THE COMMUTE: During its first week of operation, the B44 SBS was widely criticized by former B44 Limited riders for eliminated stops, unreliable, overcrowded and delayed local bus service, inadequate public information regarding the route change and longer walks to SBS stops. I covered these criticisms in my SBS series (parts 1, 2, and 3).
MTA apologists refused to hold the MTA accountable, claiming that these initial problems would be overcome as the MTA would make needed adjustments quickly. That would result in a route that would be better utilized because it would be quicker and reliable, saving time for most riders. The problem I have is we will never know that for sure since only data that supports the MTA’s success story will be shared.
Due to the frigid weather and other commitments, I still have not yet had a chance to personally ride or observe the SBS in operation. However, there have been a few new developments. During the weeks following implementation, Brooklyn bus routes throughout the borough have had notices posted that the SBS operates along Rogers Avenue and not New York Avenue, giving travel advice for former limited riders. They were advised to take a transferring route or walk the extra quarter mile to Rogers Avenue for the SBS. Those signs should have been displayed before the horse left with the barn door open, and would have avoided needless confusion.
Also, there were rumors from a bus driver that the MTA would add three additional local runs to address problems of overcrowding at the February 2nd depot pick. However, schedule changes due to go into effect in April show no proposed adjustments to B44 service.
Where We Stand Now
Despite requests from Councilman Juumane Williams and Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, demanding the addition of the Avenue L SBS stop, and other complaints such as additional traffic problems, which I predicted more than a year ago, the only adjustments made by the MTA and DOT have been to place public information posters inside buses.
To all those who insisted the initial problems experienced during the first week would soon become a distant memory, you were wrong. Problems with this new service still persist as evidenced by a recent email from Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, which stated the following, in part:
“The MTA informed my office in a letter dated January 3, 2013 [Ed. — she meant 2014], that although it is in the process of monitoring this new service to evaluate any changes that need to be made, it has no plans to alter the route at this time. Because I do not believe this response adequately addresses the concerns of constituents like you, I sent the MTA a follow up letter to emphasize the importance of preserving an open dialog with neighborhood residents and B44 bus riders.”
Her response to the MTA included the following:
“…many community members were unable to attend the public meetings…or were unaware that the meetings were happening. Based on feedback I’ve received…it is my belief that many riders did not know that the new service was being implemented until it was operational…
“At local stops, riders have been experiencing very long waits for the bus, and buses tend to be very crowded; at the same time, they notice several select buses passing by that are apparently nearly empty. The wait times are particularly problematic as the weather gets colder.”
Community residents have also informed my office that they do not believe enough local buses are being dispatched as compared to the select buses.
Riders who purchase tickets for an express bus are not able to use them on the local bus if it arrives first, forcing them to wait longer for a select bus or necessitating that they pay their fare twice.
Buses are frequently arriving at stops in “bunches” instead of being spaced apart, as per their posted schedule.
More Is Needed
The public information notice installed on buses weeks after SBS implementation requests riders to walk an additional one quarter of a mile to Rogers Avenue or take a connecting bus route. What the MTA failed to address is that since there are no north / south bus routes between New York Avenue and Utica Avenue, many riders are already walking a half-mile from Albany Avenue to New York Avenue. Walking further to Rogers Avenue brings their total walk at one end of their trip to about three quarters of a mile, way over the walking guidelines to a bus. If they choose a connecting bus instead as the MTA suggests, they may now have to pay a double fare to complete their trip if they already need a transfer at the end of their trip.
Perhaps all northbound B44 service should be moved to Rogers Avenue — with the B49 rerouted to Ocean Avenue, north of Foster Avenue — to make the route simpler and minimize confusion. However, if that is done, New York Avenue service needs to be replaced with a new bus route either on New York Avenue, Brooklyn Avenue, or Albany Avenue, or most likely on a combination of those streets since neither of those are through streets.
In order for such changes to be made, a comprehensive study of travel needs is required. That was my initial criticism of the B44 SBS back in 2010, that it was planned in a vacuum without considering serving alternative destinations like the Sheepshead Bay train station or Kingsborough Community College, or the need to reroute other bus routes such as the B49. The result is a glut of unneeded service along Rogers Avenue.
The MTA Is Capable Of Performing Comprehensive Studies
In response to a request from Co-Op City in the Bronx for better bus service, the MTA recently released a comprehensive 104 page study assessing travel needs for those residents. It is the most comprehensive bus study by the MTA I have ever seen without the use of consultants. It utilizes MetroCard and Bus Time data, as well as an online survey of residents. I confess that I did not read most of the study or review the results. However, on the surface, it seems like a study with this type of detail is needed in all areas of the city.
I did notice, however, in the survey part assessing satisfaction, the MTA asked a straight-forward question: “Are you very satisfied, satisfied, not satisfied or very unsatisfied with service?” None of this 1 through 10 confusing ranking nonsense their consultants employ. Did my criticism make a difference? Who knows? Not in their favor, the MTA finally acknowledged some trips require a double fare, but offered no proposed solutions.
The effectiveness of the B44 SBS needs to be analyzed utilizing the same type of detail that was employed in the Co-Op City study, considering the route as part of the entire bus system, analyzing the alternatives of restructuring other bus routes, double fares paid, walking distances encountered, etc. Simply declaring the B44 SBS a success based on ridership increases alone, and the fact that buses can make their trips in less time is very misleading. If the MTA can do a comprehensive bus study in the Bronx, they can do one in Brooklyn to assess the effectiveness of the B44 SBS.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
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