Chicago’s version of Bus Time on its bus shelters. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: I previously wrote about the MTA’s bias against buses and their preference for the subways. Legible bus maps for all boroughs were not available until the early 1980s. Buses were harder hit than subways in the 2010 service cutbacks. However, perhaps the most obvious example is that, for 40 years, little has been done to solve the pervasive problem of bus bunching, the bus rider’s chief complaint.

Bus tracking systems have been promised since 1980 to remedy this problem. In fact, a trial system was installed around that time in the then-newly constructed Queens Village depot but was quickly dismantled due to union objections that “Big Brother” was watching. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) was more powerful back then and the MTA didn’t want to antagonize them, fearing a strike.

That system was not GPS-based and was referred to as a bus locator system — and it worked! It let managers know where buses were within a quarter-mile so they could be better regulated. Plans were underway to expand it system-wide to minimize bus bunching.

Since then, there have been three failed attempts at tracking the location of buses using GPS technology. The New York Daily News recently summarized these three failed attempts.

Now the MTA is focusing on Bus Time, a system already in place on one Brooklyn route, and on all Staten Island routes, giving little assurance that it will be used to help regulate buses. The focus now is merely to let riders know how far away their bus is. The original intention of Bus Time was to let riders know, in minutes, the bus’ estimated arrival time in a way similar to that of the subway countdown clocks. Thus far, only the distance the bus has to travel to reach the stop where you are waiting is available. This information is of limited value.

How useful is it to know that the bus is a block or two away when, in most cases, you can see the bus coming anyway? The real value is in knowing if the bus is 10 minutes away, or 30 minutes away. Knowing that the bus is a mile and a quarter away does not tell you much. Currently, all that can be provided is distance due to the uncertainty of traffic conditions. One would think that there is enough historical traffic data in any given area to provide a reasonably accurate estimate of how long traffic will delay the bus. Hopefully, this problem will be resolved soon. There would always be some unknowns, however, such as not being able to predict accidents or if a wheelchair passenger boards or alights.

Further, this information will only be available via smart phone or text message and will not also be displayed on bus shelters as originally intended. Councilman Brad Lander is introducing legislation requiring the MTA to provide the information on the bus shelter. Providing this information on the shelters has additional advantages. Currently the M34 SBS is treated separately from the M34A SBS, requiring two separate calls or text messages if either bus could be taken. Displaying the information for both routes on the shelters would provide much greater utility.

Unanswered Questions

Why have there been four failed attempts costing countless millions to determine where buses are on their routes and how much of this is the MTA’s fault?

The MTA has, for years, successfully used GPS to track its fleet of armored cars all over the city, including Midtown, so why was it having such difficulty tracking its buses?

Why initiate a program in 1996 in the most difficult area, Midtown Manhattan, where there are known GPS technological issues due to skyscrapers? Why not begin in the outer boroughs where bus bunching is just as much of a problem and there are few skyscrapers?

Why was there a second attempt to install GPS tracking in Manhattan in 2005, thus wasting another $13 million without resolving the problems that arose during the first pilot?

Why in Chicago can the distance a bus is from a bus stop be successfully converted to time, and be displayed clearly on a bus shelter and not here? (Bus maps are also displayed on its shelters — something else we do not do here.)

Has the MTA abandoned attempts to convert distance to estimated times of arrival? If so, that is unacceptable.

Where Is The Accountability?

Why is the primary focus of GPS tracking to let passengers know the location of buses, rather than to inform management so buses can be better controlled? After all, Bus Time would not even be necessary if buses were relatively on time. It’s like a doctor saying, “Since I can’t cure your condition, I will tell you how much time you have left to live. Will that be good enough?

Why is CEMUSA not being held to their contract responsibility to provide transit information at bus shelters? Route numbers and maps are being removed and replaced with transit tips and many shelters do not even have the tips. Adding lit up bus schedules to shelters becomes more important if bus arrival times are not installed.

Conclusion

Apparently, in its ongoing bias against buses, subway riders are deemed worthy of having countdown clocks. Subway riders will even have a cell signal in subway stations as the MTA moves forward with its plans. Given all the other transit problems, is this really that important? But bus riders? Not so worthy. Unlike subway riders, a cell phone will be required to know where the next bus is and knowing only the distance and not the estimated time of arrival may be considered sufficient for bus riders.

What about using GPS technology to better regulate the buses, since the number of dispatchers has been cut to a minimum? Well, good luck on that one. After 40 years of responding to concerns about bus bunching by promising the problem would be solved once GPS is installed, no such recent promises have been made in that regard.

The MTA is returning to their original stance that traffic is not their responsibility and they have no control over it. Is it any wonder why the MTA has little credibility and an image problem? Bottom line: Don’t expect system-wide improvements regarding bus reliability in the foreseeable future.

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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  • Jen

    My biggest complaint as a regular bus rider is when scheduled buses just don’t show up. This seems to happen frequently on bus lines that don’t even have that much service, like the B4. If the bus is only scheduled to come once every 15 minutes during rush hour, and one doesn’t show up… yeah, big problem.

    • Allan Rosen

      Yes that is a big problem, but it may be unavoidable if it is due to a bus breaking down or an operator calling in sick and no one could be found to replace him. But filling all runs on lightly scheduled routes should be a high priority.

    • bagels

      That’s one problem – the other is when there are two or three bunched together. I see this all the time on the B100 route, which runs from Mill Basin to Kings Highway. That’s a short run through mostly low traffic, residential streets. There’s no excuse for this.The bus drivers and dispatchers have to be held accountable for following the schedules.

      • Allan Rosen

        I’ve documented cases on other routes where buses leave the terminal already bunched.

        • onezerosevenprecinct

          Thats cause they are sitting at the terminaing BSing or playing cards. Then they all leave at the same time and race each other to the next terminal.

          • Allan Rosen

            Sometimes they are both just late.

      • sonicboy678

        There really isn’t an excuse for bunching. It’s also apparent on the B41 and B103. The buses could be covering only a portion of the full route and STILL end up bunching with other buses, sometimes those actually serving the full route!

        • Allan Rosen

          Some times it can’t be helped and sometimes the buses aren’t even dispatched properly. Occasionally steps are taken, but I sometimes question if they are even the correct steps. Whatever, not enough is being done.

      • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

        This is where dispatchers should be using BusTime and 10″ tablets set to Desktop to put buses in place, have them run drop-off only for a stretch, or short-turn buses as needed. BusTime should not just be seen as a customer tool.

        Your complaint is bad dispatching.

  • Benjamin Kabak

    Two points:

    1. “Councilman Brad Lander is introducing legislation requiring the MTA to provide the information on the bus shelter.”

    The legislation requires nothing. It “calls upon the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Department of
    Transportation, and Cemusa to work together to install bus arrival time
    displays in bus shelters using data from the MTA’s Bus Time
    technology.” That’s hardly wording that’s going to get results, and as much as I like Lander, it’s simply political grandstanding.

    2. In terms of your section on accountability, MTA employees who have built the BusTime and those contractors who have worked for the MTA and other agencies in building the platform upon which it is based have repeatedly explained why they’ve gone for distance over time. It’s simply more reliable and doesn’t take that long for riders to convert distance into rough estimates of time.

    I think the real problem and story here concerns CEMUSA and their obligations with respect to bus shelters, not the BusTime implementation as it currently exists. It’s an imperfect solution for an imperfect problem, and you can’t find a system that reliably and accurately shows bus arrival times to the minute. Even in London — that gold standard for countdown clocks — suffers from buses simply disappearing instead of showing up as promised.

    • Allan Rosen

      As I stated, I don’t think distance is that useful and if it is that easy for the customer to convert distance to time, there should be an algorithm that can do it also. I’m sure most would not be upset if its a minute or two inaccurate. That still would be better than distance. Do you know how well it works in Chicago since it is installed all over downtown?

      I agree with you about CEMUSA and hopefully Lander’s legislation will result in something positive and yes perhaps the legislation could have been worded in a better manner.

      • Benjamin Kabak

        The benefit of an open system is that an outside developer with more tech expertise than the MTA — and admittedly that’s most outside developers — should step in to develop a time-based app. That it hasn’t happened yet speaks to the difficulty in automatically converting distance to time. I know how long it takes the B63 to go 1.3 miles at 2 p.m. and I know that it will take longer for the B63 to go 1.3 miles at 5:30 or 6 p.m. But can an app or algorithm do that reliably? That’s the key question.

        • Arthur Borko

          All they need to do is license google’s traffic information. Boom. They seem to provide time estimates just fine. With their information, extrapolating an “estimated” wait time shouldn’t be a problem.

          The issue is a closed system that doesn’t invite innovation ideas. I bet nobody at the MTA has even CONSIDERED walking into any of the colleges and offering someone a free internship to create the app they need. All they need to do is pay for the information.

          The rest writes itself.

          • Allan Rosen

            This is where Jay Walder deserves much credit in allowing outsiders to come in. Prior to his tenure, the MTA wouldn’t even think of that.

            Let’s hope someone can resolve this issue. Providing accurate time estimates at bus shelters should not be abandoned. From the picture I provided, it looks like in Chicago both the estimated time and location of the bus is provided, so an astute rider would know if the time estimate is not accurate.

          • Arthur Borko

            Here’s the thing. I don’t think that the MTA should be spending money on stationary shelters that provide this information. In affluent area they are not needed, everyone has a smartphone. An app is sufficient. In less affluent areas the cost of maintaining such a device would be extremely high to rampant vandalism. The unions would never agree to camera’s at every bus stop. So there would be zero deterrent as there is now to vandalism of Bus Stops.

            All they need is an app. Hell, I bet they could even work out a free app if they convinced google into some data sharing gimmick. The only thing holding services like this back is closed minds and greedy pockets.

          • sonicboy678

            Cut the crap not everyone has a smartphone. Let’s not forget that they increase the odds of being robbed, especially if someone sees you with said phone. I don’t care if it’s in Midtown Manhattan, you are practically begging for someone to swipe your phone the second you make it obvious.

          • Arthur Borko

            There’s no crap to cut buddy. “Smart Phones” that that run apps are already nearly ubiquitous Everyone has one, across all income levels, even below the poverty line. Having a “Cell Phone” is practically a requirement to hold down a job.

            As I mentioned above, without privacy concessions from unions, and the desire to find better contractors, it’s simply not cost efficient to put time indicators on every bus stop in every area.

            For the small segment of the population here in NYC that do NOT have access to apps, or even internet before they walk to the bus, the same information can be accessed by 311 Operators if the “feeds” are built into whatever OS they are using and voila! Now, from any bus stop in the city, any person with a phone can get the information they need at minimal cost.

            It’s just that fucking simple. It’s not more complicated. The right people just need to be in a position to understand how this shit works and to say yes to approve the money and the right people.

            That’s where the breakdown is. The people running things.

          • http://kibblesbits.wordpress.com/ Ann

            Jobs need smart phones? Who knew? Spoke like a true sheltered individual. You sure you’re not from Montana or Missouri or something?

          • sonicboy678

            It’s impractical to force everyone to use phones or the internet just to get information that is practically worthless when it doesn’t tell you WHEN the bus will arrive.

          • Allan Rosen

            Not worthless, but just not that useful as I already stated.

          • sonicboy678

            That’s why I said it was practically worthless. For bus dispatchers, it might be a good thing. For the everyday bus rider, well…we really need countdown clocks or something.

          • Andrew

            BusTime works with any old phone that can send and receive texts. No need for a smartphone. It also works from any computer with an Internet connection.

          • sonicboy678

            Hello! Not everyone carries around electronics just to look at something that can’t even tell them approximately WHEN the bus is going to arrive!

          • Andrew

            A large majority of New Yorkers have cell phones and carry them around while they ride the bus. If you’re one of the few who don’t, look it up on your computer before leaving home or ask somebody else at the bus stop to use BusTime.

            If you’d prefer time estimates rather than distances, I’ve already posted the link to the NextBus system.

          • Andrew

            It’s actually an open system, and anybody who wants to use the data is welcome to do so.

            And NextBus already has.

            The MTA is not going to actively solicit this sort of app due to the likelihood of being hit with a lawsuit.

  • peppertree5706

    As you can see, MUNI in SF is doing this on some of their bus shelters. I have seen signs like this on visits to SF since 2009. I can also text and get the amount of time it will take for a bus to arrive.

    Picture will not transfer. Here is the link.

    http://ww1.hdnux.com/photos/11/11/53/2398964/7/628×471.jpg

  • Andrew

    There are two major concerns you’re raising: the reporting of distance rather than of time, and the use of cell phones and computers rather than fixed signs for distribution of information. I’ll address them in turn.

    If you’d like to see predictions in minutes, you can already find them here:
    http://www.nextbus.com/predictor/agencySelector.jsp

    Anybody else who provides minute-based predictions is likely to be sued by ArrivalStar. As reported here by Michael Keating of OpenPlans:

    However, if do not want to depend on NextBus and want to use our location feed to create your own arrival predictions (sounds like a fun project, right?) please note that you risk being sued. The practice of predicting the arrival time of a vehicle is covered by many patents, most of them owned by NextBus and ArrivalStar (several of whose patents have been licensed by NextBus). ArrivalStar has sued the MTA and the MBTA in Boston for allegedly infringing its patents by telling riders when to expect their train or bus to arrive. Crazy, but true.

    More info on ArrivalStar:
    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2012/04/why-patent-troll-luxemburg-suing-us-public-transit-agencies/1819/
    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/03/a-new-low-for-patent-trolls-targeting-cash-strapped-cities/

    As for how the information is disseminated, a web/phone-based approach has one major advantage: You can check how far away the bus is before you arrive at the bus stop yourself. That means that you can sit comfortably at home until the bus is approaching, or if you have several options you can see which one is coming first and head in that direction. If we can use you, Allan, as an example – you can get home on either the B1 or the B49. If you’re on the subway, you can get off at Sheepshead Bay for the B49 or you can stay on to Brighton Beach for the B1. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could look up the B49 in real time before you get off the train and make an on-the-fly decision? Once you’re off the train and at the B49 bus stop, it’s too late.

    As a frequent IRT subway rider, I long for the day that I will be able to check real-time service status before I walk to the station. I’ve walked to the nearest local station only to discover a delay on the local; had I known in advance I could have walked the other way to an express station or to a different line.

    Displays at bus stops would be nice as well, of course, but they’re not essential, and I’d rather see a web/phone-based approach get fully rolled out, citywide, by the end of next year. Any business near a bus stop, by the way, can post next-bus information: http://bustime.mta.info/wiki/Help/DIYSignHome

    (By the way, virtually every cell phone can send and receive texts – this isn’t restricted to smartphones only.)

    Moving on to a few of your other comments:

    Currently the M34 SBS is treated separately from the M34A SBS, requiring two separate calls or text messages if either bus could be taken.

    Not true. Each bus stop has a single code. Texting that code gives information on all of the bus routes that stop there.

    Why is the primary focus of GPS tracking to let passengers know the location of buses, rather than to inform management so buses can be better controlled?

    Because even in a mythical world of perfect dispatching, where all buses are perfectly spaced, riders want to know how far away the next bus is. They can use that information to help them optimize their own routing decisions. Even if you don’t personally find it important, many of your fellow riders disagree.

    And because perfect dispatching is only possible in a mythical world. In the real world, there will inevitably be some delays, and BusTime can help people work around them.

    But GPS tracking is being used to inform management. If you’ve ridden Staten Island buses lately, you may have heard the announcement that buses may be held to provide even spacing. Go to the Eltingville Transit Center, where you’ll find that the dispatcher has an office. Inside the office is a computer. And if you look at that computer screen, you’ll see a bus tracking display – not the same one that the public has access to, but clearly something else based off of the same underlying system, probably geared more toward dispatching purposes.

    After all, Bus Time would not even be necessary if buses were relatively on time. It’s like a doctor saying, “Since I can’t cure your condition, I will tell you how much time you have left to live. Will that be good enough?

    This is in very poor taste. Having to wait for a bus isn’t quite the same as dying, and receiving information that might direct you to a different line can be quite useful.

    Subway riders will even have a cell signal in subway stations as the MTA moves forward with its plans. Given all the other transit problems, is this really that important? But bus riders? Not so worthy.

    Bus riders already have cell signals.

    The MTA is returning to their original stance that traffic is not their responsibility and they have no control over it.

    Returning from what? This one seems pretty obvious to me. The MTA has been working with the city to develop bus lanes and signal priority and other tactics to get buses through traffic, but the MTA has no control over traffic!

    • Allan Rosen

      First of all, you are making the assumption that it has to be either or. Bus Time on phones and computers or arrival times (or distances) at shelters. It should be both. And if its not at the shelters, CEMUSA needs to provide some transit info on the shelters (at least routes and maps) as it was contracted to do.

      Second if the MTA risks a lawsuit by posting times at bus shelters, why can they do this at subway stations? “ArrivalStar has sued the MTA and the MBTA in Boston for allegedly infringing its patents by telling riders when to expect their train or bus to arrive.” So will the MTA remove its countdown clocks from the subways?

      And if there are some legalities that have to be resolved, why can’t the MTA license Nextbus to provide the information and why was the information inaccurate when the MTA tried to provide it themselves?

      I didn’t know that all the routes show up by texting a single bus stop code because on the desktop, you have to pick one of the routes before asking for the code, so you have to ask twice there.

      I did not say that it wasn’t important to know where the next bus was. What I said was that for 30 years, the MTA took the position that they wanted to know where there buses were to better regulate them and in recent years the primary reason for GPS was just to inform the passenger of wait times, not to better control the buses.

      If it is also used for this purpose, that would be great, but the MTA certainly is keeping it quiet that it is using it for that purpose which I regard as more important than only telling you how long you have to wait which is also important.

      Bus riders already have cell signals through no intervention by the MTA. I still wonder how important it is for subway passengers to have it, and I would rather MTA employees not spend their time on this. It obviously isn’t something that can be done with little effort, since it has to be done a few stations at a time.

      “The MTA has been working with the city to develop bus lanes and signal priority and other tactics to get buses through traffic.”

      Many bus lanes have been in existence for 40 years and do not work well because there is little or no enforcement except for SBS routes. They can make a huge difference if enforced. I remember being delayed about 7 minutes in a three block area when I rode the B46 daily in the late 1960s just because a single car would park in the bus lane. Yes the MTA can’t control traffic, but I question ho hard they have been working with the city on enforcement or if they’ve just washed their hands with the traffic issue.

      “Returning from what?”

      Their responses to bus bunching complaints in the 1970s was that it was solely due to traffic and beyond their responsibility. Not true. That is only one of the causes. Additional factors are unrealistic schedules that cannot be met. I’ve had bus drivers tell me that in order for them to arrive at the end of the route on schedule, they must leave two minutes early because it is not possible to meet the scheduled running time. They complained to management but nothing was done. Sometimes buses leave their terminal already bunched as I have previously documented. The MTA can do more. It is a very important problem that has not received he attention it deserves. That is probably the most important point in the article.

      Since 1990, the MTA has been responding to letters regarding bus bunching complaints that once GPS is installed all over, bus bunching will be controlled, rather than addressing the specific issues as they arose. Now they are returning to their 1970 response that bus bunching is solely due to traffic and beyond their control. They are no longer promising that GPS tracking will reduce it. As I said, if it does that would be great.

      • sonicboy678

        I bet even train operators have to deal with (at least somewhat) unrealistic schedules. This makes planning difficult.

        • Allan Rosen

          I don’t think so. I rarely see a train arrive at a terminal and immediately pull out which would indicate it is late. They usually sit there for a good 20 minutes. Buses on the other hand can have as little as a 3 minute layover, which in most cases is hardly sufficient to cover traffic delays which are a minor problem for trains. But there is bunching on trains also, though not as obvious.

          • Andrew

            When service is frequent, it is mathematically impossible on most lines for trains to “sit there for a good 20 minutes” – there aren’t enough tracks for that. On, say, a 6 minute headway at a two-track terminal, a train cannot “sit there” for more than 10 minutes or so. In technical terms, each track has to maintain a 12-minute cycle time. Where headways are shorter, the cycle time is shorter. Look at Flatbush Avenue terminal, or Times Square on the 7, if you want to see really rapid turnarounds.

            Most buses have layovers much longer than 3 minutes. At busy times, the B1/B49 terminal near you often has buses lined up for blocks.

          • Allan Rosen

            Explain to me why the other day, I arrived at Brighton Beach Station and boarded a B train in the terminal with a handful of passengers on board and noticed another B on the other track with half the seats taken. I figured it was about to leave, but decided to gamble. I walked downstairs and up to the other platform and boarded the other train. It sat there for a good five to seven minutes more before leaving while the other train was also taking on more passengers. This was in the middle of the day so the other train would not leave for another 10 minutes, so it would have had to have sat there for at least 15 to 17 minutes, definitely more than 10.

            The buses are lined up for blocks at the B1/49 terminal only at school dismissal times. Many are put ins during those times, not on their layovers between trips. Yes, most layovers are longer than three minutes, but some are only three if the choice is to add another bus to attain a certain scheduled headway.

          • sonicboy678

            Bad planning? (Not that the 2 or 5 have great planning, either.)

          • Andrew

            That was off-peak, when the B runs every 10 minutes. Try that experiment again in the rush hour, when it runs every 6. Or try it at Times Square on the 7 line, which runs every 2.5 minutes or better during rush hours.

            If a terminal has two tracks, the first train has to be fully out before the third train can enter. Double the headway, subtract a minute or two to allow for train and switch movements, and that’s the maximum time a train can remain at the terminal.

          • Allan Rosen

            You are really incredible. You just have to be right on every issue and you do that by twisting my words. I said trains usually sit for up to 20 minutes at the terminal. You said that doesn’t happen during the rush hours. I said “usually” not always. The rush hour is 4 hours a day and in places peak service only leaves the terminal for two hours a day. “Usually” refers to the other 20 hours a day, not the peak four.

          • Andrew

            Allan, I wasn’t trying to be argumentative. I was trying to explain why your observation that trains “usually sit there for a good 20 minutes” is dependent on the headway (and even then is a slight exaggeration).

            But if you insist on playing that game, I’ll play along.

            1) The B isn’t the only line out there. I mentioned the example of Times Square on the 7, which runs more frequently than 10 minutes for over 18 hours on weekdays, over 17 hours on Saturdays, and over 15 hours on Sundays. That adds up to 73% of the time (and probably around 90-95% of the ridership). Many other lines run more frequently than every 10 minutes for most of the day.

            2) According to the B schedule, when the headway is 10 minutes, trains arrive at Brighton Beach on the 5 and depart on the 9. That means they’re scheduled to be at the terminal for 14 minutes, not 20.

            3) The B also has a north terminal. Two actually, depending on the time of day, but at any time only one is in use, and each of those north terminals has only one track that the B can use. So while the off-peak B gets a fairly generous allotment of recovery time at the south terminal, it gets very little at the north terminal, rarely as much as 10 minutes. According to the B schedule, when the headway is 10 minutes, trains arrive at 145th on the 9 and depart on the 5 – only 6 minutes at the terminal.

            4) Service on the B is more frequent than every 10 minutes for about five hours every weekday. But the B does not run for about 8 hours every night or at all on weekends. So the off-peak, 10-minutes-or-less-frequent service runs only about 11 hours a day, five days a week – 46% of the time on weekdays or 33% of the entire week.

          • Allan Rosen

            There was no reason for an explanation that layovers were dependent on headways, since I never said anything to the contrary.

            I’m not going to split hairs discussing percentages. Maybe you are correct with your percentages, but you have a habit of getting bogged down with the details losing sight of what the discussion was all about.

            Sonicboy made a comment that subway motormen probably also have to deal with unrealistic schedules whereas I said that with buses you can have some terminals with as little as 3 minute layovers which are insufficient for a bus with a delay to get back on schedule. I responded that sometimes there could be as much as 20 minute layovers with the trains much of the time. The point is that buses rarely get 20 minute layovers. The average layover is about 7 to 10 and buses have to deal with traffic. Subways get at least that amount and don’t have to deal with traffic. So doesn’t it make sense that buses should get greater layovers than subways?

          • Andrew

            I’m only allowed to make comments that disagree with you? That’s a new one. As I said, I wasn’t trying to be argumentative. You insisted on arguing, so I played along.

            You are claiming that buses get less recovery time than the subway. Your evidence is that the subway gets 20 minutes recovery time (based on one experience when you sat on a train for close to 20 minutes, even though the schedule shows a 14-minute turnaround at that time) while buses only get 3 minutes recovery time (because you’ve occasionally seen buses go out after 3 minutes).

            But the fact is that the subway most often has recovery times far shorter than 20 minutes, and buses most often have recovery times far longer than 3 minutes. Did it occur to you that, when you see a bus pull in and out within 3 minutes, the bus probably arrived late? If a bus is scheduled to have 10 minutes of recovery time, and it arrives 7 minutes late, it will leave after 3 minutes – with the recovery time serving the exact purpose it’s supposed to serve.

            Subways don’t have to deal with street traffic. Instead they have to deal with signal delays and merging delays and track gangs and passengers holding up an entire train by holding one door out of 40. Both buses and subways face challenges to meet the schedule.

            Again, go to Times Square during rush hour and watch the 7 platform. Trains are stopped in the station for 3-4 minutes, max, and that includes the time for the arriving train operator to dump the air out of the brake system and for the departing train operator to charge it up again. In other words, there is virtually no recovery time at all – if a train arrives late, it will depart late.

          • BrooklynBus

            “I’m only allowed to make comments that disagree with you”

            What are you agreeing about? I don’t see it. No one said there aren’t subway delays. Of sometimes they don’t have enough recovery time either. What I was saying is that on the average, buses get less than subways when they should get more in some cases. And yes, there is subway traffic and internal construction delays, but you can’t compare the amount of subway traffic to street traffic in terms of volume.

          • Andrew

            No one said there aren’t subway delays. Of sometimes they don’t have enough recovery time either. What I was saying is that on the average, buses get less than subways when they should get more in some cases.

            Prove that, on the average, buses get less recovery time than subways. Because I frankly find it hard to believe. Again, I suggest you take a look at the terminals of some of the busier lines during rush hour, like Times Square on the 7. The subway is physically constrained in how much recovery time can be scheduled.

            And yes, there is subway traffic and internal construction delays, but you can’t compare the amount of subway traffic to street traffic in terms of volume.

            As I said on Friday: “Subways don’t have to deal with street traffic. Instead they have to deal with signal delays and merging delays and track gangs and passengers holding up an entire train by holding one door out of 40. Both buses and subways face challenges to meet the schedule.”

            I’m not willing to go out on a limb and declare that one type of delay is worse than another, since (like you) I don’t have statistics one way or the other. Have you ever been on a train that’s been mired in miles on miles of congestion because of a short work zone with adjacent track flagging, forcing all trains to slow down to 10 mph? One instance of adjacent track flagging can easily set a train 30 minutes behind schedule.

          • Allan Rosen

            “One instance of adjacent track flagging can easily set a train 30 minutes behind schedule.”

            You can’t compare that type of a delay to what the buses go through on a wide scale. Flagging is a rare exception and if one train is delayed 30 minutes, so are all the trains behind it, so aside from longer travel times and more crowded trains, they are still equally spaced as compared to buses where it is not that rare to wait 45 minutes for a bus, especially on a route with 20 minute headways.

          • Andrew

            Flagging, in fact, takes place every single day. It is not a “rare exception” in any way, shape, or form. And if every train on a line is delayed 30 minutes, but that line is scheduled to operate on a 10 minute headway, then it will come up three trains short – which means that there will be a 40 minute gap in service (the scheduled 10 minutes plus 30 minutes for the 3 missing trains) or that (more likely) the headway will be stretched out for all trains on the line. You know, EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EVERY BUS ON A LINE GETS STUCK IN A MAJOR TRAFFIC JAM.

            I’m still waiting to hear your proof that trains get more recovery time than buses.

          • Allan Rosen

            Scenario A- If the first train is delayed 30 minutes, and the next train 10 minutes later is also delayed by 30 minutes, there is still only a 10 minute gap between the first and second train. Right? Or are you saying ( Scenario B) that there is a 40 minute gap between all trains? Because under Scenario B the second train would be one hour late, not 30 minutes late. I was assuming you meant Scenario A, where there is only one gap of 40 minutes with subsequent trains still coming every 10. If you meant Sceario B, then it would be the same as a bus traffic jam. Probably half the bus routes experience a major traffic delay sometime during the day on a portion of the route. Do half the subway lines experience flagging everyday? I still maintain you cannot compare subway congestion to bus congestion.

            Regarding recovery time, if you don’t count put ins, virtually all the time there is never more than one bus at a time laying over. When one pulls in, the other is pulling out. If there are two tracks available at a subway terminal, both are usually occupied, and one pulls out as another one is about to pull in. That’s why I say that trains get more recovery time.

          • Andrew

            If a round trip takes x minutes and there are y trains assigned to the line, the average headway will be x / y minutes between trains. For example, if a round trip takes 90 minutes and there are 9 trains assigned to the line, the average headway is 90 / 9 = 10 minutes between trains. But if that round trip jumps up to 150 minutes – if each train is consistently delayed a half hour – the average headway becomes 120 / 9 = 13-14 minutes between trains.

            I have waited a half hour at a bus terminal, during which time three buses pulled up, only for all three to pull out at the same time.

            Subway lines are more frequent than most bus lines, so having two trains in the terminal at once doesn’t mean that they have a lot of recovery time in absolute terms. Some terminals still only have one track, like both of the north terminals on the B (as I’ve already said). During rush hours, the B runs every 6 minutes, so each train has a maximum of about 4 minutes in the station, and it takes a minimum of about two minutes to “change ends” on a train – leaving the B with a whopping TWO MINUTES of recovery time at the north end. And have I mentioned the 7 at Times Square yet? Why, yes I have!

          • flatbush depot

            subway lines more frequent than most bus lines..not necessarily. if you want to look only at the most frequent subway lines (IRT lines and the (L)) and the most frequent bus lines (looking at either the local service by itself or the LT service by itself or SBS by itself if the line has both a local and LT or a local and SBS)..the (7) is about as frequent as the B46, the (6) is about as frequent as the B41, (4) can be compared to some XTWN line in Manhattan, (1) can be compared to the B44, the (3) is the least frequent and is easily beaten by something like the B49 etc. (2) can be compared to B35, (5) can be compared to…B8 I suppose.

            again, just looking at frequencies and nothing else. furthermore there are a lot more bus lines than subway lines, so you cannot really compare bus and subway frequencies like that. not to mention the fact that one bus can be right on top of another bus’s bumper, while one train can never be on top of another’s bumper

            now then. trains do not necessarily get more recovery time than buses. that argument is too general. again, you would have to go thru every route in the system in order to determine this, and this is something I definitely will not set out to do. the only thing I will say about this is that the (B) spends like no time in either of its northern termini during rush hours since the headway is short and it only has one track to use at both of ‘em, and the (N)(Q) deal with the same thing at ditmars during rush. and of course everybody knows that the (2)(5) deal with it at flatbush. train is out as soon as it gets in b/c headways are short and other trains approaching the terminal need to get in or there will be a massive conga line (in my experience any conga line under Nostrand is nothing compared to conga lines in other parts of the system b/c flatbush pushes trains out mad quick during rush). sometimes they gotta push trains out early and they get holding lights further down the line to get them back on time. and of course there is the (7) at TSQ.

            on the weekends trains get a crap load of recovery time b/c there are fewer trains and they kinda expect trains to be mad late sometimes due to flagging/track gangs.

            if you go to Knapp/Shore Pkwy you will see two B44s sitting down there at just about any time, weekend, rush, midday, whatever. I have not been near KP in a while but I am sure you can see the same thing w/ the B46 there. or the B6 at any of its four usual terminals (New Lots, Rock Pkwy, CI Ave, Harway).

            Andrew, you sure it takes 2 minutes to change ends? does it depend on the car type? I could believe that for a non-NTT (new tech train) I suppose, but NTTs take like no time to charge up and I think you can get a NTT out of the terminal like one minute after the train terminates (or one minute after the air is dumped). non-NTTs charge slower

          • Andrew

            Yes, I agree that the situation varies a lot. All I meant to say was that, on average, subway lines are more frequent than bus lines, but obviously there are some extremely frequent bus lines.

            I don’t know that it takes exactly two minutes to change ends, but I doubt it can be done in as little as a minute. If the new train operator is ready to jump on board right away, maybe he can charge up the brakes within 90 seconds of when the train first comes to a stop.

            Thanks for the observations, and I’m amused to see that somebody else is still reading this.

          • flatbush depot

            heh. I bumped into it when I saw your previous comment on the recent comments listing of the blog. I just skimmed thru y’alls walls of text to be honest with you. I get the gist of the debate tho.

          • flatbush depot

            TwoTimer from NYCTF said NTTs take less than a minute to charge. I can believe that. I think I have seen trains get out of FB like a minute after they get in. I will look more closely from now on

          • Allan Rosen

            I see your point about average headway, but I was thinking about the headway after the delay started, not averaging the headways before and after the delay started. As for the rest of the discussion, I have had about enough.

      • Andrew

        First of all, you are making the assumption that it has to be either or. Bus Time on phones and computers or arrival times (or distances) at shelters. It should be both.

        If resources were unlimited, then we could certainly have both. But resources are not unlimited, and a full systemwide implementation at over 15,000 bus stops would have been far more costly and would have taken much longer.

        And if its not at the shelters, CEMUSA needs to provide some transit info on the shelters (at least routes and maps) as it was contracted to do.

        Of course, but that’s a different issue.

        Second if the MTA risks a lawsuit by posting times at bus shelters, why can they do this at subway stations? “ArrivalStar has sued the MTA and the MBTA in Boston for allegedly infringing its patents by telling riders when to expect their train or bus to arrive.” So will the MTA remove its countdown clocks from the subways?

        I am not a lawyer. Presumably any lawsuits to be filed have already been filed. Perhaps the MTA has already settled with regard to the subway countdown clocks but is unwilling to go through the same process (and expense) for buses as well. Perhaps ArrivalStar’s patents don’t cover subway systems. I don’t know.

        And if there are some legalities that have to be resolved, why can’t the MTA license Nextbus to provide the information and why was the information inaccurate when the MTA tried to provide it themselves?

        NextBus already provides the information on its own website and via text message. The MTA doesn’t have to license anything.

        What information was inaccurate? I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

        I didn’t know that all the routes show up by texting a single bus stop code because on the desktop, you have to pick one of the routes before asking for the code, so you have to ask twice there.

        No you don’t. If you search for a specific route, it will only show you information about that route. But if you search for a location, it will zoom into that location, and when you click on a bus stop, it will give you information on all the routes serving that stop. Try it out.

        I did not say that it wasn’t important to know where the next bus was. What I said was that for 30 years, the MTA took the position that they wanted to know where there buses were to better regulate them and in recent years the primary reason for GPS was just to inform the passenger of wait times, not to better control the buses.

        Both are worthwhile goals. Unlike his predecessors, Jay Walder deliberately tried to highlight improvements that would be directly visible to the public. Lots of people get excited if they can suddenly see when the bus is coming. Far fewer get excited if they read somewhere that a new system is in place that can help dispatchers make service more reliable.

        Look at ATS-A on the subway, which gives dispatchers information about where all the IRT trains are. A very useful development, but you didn’t hear much excitement about it when it went live 6 or 7 years ago. But when it started feeding PA/CIS (rebranded “countdown clocks” by Walder), the world was atwitter.

        BusTime has both direct and indirect benefits to the rider, but trumpeting the direct benefits is just good PR.

        If it is also used for this purpose, that would be great, but the MTA certainly is keeping it quiet that it is using it for that purpose which I regard as more important than only telling you how long you have to wait which is also important.

        I already gave you three citations nine months ago and you’re still acting surprised?

        Bus riders already have cell signals through no intervention by the MTA. I still wonder how important it is for subway passengers to have it, and I would rather MTA employees not spend their time on this. It obviously isn’t something that can be done with little effort, since it has to be done a few stations at a time.

        From http://www.mta.info/news/stories/?story=400: “Transit Wireless and the carriers are paying 100 percent of the cost of the project, estimated at up to $200 million, including the cost of NYC Transit forces that provide flagging, protection and other support services. The MTA and Transit Wireless would also evenly split revenues from occupancy fees paid by the wireless carriers and other sub-licensees of the network. Transit Wireless will pay the MTA a minimum annual compensation of $3.3 million once the full build out of the network is complete.”

        Many bus lanes have been in existence for 40 years and do not work well because there is little or no enforcement except for SBS routes. They can make a huge difference if enforced. I remember being delayed about 7 minutes in a three block area when I rode the B46 daily in the late 1960s just because a single car would park in the bus lane. Yes the MTA can’t control traffic, but I question ho hard they have been working with the city on enforcement or if they’ve just washed their hands with the traffic issue.

        If the NYPD is unwilling to enforce bus lanes, the blame is on the NYPD’s shoulders.

        There is one way to get around the NYPD intransigence: cameras. Unfortunately, Albany has to approve the use of traffic cameras on buses. The MTA has been trying for years to gain Albany’s approval, and won a slight concession in 2010 when Albany consented to allow cameras on SBS routes only. It’s not good enough but it’s still a step in the right direction.

        Their responses to bus bunching complaints in the 1970s was that it was solely due to traffic and beyond their responsibility. Not true. That is only one of the causes. Additional factors are unrealistic schedules that cannot be met. I’ve had bus drivers tell me that in order for them to arrive at the end of the route on schedule, they must leave two minutes early because it is not possible to meet the scheduled running time. They complained to management but nothing was done. Sometimes buses leave their terminal already bunched as I have previously documented. The MTA can do more. It is a very important problem that has not received he attention it deserves. That is probably the most important point in the article.

        Fortunately, the data gathered by BusTime can be used to improve scheduled running times a lot better than a few spot checks.

        There are plenty of bus routes that have way too much running time scheduled, and buses crawl the whole way to avoid being ahead of schedule. That’s not good service either.

        Since 1990, the MTA has been responding to letters regarding bus bunching complaints that once GPS is installed all over, bus bunching will be controlled, rather than addressing the specific issues as they arose. Now they are returning to their 1970 response that bus bunching is solely due to traffic and beyond their control. They are no longer promising that GPS tracking will reduce it. As I said, if it does that would be great.

        Bus bunching is a complex issue. GPS is one tool that can be used to keep it in check, but GPS alone can never solve the problem entirely. I have a feeling you’re looking for a simplistic answer to a complex issue. You won’t find one.

        • Allan Rosen

          “If resources were unlimited, then we could certainly have both. But resources are not unlimited, and a full system-wide
          implementation at over 15,000 bus stops would have been far more costly…”

          There you go again twisting my words. I was talking bus shelters, not bus stops. I believe there are only about 3,000 bus
          shelters. If resources are the issue, there is always the possibility of incorporating advertising into the displays or giving priority to shelters where buses stop infrequently since those are more important than routes that operate frequently operate much of the time. It also can be phased in over time as resources permit.

          Also, I would not leave the decision to community boards since some of the shelter locations they chose are near the ends of routes where they are very lightly used, while other more heavily used stops still lack shelters.

          “NextBus already provides the information on its own website and via text message. The MTA doesn’t have to license anything.”

          They would if they provide estimated times at shelters if they would violate a patent by NextBus that gives NextBus sole right to provide such information. I am not a lawyer either, but if they develop the information independently and not using anything developed by NextStar, I do not see any possibility of infringement.

          “What information was inaccurate? I’m not sure what you’re referring to.”

          Wasn’t that the problem with the MTA’s in-house pilot on 34th Street, that arrival times kept changing and were inaccurate?

          “Far fewer get excited if they read somewhere that a new system is in place that can help dispatchers make service more reliable.”

          I disagree. Riders would be enthralled to finally learn that something is being done to make buses more reliable. Unreliability is their chief complaint against buses, more so than slow buses and infrequent service.

          “Jay Walder deliberately tried to highlight improvements that would be directly visible to the public.”

          Sometimes that is not the best strategy. WMATA was more interested in expanding the system because of its visibility, rather than properly maintaining what they had, and are now paying the price.

          “Look at ATS-A on the subway, which gives dispatchers information about where all the IRT trains are. A very useful development, but you didn’t hear much excitement about it when it went live 6 or 7 years ago.”

          Didn’t the MTA have the ability to know where all its trains were at the Command Center long before that?

          “BusTime has both direct and indirect benefits to the rider, but trumpeting the direct benefits is just good PR.”

          Also trumpeting the indirect benefits is better PR, unless the MTA isn’t sure it can deliver on those and didn’t want to make false promises.

          “Fortunately, the data gathered by BusTime can be used to improve scheduled running times a lot better than a few spot checks. There are plenty of bus routes that have way too much running time scheduled…”

          That is not the way schedules are developed. At least when I was in Surface, cars would simulate the route of the bus to account for traffic. Unfortunately, frequently not enough time was allowed for passengers to embark and alight. But as you stated, schedules that are too slack are also a problem. The MTA is often reluctant to add running time where needed to avoid increased operating costs. Perhaps if they also reduced the slack where it exists, the costs would balance out.

          “Bus bunching is a complex issue.”

          Yes it is and a very important one as well that has not received the attention it deserves. When questioned about it, the MTA either blamed traffic, said it will be addressed once GPS is installed, and now deflects the issue by stating how SBS will make the buses more reliable with their own lanes, when that will do nothing for the vast majority of bus routes even when the program is fully implemented.

          • Andrew

            There you go again twisting my words. I was talking bus shelters, not bus stops. I believe there are only about 3,000 bus

            Why would you only post the information at some bus stops but not at others?

            Still, my point stands even with “only” 3300 shelters – that’s a heck of a lot of signs to install. Don’t you think it makes sense to start with a system that anybody with a cell phone can use from any bus stop, designed so that anybody who wants to post service information in their business (or home) window can do so? There’s nothing in the design that precludes physical signs at bus stops – on the contrary, there is always the option to install signs at selected stops as demand and budgets allow.

            If resources are the issue, there is always the possibility of incorporating advertising into the displays or giving priority to shelters where buses stop infrequently since those are more important than routes that operate frequently operate much of the time.

            Shelters already incorporate advertising.

            I would say that the ability to check arrivals before leaving home, not at the bus stop, is most valuable where buses are infrequent – I’d rather know that I have a long wait before I get to the stop. Also, infrequent buses are typically relatively low-ridership, and installing signs on low-ridership routes raises bang-for-the-buck questions.

            If signs are installed anywhere, they should be at busy transfer points and hubs, where a single sign serves a lot of people.

            It also can be phased in over time as resources permit.

            Exactly. So let’s start with a citywide system that can be used anywhere and afterwards, if there is demand and available funding, install signs at selected stops.

            Also, I would not leave the decision to community boards since some of the shelter locations they chose are near the ends of routes where they are very lightly used, while other more heavily used stops still lack shelters.

            Any body or agency can post signs as long as it has the funding to do so. The system is fully open. The MTA has invited businesses to post signs in their windows; I see no reason that they would object to similar signs inside shelters.

            They would if they provide estimated times at shelters if they would violate a patent by NextBus that gives NextBus sole right to provide such information. I am not a lawyer either, but if they develop the information independently and not using anything developed by NextStar, I do not see any possibility of infringement.

            ArrivalStar does not have an actual product. They simply sue agencies and companies that violate a supposed patent and offer to settle for less than it would cost to litigate.

            I’m not sure of the relationship between NextBus and ArrivalStar. It seems like NextBus might be an independent company that has paid ArrivalStar to leave them alone, but I don’t know.

            Wasn’t that the problem with the MTA’s in-house pilot on 34th Street, that arrival times kept changing and were inaccurate?

            The pilot on 34th Street was a proprietary Clever Devices system. It was not in-house. Clever Devices offered the pilot for free, to try to entice the MTA to buy it for the rest of the system, but instead the MTA opted for an open system instead.

            I disagree. Riders would be enthralled to finally learn that something is being done to make buses more reliable. Unreliability is their chief complaint against buses, more so than slow buses and infrequent service.

            You are not a typical rider. The average rider doesn’t care about systems they don’t see up front. Subway riders didn’t care about ATS-A until it started feeding information to PA/CIS, and then suddenly they cared a lot. Any improvement in reliability would be gradual, which riders are less likely to notice than a sudden change like bus arrival information.

            Sometimes that is not the best strategy. WMATA was more interested in expanding the system because of its visibility, rather than properly maintaining what they had, and are now paying the price.

            I’ve always been a big proponent of unglamorous projects like signal system replacements, that are expensive and disruptive but necessary for continued reliability of the subway system. But when a project has some aspects that are immediately visible to the public and others that are not, it makes sense from a PR perspective to focus on the visible components. That doesn’t make the less-visible components any less important, but most riders don’t find them exciting.

            Didn’t the MTA have the ability to know where all its trains were at the Command Center long before that [ATS-A]?

            Most certainly not!

            http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/cadiv/segb/views/document/sections/Section8/8_5_1.htm

            To this day, there is no centralized view of all of the trains on the B Division. Local and master towers have model boards that show trains within a particular area, but that’s it – and the boards can’t distinguish one route from another.

            Also trumpeting the indirect benefits is better PR, unless the MTA isn’t sure it can deliver on those and didn’t want to make false promises.

            Again, that isn’t how things work in the real world. For most people, sudden changes that they can instantly see are exciting, while behind-the-scenes changes that lead over time to gradual changes are not. That’s not to say they’re not valuable, but most people don’t find them exciting.

            That is not the way schedules are developed. At least when I was in Surface, cars would simulate the route of the bus to account for traffic. Unfortunately, frequently not enough time was allowed for passengers to embark and alight. But as you stated, schedules that are too slack are also a problem. The MTA is often reluctant to add running time where needed to avoid increased operating costs. Perhaps if they also reduced the slack where it exists, the costs would balance
            out.

            A lot has changed since you were in Surface.

            I haven’t seen any reluctance to add running time to schedules once it’s determined that more running time is needed.

            Yes it is and a very important one as well that has not received the attention it deserves. When questioned about it, the MTA either blamed traffic, said it will be addressed once GPS is installed, and now deflects the issue by stating how SBS will make the buses more reliable with their own lanes, when that will do nothing for the vast majority of bus routes even when the program is fully implemented.

            It’s been getting a lot of attention. You don’t hear about all of it in press releases.

            SBS is a targeted effort to improve service on specific busy corridors. There’s nothing wrong with using limited resources to make improvements where they’d help the greatest number of people. Are you suggesting that, if bus lanes aren’t installed everywhere, that they shouldn’t be installed anywhere?

          • Allan Rosen

            “Why would you only post the information at some bus stops but not at others?”

            We are talking about electronic digital displays, right? I can’t imagine them free-standing at bus stops. Does anyone do that? But they have been incorporated into the shelters, and CEMUSA was contracted anyway to provide transit information which they are not doing. As Lander’s proposed legislation states, some type of arrangement should be made with them.

            “Don’t you think it makes sense to start with a system that anybody with a cell phone can use from any bus stop…”

            No one said no to this, so why are you asking the question? You keep stating that it has to be either or: cell phone info or at bus stop. That was never the issue. The issue was that the MTA reneged on its promise to provide the info at bus shelters.

            “Shelters already incorporate advertising.”

            Doesn’t mean there couldn’t be more in an alternating display. The ones I saw in Chicago indoors that did that worked very well. If something like that could be provided in an outdoor environment where the advertisers pick up the cost, it’s worth investigating.

            “If signs are installed anywhere, they should be at busy transfer points and hubs, where a single sign serves a lot of people.”

            We are talking about displays, not signs. Yes, a single display serves a lot of people but how useful is it when buses arrive every few minutes most of the time and you can just look up in most cases and see if a bus is coming or not in the next five minutes and can even read the route number much of the time?
            Countdown clocks are far more useful on routes with infrequent service.

            “Any body or agency can post signs as long as it has the funding to do so.”

            I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. We are talking about displays that most likely would need some type of maintenance, not just signs. What id they are put up and never serviced or updated when schedules change? There has to be some type of overseeing body. Inaccurate information is worse than none at all.

            “They simply sue agencies and companies that violate a supposed patent and offer to settle for less than it would cost to litigate.”

            That’s a problem with the legal system. There needs to be penalties for frivolous lawsuits. The legal system is used to harass people unfairly too often.

            “Clever Devices offered the pilot for free” (34th Street)”

            But the trials in 2005, definitely weren’t free. From the Daily News link I provided:

            ‘In the summer of 2005, the MTA awarded a contract to Siemens for a $13 million pilot program featuring countdown clocks along six Manhattan bus routes. The program fell more than a year behind schedule and the MTA eventually pulled it because clocks, or electronic message boards, were displaying estimated arrival times that were too far off the mark.’

            “To this day, there is no centralized view of all of the trains on the B Division.”

            I won’t argue the point if you say so, but I don’t understand how that could be all these years, especially after a new command center was built. Why would you build a new one for only a portion of the system? Makes no sense.

            “A lot has changed since you were in Surface.”

            How would you know how schedules are developed? You don’t work there or even for the MTA. Please provide your sources to substantiate that schedules are developed using spot checks as you have alleged, and not by driving the route.

            “I haven’t seen any reluctance to add running time to schedules once it’s determined that more running time is needed.”

            Again, how would you know if you don’t work there? I’ve had bus drivers tell me that it is impossible to make certain time points during some times of the day and their complaints are not listened to.

            “It’s been getting a lot of attention. (bus bunching). You don’t hear about all of it in press releases.”

            Again, how would you know if you don’t work there. Where are you getting your inside information from or are you just making it up?

            “Are you suggesting that, if bus lanes aren’t installed everywhere, that they shouldn’t be installed anywhere?”

            I never stated or implied that. The way you twist facts and put words in other people’s mouth, you are in the wrong profession unless you are a lawyer or politician.

          • Andrew

            We are talking about electronic digital displays, right? I can’t imagine them free-standing at bus stops. Does anyone do that?

            http://www.flickr.com/photos/downtownny/5020522680/in/photostream/

            (Lander himself discusses this possibility.)

            No one said no to this, so why are you asking the question? You keep stating that it has to be either or: cell phone info or at bus stop. That was never the issue. The issue was that the MTA reneged on its promise to provide the info at bus shelters.

            Because you have declared the lack of physical displays at bus stops to stem from “bias against buses” – even though what buses have (information accessible by computer or cell phone) is far more useful than what the subways had until a few days ago (information only accessible once at the station).

            The MTA did not promise to do anything. The MTA executed several contracts, which failed, for physical displays – contracts which were written long before cell phones were as commonplace as they are today. Having given up on those efforts, the MTA later took an in-house, open systems approach to track buses, one which specifically distributed the information by cell phone and computer, not by physical display. Physical displays at bus stops were never part of the BusTime project. What made sense when cell phones were uncommon is no longer the best approach today.

            You are judging a current project based on the goals of a past project, one which was abandoned, one whose specific goals no longer make as much sense as they used to.

            Doesn’t mean there couldn’t be more in an alternating display. The ones I saw in Chicago indoors that did that worked very well. If something like that could be provided in an outdoor environment where the advertisers pick up the cost, it’s worth investigating.

            I’m not an advertising expert, but there’s only so much advertising that people can digest in one location – if the shelter is already covered in advertising, I don’t know how much more the advertisers would pay for more advertisements on a next-bus display.

            If the city wants to look into it, of course I wouldn’t object in the slightest. I don’t see what the MTA has to do with it – the shelters are DOT’s responsibility and the MTA is already providing the information that would feed any hypothetical display.

            We are talking about displays, not signs. Yes, a single display serves a lot of people but how useful is it when buses arrive every few minutes most of the time and you can just look up in most cases and see if a bus is coming or not in the next five minutes and can even read the route number much of the time?
            Countdown clocks are far more useful on routes with infrequent service.

            I’m talking about electronic signs. Displays. Call them what you like.

            As I said before, if the bus is infrequent, it’s especially important to be able to check how far away the bus is before leaving home. At busy transfer points, displays can help people decide which of several options to use.

            I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. We are talking about displays that most likely would need some type of maintenance, not just signs. What id they are put up and never serviced or updated when schedules change? There has to be some type of overseeing body. Inaccurate information is worse than none at all.

            The displays would receive information from the BusTime server – just like your computer or cell phone does today. Does the MTA need to service your computer or cell phone when the bus schedules change? Of course not – that’s done in software at their end.

            That’s a problem with the legal system. There needs to be penalties for frivolous lawsuits. The legal system is used to harass people unfairly too often.

            No argument there, but for now we’re stuck with the system we have.

            But the trials in 2005, definitely weren’t free. From the Daily News link I provided:

            ‘In the summer of 2005, the MTA awarded a contract to Siemens for a $13 million pilot program featuring countdown clocks along six Manhattan bus routes. The program fell more than a year behind schedule and the MTA eventually pulled it because clocks, or electronic message boards, were displaying estimated arrival times that were too far off the mark.’

            The failed Siemens project was on the M15 (and possibly other routes based out of 126th St. depot), not on the M34. The recently discontinued M34 system came later, and it was a Clever Devices pilot.

            I won’t argue the point if you say so, but I don’t understand how that could be all these years, especially after a new command center was built. Why would you build a new one for only a portion of the system? Makes no sense.

            Because there’s a lot more to it than building a physical command center. Designing a system that can automatically track and route trains across the entire A Division is not simple, and the B Division is much larger than the A Division. If funding becomes available, of course, ATS could be expanded to the B Division, but it isn’t there yet.

            This is all explained – in connection with the lack of countdown clocks or SubwayTime on the B Division – in the SubwayTime announcement. Scroll down to the last section, “Sustained Investment Makes Real-Time Information Possible.”

            How would you know how schedules are developed? You don’t work there or even for the MTA. Please provide your sources to substantiate that schedules are developed using spot checks as you have alleged, and not by driving the route.

            Hold on a second. How about you provide your sources for a change?

            As I’ve said several times, I know people who do planning (now, not in 1981) for several agencies. I asked two about this. Both laughed when I suggested driving the route. The only reason to drive the route is to come up with a rough estimate of running time for a new route that doesn’t exist yet. For existing routes, the way to adjust scheduled running times is to gather as much data as possible on actual running times of actual buses.

            Again, how would you know if you don’t work there? I’ve had bus drivers tell me that it is impossible to make certain time points during some times of the day and their complaints are not listened to.

            Maybe the problem is only at certain narrow times of day, and without a very large sample size, it’s impossible to pick that out of the data. Maybe there’s simply a lot of randomness on that line, and on some days the route simply takes much longer than on others. Maybe those particular bus drivers driver slower than average.

            But schedules certainly should not be adjusted simply because a bus driver claims there’s a problem.

            Again, how would you know if you don’t work there. Where are you getting your inside information from or are you just making it up?

            Where do you get your information from? You’ve concluded that they don’t think bunching is a major issue. How do you know? They don’t pick up the phone and call you to chat about everything that they think is important.

            I never stated or implied that. The way you twist facts and put words in other people’s mouth, you are in the wrong profession unless you are a lawyer or politician.

            You stated that SBS is a “deflection” of the issue because it only addresses the problem on a few bus routes. I responded that SBS is a partial solution, on a few of the busiest corridors in the city, and that addressing the problems with bus service on a few busy routes is much better than nothing.

            Do you agree or disagree? If solving all problems in one go is not feasible, is it better to solve a few problems in targeted locations or is it better to do nothing at all?

          • BrooklynBus

            “Because you have declared the lack of physical displays at bus stops to stem from “bias against buses” – even though what buses have (information accessible by computer or cell phone) is far more useful than what the subways had until a few days ago (information only accessible once at the station).”

            Most of the bus system still does not have bus time yet. In Brooklyn, only two out of the 60+ routes have it now.

            “The MTA did not promise to do anything…Physical displays at bus stops were never part of the BusTime project.”

            Whether it was called Bus Time or something else, the fact remains that the MTA has been promising arrival times at bus stops since the 1990s and now have changed their mind.

            “What made sense when cell phones were uncommon is no longer the best approach today.”

            The Alliance for Downtown NY obviously does not agree. And how come they can provide estimated times rather than distances?

            “I’m not an advertising expert, but there’s only so much advertising that people can digest in one location – ”

            If you look at the design of the current ad space at the bus shelter, you will notice a small panel above the large ad space that in Brooklyn is usually just white space. Sometimes there is a second ad in that space. That suspiciously looks like it was designed to hold bus arrival times. If there can be an ad there full time, it certainly could be there for part of the time alternating with bus information.

            “The displays would receive information from the BusTime server – just like your computer or cell phone does today. Does the MTA need to service your computer or cell phone when the bus schedules change? Of course not – that’s done in software
            at their end.”

            That has nothing to do with maintenance which was the point I was making. I guess the displays would never break down and would never need maintenance.

            “Where do you get your information from? You’ve concluded that they don’t think bunching is a major issue. How do you know?”

            Because for the past 60 years, since the creating of the NYCTA, little has been done to reduce an epidemic problem with the bus system which affects at least 30 percent of the buses all through the day even on routes with 20 or 30 minute headways. All we’ve heard are either excuses, promises, or that it is not our problem. That’s how I know.

            “I responded that SBS is a partial solution (on bus bunching), on a few of the busiest corridors in the city…”

            Partial solution? I don’t think so. There are over 300 local bus routes, and there will never be more than 10 or 20 SBS routes, and besides, I’ve heard that SBS buses bunch also on First and Second Avenue.

          • Andrew

            BusTime is not a completed product yet. The rollout schedule called for two boroughs (Staten Island and the Bronx) by the end of 2012 and the rest of the city by the end of 2013. SubwayTime only works on the IRT (and not even the 7 yet), and there are no plans (beyond vague “explorations”) to expand it to the B Division aside from the L. As I’ve explained, that’s because the B Division doesn’t have ATS. What bias against buses?

            Your idea of a promise is a strange one. In 1996, the MTA executed two contracts, with Orbital Sciences Corporation and with Transportation Management Solutions, to implement a proprietary bus tracking and customer information system at one depot. Since cell phones were still uncommon (and smartphones were unheard of) in 1996, the only customer information component included was displays at bus stops. OSC was unable to implement a reliable system and the contracts were terminated in 2001. Yes, I suppose the MTA could have insisted that OSC and TMS fulfill their contracts. And we would have ended up with an expensive, proprietary system at one depot that incorporated displays but not phones – a proprietary system that could not have been expanded beyond its initial reach without paying the initial vendor for an expansion. And you would have, presumably, been happy that the MTA kept its “promise.” But I am happy that the MTA recognized the problems, terminated the contracts, and ultimately decided to take an open-systems approach focused on providing the information first and foremost to the various devices (computers and cell phones) that have become commonplace but with the openness to allow anybody to extend that information anywhere else.

            The Downtown Alliance is entitled to set its own priorities. Bear in mind that the Downtown Alliance has funding to operate a free bus service. The Downtown Alliance obtained funding from State Senator Daniel Squadron in conjunction with DOT to install and maintain next bus signs at its 37 stops. The MTA has over 15,000 bus stops, and I’m not aware of any funding source for equipping them with new signs – are you? The Downtown Alliance has also paid for the proprietary NextBus system, while the MTA has not.

            Yes, I know that there is space for a display. What I said was that advertising is less lucrative when it’s placed directly adjacent to other advertising. (How much would you pay for a small intermittent ad located directly above a large fixed ad?)

          • Allan Rosen

            “SubwayTime only works on the IRT (and not even the 7 yet), and there are no plans (beyond vague “explorations”) to expand it to the B Division aside from the L.”

            Actually, the MTA stated that they intend to have it operational on all lines within 3 years.

            “But I am happy that the MTA recognized the problems, terminated the contracts, and ultimately decided to take an open-systems approach focused on providing the information first and foremost to the various devices (computers and cell phones) that have become commonplace but with the openness to allow anybody to extend that information anywhere else.”

            Yes, an open systems approach was the best, but that still doesn’t rule out displays at the shelters. I guess anyone, seniors especially, who don’t own cell phones, just don’t count in your mind.

            “The Downtown Alliance has also paid for the proprietary NextBus system, while the MTA has not.”

            If it is necessary to pay them to provide time estimates, then it should be done. Distance estimates have limited value on cell phones and on shelter displays.

            “What I said was that advertising is less lucrative when it’s placed directly adjacent to other advertising.”

            Nonsense. The MTA still has subway cars with a multitude of companies advertising next to each other.

            “Bunching is a serious problem faced by every major transit agency in the world. If you were expecting the MTA to completely eradicate all bus bunching”

            Yes, put words in my mouth again. I never said anything about eradicating all bus bunching. Just said that more efforts be made to reduce it so that it is not an epidemic. No reason for a route with 20 minute headways and little traffic to bunch. And it is a much bigger problem here than elsewhere. As I stated, in my three days in Chicago, I didn’t see one bus bunch and I was watching for it all the time. I was constantly riding various bus lines and never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. Their routes also seem to be longer than our routes.

          • Andrew

            Three years? Where did you come up with three years? The press release states that the 7, which is having CBTC installed right now, could join SubwayTime in 2016, but this is all it promises for the B Division: “The MTA has long-term plans in place to upgrade these lines to ATS signaling, pending availability of funding in future capital programs. In the meantime, the MTA is exploring ways of providing real-time arrival estimates using other means. For example, New York City Transit has been experimenting with rudimentary countdown clocks at a number of stations on the lettered lines. And GPS could be used to provide estimates, at least for the elevated portions of routes.” There is simply no way that the B Division in its entirety will have a system of this sort within three years – on the A Division, ATS took 11 years and $228 million to install, and the B Division is significantly larger than the A.

            Nobody’s ruled out displays. As I’ve said over and over again, anybody who wishes to install displays can install displays, picking up the MTA’s data. Until then, the system in place now is far more useful and far less expensive for the vast majority of riders of all age groups.

            I didn’t say that advertising brings in no revenue at all. I merely question the assumption that advertising on a small electronic panel directly above a large colorful permanent ad would bring in enough revenue to pay for installation and maintenance of the panel. As for subway car advertising, you’ve probably noticed that some cars have a single advertiser for the entire car or for one side of the car – that is more lucrative than selling ad space to multiple advertisers, for the reason I gave. Also, remember that a subway car ad has far greater visibility than an ad on a panel at a stop on a low-frequency bus route.

            Three days in Chicago doesn’t give you a complete understanding of the challenges of running a transit system in Chicago, let alone in the rest of the world. The fact remains that bus bunching is a serious problem that all major transit agencies grapple with.

            http://www.ctatattler.com/2008/06/a-cta-drivers-v.html http://articles.redeyechicago.com/2012-08-22/news/33326130_1_slow-zones-cta-bus-route-bus-ridership http://chicago.everyblock.com/announcements/nov02-47th-street-cta-bus-route-consistently-late-last-4390119/ http://gridchicago.com/2012/talk-forrest-talk-the-cta-chief-responds-to-our-transit-questions/

  • onezerosevenprecinct

    Never mind GPS to track drivers. Drivers are resting between runs…er i mean sleeping thru runs on the Q64 on corner of 71 Ave & 164 St (usually on weekend mornings) and in front of the police station on 71 Ave & Parsons during evenings.

    • Allan Rosen

      You definitely should report that. Get bus numbers, routes and exact times. That’s the type of stuff, the MTA does not tolerate.

      • onezerosevenprecinct

        appreciate fwd my complaint. wish a dispatcher was there today January 12, 2013. 7:00am Forest Hils bound Q64 run missed but an empty bus with lights off and “not in service” sign drove right past. no this is not a bus coming from a depot going to another route. i know some buses run empty with lights off in non peak directions after making a run in peak direction but this wasnt the case. next bus was 7:20 and dropped off a weekday like load due to a missed run. this is all too common now on this line.

    • Allan Rosen

      I took the liberty of forwarding your complaint to the MTA. I received the following response:

      “This past weekend we surveyed the terminal on the Q64 and we found that all operators checked were in full compliance. It should also be noted that some operators are required to stay at that location during their meal period”

      They do check out complaints and respond. Sometimes things aren’t always what they seem.

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  • Clifford Carlson

    The MTA hates buses because buses are not a good form of transportation. I once had a two hour commute that traveled about 60 miles. It took one hour by rail for the first 50 miles and one hour by bus for the remaining 10 miles. Urban buses are even worse with the crosstown bus on 42nd st being slower than walking speed.

    • Allan Rosen

      They carry more people than cars and are very suitable in certain situations. They can be made more efficient with better routing. Buses that are slower than walking are the exception not the rule. The MTA certainly isn’t constructing new subway lines to replace buses. You can’t dismiss an entire mode like you just did. Too many depend on it. Ways have to be found to make it better.