The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week, in Part 1, I presented some findings from two hours of observing the B44 and B36 at Nostrand Avenue and Avenue Z. Here are the remainder of my findings and some conclusions and recommendations. You can see the original B44 data here, the B36 data here, and more here.

Average Passenger Loads

The average number of passengers carried by SBS buses at Avenue Z was 3.67 passengers per bus in the northbound direction and 2.52 in the southbound direction. (Note: All SBS buses are of the extra length variety, with more than 60 seats, and standing room that can accommodate at least another 40 passengers.) The average B44 local carried 4.5 passengers in the northbound direction and 1.89 passengers in the southbound direction. One SBS bus carried 10 passengers, and another 14. The remaining 44 buses all carried passengers in the single digits. In other words, the buses were virtually empty.

The total number of SBS passengers carried by all 46 buses passing Avenue Z was 77 going northbound and 63 going southbound or a combined total of 140 passengers. The number of B44 local passengers going northbound at that point was 36 passengers and 17 southbound or a combined total (on 17 buses within two hours) of 53 passengers. Total B44 patronage passing Avenue Z in both directions on the local and SBS was 193 passengers on 63 buses.

Compare that with B36 ridership. The average B36 bus carried 16.5 passengers leaving Avenue Z northbound, which is the off-peak direction. Toward Sheepshead Bay station, the average B36 carried 41.5 passengers. The least crowded bus carried nine passengers, while the most crowded one carried 92 passengers. (I computed 92 passengers by counting 52 standees as the bus left the Avenue Z stop bound for Coney Island. Eleven passengers boarded through the front door and six through the rear because the bus was too crowded in front for any more passengers, although boarding through the rear is illegal on non-SBS buses.) There was a total of 912 B36 passengers traveling toward Sheepshead Bay station and another 314 going toward Avenue U, for a total of 1,226 passengers on 41 buses.

Summarizing, the total number of 63 B44 buses passing Avenue Z within a two hour period carried 193 passengers, while the total number of 41 B36 buses carried 1,226 passengers within the same period! In other words the B36 carried 6.3 times the number of B44 passengers at this point with one third fewer buses, a gross misallocation of resources.

It is important that the MTA match its service to demand if they are to operate an efficient system. It is clear that in this portion of Sheepshead Bay that is not the case. Resources are being wasted, which are sorely needed on other routes, such as the B1, whose drivers routinely bypass passengers due to overcrowded buses.

Few conclusions can be drawn from a singular two-hour survey at one location, but the following is clear:

Conclusions
B36 bus service reliability is horrendous and, because of that, car services are starting to take advantage. One car service passed by the intersection I was watching twice and I saw about a half dozen green cabs patrolling the streets in search of potential bus passengers.

There is virtually no demand for a quick B44 SBS service to Brooklyn College and points north from points south of Avenue X, just as I predicted. The amount of B44 SBS service provided south of Avenue X is excessive, averaging between two and four passengers per articulated bus, which has a capacity of well above 100 passengers.

The MTA predicted that Plumb Beach riders would choose the B44 over the B4 and B36 serving Sheepshead Bay station. However, the B4 continues to carry between 160 and 200 passengers in the two-hour peak to Sheepshead Bay, and the B36 about 1,000. That is 12 times as many passengers as the B44 SBS, which only carries about 100 passengers even if we assume that an additional 33 percent of the passengers board at Avenue X.

Recommendations

  1. Fewer SBS buses should serve Knapp Street, because of a predicted demand that never materialized. I do not agree with CB15, which suggested the MTA utilize regular length buses on the SBS instead of standard length buses. These buses do get utilized further down the route, and the entire service cannot be planned according to ridership in Sheepshead Bay.
  2. However, B44 SBS buses could operate with nearly full loads in the off-peak direction on school days. That is, if alternate buses served Kingsborough Community College directly on school days, as I proposed earlier. The MTA rejected that idea because of “funding limitations.”
  3. Buses could also be much more efficient in the off-peak direction if SBS buses operated to the Sheepshead Bay station instead of Knapp Street if that were possible, and that alternative was chosen. The MTA failed to keep its promise to evaluate this suggestion. Speaking of broken promises, additional B44 locals were promised but never materialized. Only the SBS schedule was revised, which now permits a direct ride between Knapp Street and Williamsburg without a change of bus. Judging from the average two to four people aboard at Avenue Z, the demand for that service is also questionable.
  4. The MTA must make a much better effort to operate buses closer to schedule. Waiting 37 minutes for a bus scheduled at every 15 minutes; waiting 31 minutes for a bus scheduled at every 12 minutes, or waiting 16 minutes for service scheduled at every eight minutes is unacceptable. Pre-paying your fare at a machine costing $50,000 each, excluding maintenance, could conceivably cost you 15 minutes if it causes you to miss the bus, while the bus has the potential of saving the average passenger only 4.4 minutes. The only statistic you will hear from the MTA is how buses save 25 minutes from one end of the route to the other. If 10 people a day are making that trip, it would be a lot.

Having four B36s make the turn from Avenue Z to Nostrand Avenue within seconds of each other, all in service, at 8:36 a.m. is also inexcusable when the scheduled headway is every six minutes. The operating people and supervision do try, but without the proper resources from management, their task is all but impossible, and limited to putting out fires.

The MTA needs to pay better attention to the needs of the riding public. Rather than be a victim of its own arrogance, thinking they can fool the public with phony statistics, such as 99 percent of the riding public are satisfied with SBS. The methodology employed is like asking people to rate their current job satisfaction. A majority would rate their job satisfaction above 50 percent.

All that means is they would rather continue working at their current job than look for another one. It does not mean that 99 percent are satisfied with their current job. It is a known fact that the public is generally unhappy with all MTA bus service, not that 75 percent are satisfied with service reliability, according to the MTA.

As long as the MTA continues to waste resources by providing excessive service where it is not needed, inadequate service where additional service is needed, and does not more effectively reduce bus bunching, the system will never be run efficiently and we all lose.

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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  • Marine Park resident

    Also it would have been a good idea to have a free transfer between SBS and a local bus, that won’t affect the transfer to another bus bus or subway.

    • Allan Rose

      I’ve also said that from the beginning.

  • fdtutf

    “It is a known fact that the public is generally unhappy with all MTA bus service, not that 75 percent are satisfied with service reliability, according to the MTA.”
    Known how?

    • Allan Rosen

      Just talk to people.

      So now you are arguing that most are satisfied with local bus service? Isn’t the major reason for SBS that most avoid local buses like the plague because thye are so slow? You can’t have it both ways, saying people hate local buses so we need faster SBS ones, and at the same time say 75% are satisfied with local bus service. That’s called talking out of both sides of your mouth.

      • fdtutf

        “Just talk to people”? On what planet is that a reliable way to assess public opinion? Opinion surveys are a rather complex science for a reason. You might want to look up, and think about, the concept of “statistical validity.”

        “So now you are arguing that most are satisfied with local bus service?”

        I’m not arguing anything; I questioned the basis for your assertion that “the public is generally unhappy with all MTA bus service.” You yourself said “all MTA bus service,” so I don’t know why you’re now trying to ascribe to me an argument that “most are satisfied with local bus service.” You’re not making any sense at all.

        • Allan Rosen

          I stated that most, meaning more than 50%, are not satisfied with MTA bus service, not that 75% are satisfied as the MTA claims. You asked me how I know most are unhappy. That would lead me to conclude that you disagree and think most are satisfied. Now you state you are not arguing anything. So I don’t think you are making any sense. And what makes you think that the MTA randomly calling up several hundred people is more statistically valid than you asking a few hundred bus riders yourself? The MTA survey wasn’t scientific at all because many bus routes were not even represented. Also, it was biased by surveying more riders of routes with frequent service than routes that operate less frequently. So the results woud come out more favorably than if all routes were surveyed equally. Peope will generally be happier with routes scheduled at every three minutes than every 30 minutes.

          • fdtutf

            “You asked me how I know most are unhappy. That would lead me to conclude that you disagree and think most are satisfied.”

            That conclusion is erroneous. I don’t have an opinion in the matter. I am just questioning where your “known facts” come from.

            “And what makes you think that the MTA randomly calling up several hundred people is more statistically valid than you asking a few hundred bus riders yourself?”

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_survey#Sample_and_polling_methods

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_survey#Potential_for_inaccuracy

            Professional survey designers take those things into account. Walking around asking people randomly doesn’t. I ask you again to investigate and consider the concept of “statistical validity.”

            “Peope will generally be happier with routes scheduled at every three minutes than every 30 minutes.”

            I think this is a valid point. If they’re not already (I don’t know), the MTA should be surveying riders of each line separately. I know that’s a hell of a lot of lines, but it’s the only way to get valid results.

          • Allan Rosen

            One problem with the MTA survey was the very small survey size which limited conclusions to very general ones. No specific route conclusions could be drawn. When you do the arithmetic, you see that routes with very heavy ridership like the B41 only had about six respondents. The typical route had only about two respondents, while lightly utilized routes like the B4 were most likely ignored altogether.

            So I fail to see how that survey was at all statistically valid for determining satisfaction related to bus reliability.
            When I performed my statistically valid bus survey on four routes in 1975 for the Department of City Planning of 8,000 bus riders, the chief complaint by over 50% of the riders was bus reliability. (The MTA only surveyed about 800 riders citywide.)

            Of course if you ask them, the MTA will cite budget constraints why the survey size isn’t larger.

          • Allan Rosen

            Yes, it is no longer 1975, but I really doubt that more people today are satisfied with reliability, since it really hasn’t improved any. What has changed is the number of complaints about bus drivers and the buses themselves. Riders no longer complain the the A/C does not work or that bus drivers do not pull over to the curb or kneel their buses. Those were also real problems in 1975, but have been much alleviated since and are no longer rider concerns. But bus reliability is still the major concern and any valid survey will reveal that.

            But the MTA isn’t interested in what te riders think. They only use surveys for propaganda purposes to show how great they are doing and will structure the surveys to prove that. It has always been that way. Back in the 1970s the MTA would boast 95% on time subway performance. Everyone knew that number sounded suspicious so when the methodology was revealed, it turned out tat any train arriving between five minutes early and five minutes late was marked on time

          • Allan Rosen

            although some lines were operating at two minute headways during rush hours. When they were forced to change their methodology, the statistics dropped by 20% for on time performance to 75% of the trains operating on time.

          • LLQBTT

            From what I can see, nothing at all has changed in terms of reliability and service levels. Routes such as the B68, have the exact same problems they had in 1975, bunching, long waits, crowding, service levels not matched to service needs, slow service and the like.

          • Andrew

            They only use surveys for propaganda purposes to show how great they are doing and will structure the surveys to prove that.

            Actually, I suspect that they primarily use surveys to set priorities and to monitor progress from one year to the next. (But what do I know?)

          • Allan Rosen

            That would make sense if the surveys weren’t so slanted in their favor. If they really wanted to use them to find out what the problems are, they would ask an entirely different set of questions and allow for some open ended responses. But that woud mean too much work.

          • Andrew

            That would make sense if the surveys weren’t so slanted in their favor.

            If you still think that a survey that asks respondents to rank an issue from 1 to 10 is asking them to indicate the percentage (divided by 10) of instances that they considered acceptable, then I suggest you read up a bit on survey techniques. You may be surprised.

          • Allan Rosen

            It asks them to rank their satisfaction level. The problem is if nearly everyone is just barely satisfied and gives the question a ranking of six, then the MTA reinterprets that to say that 99% are satisfied is just plain misleading, because a 4, 5, or 6 should be considered neutral or neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

            Show me one other instance where an organization considers a ranking of six out of ten as satisfied. I think I know a little more about surely techniques than you do. At least I conducted a few of them.

          • Andrew

            If the survey asks for responses on a scale of 1 to 10, then the people who requested the survey get detailed results of how many respondents have each response to each question, and they can draw the relevant conclusions regarding rider priorities and agency improvement with respect to specific goals based on those responses.

            What you saw was a summary. I’m sorry that you don’t like the presentation of the summary, but it’s only a summary. Actual decisions are based on far more detailed data.

          • Andrew

            By the way, it is exceptionally unlikely that 99% of a survey’s respondents give exactly the same response.

          • Allan Rosen

            Yes there were a few 8s, and maybe higher but I would guess the vast majority were sixes and perhaps a few sevens because in all the categories “very satisfied was a small percentage. And what makes you think that the survey is used to influence any decisions? Like the MTA really cares what people think. I worked there. I heard the conversations how the public is just a pain in the neck. I think it was Chairman Harold Fisher who once made the comment that if it weren’t for those damn passengers, all the trains woud run on time.

          • Andrew

            Yes there were a few 8s, and maybe higher but I would guess the vast majority were sixes and perhaps a few sevens because in all the categories “very satisfied was a small percentage.

            “Guess” being the operative word.

            And what makes you think that the survey is used to influence any decisions?

            Organizations take surveys to influence decisions. There is no other reason.

            Like the MTA really cares what people think. I worked there. I heard the conversations how the public is just a pain in the neck. I think it was Chairman Harold Fisher who once made the comment that if it weren’t for those damn passengers, all the trains woud run on time.

            Harold Fisher hasn’t been chairman in 35 years. He died 15 years ago. Somehow I doubt he decides MTA policy today.

          • Allan Rosen

            There is another reason to conduct surveys. To use as propaganda that you are doing a great job. And I really doubt MTA policy has changed.

          • Andrew

            And you support your claim with a stated attitude of a former chairman of 35 years ago who has been dead for 15.

            Pardon me for concluding that the surveys are probably being taken for the same reason anybody else would take a survey.

    • guest

      You know nothing about our neighborhood. Please be quiet and take your ridiculous hatred of everything the author says and use it for something constructive like buying some overpriced chocolate and piece of crap muffins would ya?

      • fdtutf

        I wasn’t aware that hatred could be used as legal tender to purchase chocolate and muffins. That’s life-changing news, thank you so much!

  • Paul

    Allan did you bring it to the attention during last town hall meeting?

    • Allan Rosen

      Which meeting are you specifically referring to?

  • Eric

    Definitely need SBS on ave Z. It’s the last time to get off and walk to the train if you choose to, and for parents to easily pick up their child.

    • Allan Rosen

      You mean an SBS stop, I assume. I doubt it if you will get one but you are free to try.

  • pavel

    You have been writing about this for some time. Somebody has lean on this issue. How come we have not seen at least petition similar to the one when B4 got eliminated?

    • Allan Rosen

      Not sure I understand your comment. There was a petition to bring back the B4.

      • pasha

        There was a petition in regards to bringing b4 back which a lot of people have signed. Maybe our community should have a simillar one about sbs suggestions that you had. Somebody in MTA should seriously consider our concerns. As an example rerout B44 sbs to sheepshead bay or kingsborough. We must
        also push our elected officials to be more involved

        • Allan Rosen

          We could try a petition. Sheepshead Bay would need some study regarding layover space, ability to make certain turns and may need some minor road reconstruction. However, other than procuring two SBS fare machines, I see nothing preventing the KCC extension.

  • Andrew

    I computed 92 passengers by counting 52 standees as the bus left the Avenue Z stop bound for Coney Island.

    Then either you miscounted or the bus was full of midgets.

    • Allan Rosen

      Or I counted correctly and you have no idea how many people an MTA bus can hold as I already proved to you in the past. And the politically correct term are dwarfs, not midgets. And it wouldn’t matter unless they are standing on each others heads which wasn’t the case anyway. When people really want to get into a bus, they can stand pretty close together. When a bus has 65 or 70 people, they are not standing right next to each other.

      • fdtutf

        (Actually, the “politically correct” term is “little people.” Carry on.)

      • Andrew

        What you proved to me in the past is that you don’t know how many people can for onto a bus. A standard bus with 65 or 70 is already extremely crowded.

        • Allan Rosen

          I know exactly how many people can fit into a bus. 65 or 70 is certainly not the capacity, People still have some wiggle room to move about. You certainly don’t want to plan for more than that number, but if people board through the back door which they often do when the bus is too crowded and they can’t fit into the front, 90 passengers is not all that uncommon. What I proved to you is that I once counted 110 people board a New Look bus all from the front door at Church and Rogers. Some were children who could have sat on their parents laps, but there was also beach gear that people brought with them.

          I even offered to do a test with you if you could borrow an empty bus from your friends at Operations Planning. Why don’t we meet at Bus Fest next year and try it out? You can dispute the capacity all you want, but I know what I witnessed.

          • fdtutf

            “What I proved to you is that I once counted 110 people board a New Look bus all from the front door at Church and Rogers.”

            I think you need to sit down and have a careful think about the concept of “proof.”

          • Allan Rosen

            So you are saying my word isn’t proof enough. How do you suggest I prove what I am saying?

          • Andrew

            So you are saying my word isn’t proof enough. How do you suggest I prove what I am saying?

            One single reference in a peer-reviewed article or in the documentation of any transit agency that states that 110 people can fit inside a 40-foot bus would suffice, I think. No, your word isn’t proof enough. Sorry.

          • fdtutf

            Nobody’s word alone is proof enough. That’s why I said you needed to think about what “proof” means.

          • Andrew

            I know exactly how many people can fit into a bus.

            I beg to differ.