bus drivers have to go through each day. It is definitely not an easy job. Still, recovery time is designed to keep buses on schedule and is not automatic. And if drivers did do their post trip inspection, there wouldn’t be so many buses running around with their signs for the opposite direction which they are supposed to change at the beginning f each trip.