THE COMMUTE: I asked if that was the case back in 2010 when I documented 14 buses in a row bypassing bus stops after loading up at Kingsborough Community College. Since then I have done numerous B1 updates documenting service problems. I have written many times to the last two directors of Bus Operations over the past five years. Each time, I promptly received courteous replies and have met with a half dozen operating personnel on about four occasions, assured that the problem would be addressed and Manhattan and Brighton Beach passengers would not be ignored . Yet the problem persists.
Last Wednesday, I had a dinner date in Midtown Manhattan. The subway ride only took 30 minutes, but the wait for the bus to get to the train took another 30 minutes. That nearly doubled my trip time and, as a result, I was 20 minutes late for my appointment. Why did this happen? It wasn’t that buses were not arriving. In fact four in-service buses arrived while I was waiting — three B1 buses and one B49 bus. All were “full” and did not stop. Each bus had room for the two or three intending passengers who would have boarded prior to the subway stop where many get off the bus. This happened between 5:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. I saw it happen again the following day when I was in my car.
Previously, I had similar experiences at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Each time I complained, the MTA posted signs in the bus depots reminding operators they should stop for Manhattan Beach and Brighton Beach passengers. The problem lessened for a time but keeps reoccurring. So why does it happen?
Bus schedules do not allow sufficient time for wheelchairs and for passengers to board and disembark. Buses are frequently late, which causes them to bunch 30 percent of the time. In order to keep to schedule as much as possible, bus operators try to make up time wherever they can. One way is to ignore Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach passengers. The MTA told me that when dispatchers are on duty near the college during peak times, they try to ensure that a bus leaves the terminal every half hour with enough capacity to pick up passengers boarding after the first stop. That is not good enough!
Why should B44 Knapp Street riders receive bus service as frequent as every 3.3 minutes since the installation of SBS, when buses are nearly empty, but a few miles away, a 30-minute wait is okay for Manhattan Beach and Brighton Beach riders whose buses are packed? If that isn’t gross mismanagement, I do not know what is. I have run out of patience after five years of complaining about the same problem.
What Happened With My Trip
So after waiting for 25 minutes and four in-service buses (#9789, #5100, #5087 and another bus whose number I didn’t catch) refusing to stop for me and not willing to wait any longer, I contemplated driving halfway to the subway station and then walking the rest of the way. That was when I realized I could take a bus in the opposite direction one half mile to the college, get off and board another bus back. So I did that when I saw the next bus coming. It took less than one minute to get to the last stop.
I got on the B1, which left the college with only five standees in another minute. We got to the subway two miles away in only four or five minutes. That’s about 30 miles per hour, for those who are calculating speed. We made all four green lights and bypassed only one passenger waiting at West End Avenue, who I thought was waiting for the B49. However, that may have not been the case.
When we arrived at the subway, a passenger asked the driver if this was a B1 bus. So I checked the sign and it read “Next Bus Please.” Although there only were five standees, the operator changed the sign after leaving the college so he could operate non-stop to the subway. That’s why we made it in only five minutes. The five minutes we saved from the scheduled time put the operator closer to being on schedule, although it meant a 30-minute wait or more for anyone waiting in Manhattan Beach or Brighton Beach. Also, there was no dispatcher directing the operator to use his “Next Bus Please” sign. He did it on his own.
How To Fix The Problem
By better supervision, not allowing bus operators to do whatever they please, and making bus schedules realistic to allow sufficient running time. That would prevent most of the problems, but it costs money — money that the MTA is not willing to spend. Buses that bypass intending passengers and force them to wait in all types of bad weather is a problem that won’t be solved by Bus Time. Since statistics are not kept when buses bypass passengers, or how often buses bunch, no one knows of these extra long waits other than the bus passenger. The MTA would rather engage in performing meaningless surveys, than gather real statistics to solve real problems. They would rather run empty B44 SBS buses south of Avenue Y than use those buses to serve real demand at Kingsborough, as I previously suggested. Better serving the college students so that some buses are not filled with 96 passengers during the off-peak will also result in better serving Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach passengers. If the MTA is interested in solving real problems, not only in perpetuating propaganda to convince us they are doing a good job, now is the time to prove that.
Millions were spent on the B44 SBS to save the average bus rider six minutes. However, money is not spent rewriting bus schedules to ensure they are realistic so that bus operators will not have to take extraordinary measures to save time — measures such as skipping bus stops or speeding, which can be dangerous, while passengers are much inconvenienced by waiting 30 minutes or more. Why do they not spend the money where it is needed? Because MTA upper management is not interested in what really happens on the road and they do not have the money to make needed changes because too much is wasted unnecessarily. There are no statistics regarding how often bus operators put up their “Next Bus Please” sign or actual waits encountered for buses. The MTA only cares if buses meet their schedule and how much is spent on overtime — not how well the passenger is served.
Just look at the statistics being collected to assess the success of SBS. No one asks where the statistics are that show the number of bus riders whose trip times are unchanged or are taking longer because of SBS. Everyone is only interested in the buses that are running faster. The negatives are completely ignored. It is like an accountant doing a balance sheet showing assets without liabilities. Would you use such an accountant in your business?
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is gung-ho to greatly expand SBS, although it is not being fairly evaluated and we don’t know how successful it is. Does he really believe that 99 percent of SBS riders and 90 percent of non-riders are satisfied with SBS (Page 19)? Is he aware of all the initial complaints with the B44 SBS?
Why is saving six minutes so important when bus riders routinely waiting 30 minutes for a bus so unimportant?
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.