The Commute: Bus Bunching Is Rampant And Nothing Is Being Done About It – Part 2

23

THE COMMUTE: On June 23rd, I wrote how there were unacceptable gaps in bus service on the B1 and B49 at the same time on a recent Sunday afternoon. Wondering if this was just a fluke or a regular occurrence, I decided to check Bus Time on the previous Sunday, June 22, after I boarded a B1 bus eastbound at Coney Island Avenue without any wait and noticed a second B1 right behind it. This is what I uncovered.

The B1

At 4:22 p.m., Bus #4938 left the Fourth Avenue terminus. Five minutes later, at 4:27, Bus #5092 left the same terminus. The scheduled departure times were 4:18 and 4:28.

At the other end of the route, Bus #9659 left the Mackenzie terminus at 4:30 and a following bus, #5106, left two minutes later at 4:32. The scheduled departure times were 4:27 and 4:35.

So with buses leaving the terminals off schedule, how could they possibly operate on time? Is there any wonder why large gaps in service are the norm? This is a Sunday in which schools are closed, traffic is not a major problem and the beach season has not really begun.

This is how service looked at 3:38 p.m.

There was a two-mile gap in Fourth Avenue-bound service at 23rd Avenue and a 4.3-mile gap in Manhattan Beach-bound service at Coney Island Avenue with the next bus approaching 18th Avenue. That is at least a 20-minute wait.

At 4:07 p.m., an approximate 40-minute wait (4.6 miles away plus layover) at Oceanview Avenue and Ocean Parkway was documented, Fourth Avenue bound.

4:07 p.m. Click to enlarge

4:07 p.m. Click to enlarge

At 5:10 p.m., there was more evidence of B1 buses bunched along the entire route with no buses at all west of 18th Avenue, with the next buses shown at 3.9 and 4.0 miles away plus layover.

5:10 p.m. Click to enlarge

5:10 p.m. Click to enlarge

The B49

The B49 service was even more erratic and totally unacceptable. At 4:04 p.m., there were at least five B49s on the portion of the route north of Ocean Avenue and only two buses south of Foster Avenue.

4:04 p.m. Click to enlarge

4:04 p.m. Click to enlarge

There was no bus at the southern terminus as evidenced by this Bus Time display, which shows if you were waiting for a northbound bus at Avenue M, the next bus was at Avenue U southbound having to first make its trip to Mackenzie Street before returning northbound. As this screenshot shows, taken at 4:05 p.m., the next bus northbound at Avenue M is an astonishing 7.0 miles away plus layover.

4:05 p.m. Click to enlarge

4:05 p.m. Click to enlarge

That is an approximately 60-minute wait! This is not the first time we documented 60-minute waits on the B49.

At 4:13, a bus was inserted at Avenue U northbound, reducing the 60 minute wait for passengers waiting north of that point to 20 and 40 minutes — still unacceptable for a route with scheduled 10 minute headways.

4:13 p.m. Click to enlarge.

4:13 p.m. Click to enlarge.

At 5:09 p.m., the 40-minute wait was now southbound at Eastern Parkway with no northbound buses at all along the length of Rogers Avenue.

5:09 p.m. Click to enlarge

5:09 p.m. Click to enlarge

Conclusion

Bus bunching is rampant throughout the system at all times, something I have always speculated about but could never prove until Bus Time was extended system-wide. Take a look for yourselves. Pick any route at any time, except after midnight, and you will find at least one instance of bus bunching, and sometimes four or five. Bus Time was supposed to be used to reduce the problem. There is no evidence that is occurring. If I could find a 60-minute wait on the B49 without looking very hard, on a seemingly normal Sunday afternoon, and encounter a wait exceeding 40 minutes, the Sunday before, and similar waits on the B1, that proves bunching on these routes are common occurrences. They are not unusual occurrences resulting from unusual circumstances. Thanks to Bus Time, the MTA can no longer dismiss bus bunching as caused by traffic and as being solely beyond their control.

It is within their control on a Sunday afternoon, is happening in epidemic proportions, and is being ignored by management. Buses are leaving terminals bunched, and drivers are not using layovers for their intended purpose, which is to get back on schedule. If the problem is due to inadequate run times, that has to be addressed. If some buses are skipping stops to make up time, which you cannot tell from Bus Time unless the “Next Bus Please” or “Not in Service” signs are displayed, these waits are even longer.

The MTA must start caring about its passengers. Routine 30-minute waits for buses scheduled at 10-minute intervals is not only extremely wasteful and inefficient for management, it is a severe inconvenience and waste of time for riders, in addition to being totally unacceptable.

If the MTA needs to beef up its Road Supervision unit, then that needs to be a priority. However, serving the passenger was never important to the MTA. The MTA only cares about its budget. Not devoting more resources to road supervision or asking bus operators to work overtime when necessary is penny-wise and pound-foolish. The MTA is more concerned with how service looks on paper than what is really happening on the street.

However, if buses operated on time and were not bunched, less service would be needed in the first place, increasing efficiency. That is not how the MTA sees it. They would rather deny that the problem is as extensive as it is or dismiss it as beyond their control. If they understood the relationship between acceptable service and increased ridership, they would address the problems that need addressing. Until that happens, getting a bus on time will remain a crapshoot.

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.

  • fdtutf

    “Buses are leaving terminals bunched, and drivers are not using layovers for their intended purpose, which is to get back on schedule.”

    I can imagine that in at least some cases, drivers are using layovers to take necessary bathroom breaks. That might explain some of the late terminal departures. However, there’s really no excuse for an early departure from the terminal.

    • Allan Rosen

      You are correct. However, the purpose of the layover is to absorb most or all of the traffic delays. Since bathroom breaks of course are necessary, then the MTA needs to increase the time of the layover to include them as well. If the layovers are insufficient to accommodate both, you really can’t blame the bus operators, but the MTA schedulers.

      • fdtutf

        Fully agreed, and I didn’t mean to be placing the blame on the bus drivers. I believe that people have to be able to go to the bathroom at reasonable intervals no matter what kind of job they have.

        • Allan Rosen

          I didn’t believe you were placing any blame on them.

          • James

            but how do you explain leaving early . Don’t blame the drivers, blame the management for a culture where the schedule is not important. Look at the great work Veolia Transportation is doing over at NICE. Yes there are issues but they are doing it on 50% less money. The mta needs to bring in out side help and revamp it’s operations. You need outside help who is not afraid to ruffle someones feathers or owes favors. Think about the restaurant disaster shows. And we need a Cuomo to actually govern and make this a priority. The same needs to be done at the LIRR with work rules where employees double dip.

          • Hound

            “Great work Veolia is doing at NICE”? What are you smoking? If you think the schedules & layovers are bad in Brooklyn,you ought to take a ride on NICE. They are set at the bare minimum that can’t even be maintained under optimum conditions. Most runs have hardly any recovery time, let alone time for restroom breaks. Veolia sucks!

          • sonicboy678

            Which is not entirely Veolia’s fault. Bear in mind that Veolia is receiving even less money than the MTA was. That entire deal was simply for Mangano’s administration to avoid having to pay more to keep buses on the road. Of course, he didn’t even pay the MTA enough and outright refused to, leading to that in the first place. Now Veolia is getting stiffed even worse than the MTA, shown by how unreliable everything is and by the service cuts that were announced recently (in the most nonsensical manners possible).

  • Allan Rosen

    Just as an update, I had occasion to use the B1 again twice yesterday, also a Sunday. In the early afternoon, I caught a B1 right away without any problem going westbound. Several hours later, I also caught an eastbound bus without any problem only after one minute of waiting. The problem was that there were two other B1s right behind. So someone somewhere was waiting a half hour for the bus. Luckily it wasn’t me.

    • MyBrooklyn

      Allan….is there MTA app for smartphone for people to see how far is the bus from the bus stations that person is waiting on…I would like to have an app while I seating at home specially during cold winter days to see how far is the bus from your bus station where you are planning to board…having small kids I give up on MTA….I use my vehicle to get to places. Thank you in advance

      • james

        there is on mta webpage on smartphone

  • Kevin P.

    Although off-topic for the neighborhood, when I had regular appointments at KCHC, I would take the B12 between the Parkside Avenue station and the hospital. Service was consistently, laughably uneven, much worse than what I’m used to in southern Brooklyn. Sometimes I would see literally 3 or 4 buses in a row. Other times, I would walk along the route all the way to my destination, and no buses passed me. Do they lack the resources to enforce even spacing?

    • Allan Rosen

      Yes they do. Road supervision has been decimated in the past 20 or 30 years. There is only a small team to put out fires and respond to complaints. It was the first area to be cut, before maintenance and service. But you would think with today’s technology something more could be done. Hopefully it will be eventually.

      • james

        With today’s tech you don’t need a large road crew since you can see everything from central. Also an algorithm could be written to track late departures(driver must give a reason for leaving late) and to get buses back on schedule. It could use current load data for each bus, historical run times and load data(including riders picked up at each stop per time of day) to automatically tell drivers to not make pickups to get back on track , hold for spacing etc. This is how the internet basically works routing traffic. It will take some time to work out the algorithm, One reason is current data due to buses not on time skews the data. All of this needs to be overseen by human experts. I read a major subway operator created an algorithm to schedule maintenance with great success. Each and every incident needs to be tracked. A simple smartphone on each bus could be the cheap interface to tell the driver whats to do and report problems. Download waze for iphone. It tracks uses location, gives real time direction updates based on traffic around problems but most important to this conversation it allows a simple interface to report issues that then get’s passed back to the database that gives the reroutes. It saved my bacon on long trips, tells me where all red light cameras, cops are, etc

  • james

    the stage in monitoring this is to have outward and inward facing cameras(not on driver) to see what is really happening on these buses real time. I lived off ave U near marine park for over 20 years. Never fails, no B3 and than B 3 in a row passing by my house. 1 packed, 1 half full, the third virtually empty. Each and every evening without fail. My friends mom who drove the B3 in the late 90’s and early 2000’s said there was two old cat drivers who did what they pleased. With Bus time there should be no bunching on most routes especially the B3. With on time service, the buses would not be overly packed. And yes the express bus seats did not hurt, but the same problems occurred without those seats for years

  • tinafg

    This says it all from the article………… If the MTA needs to beef up its Road Supervision unit, then that needs to be a priority. However, serving the passenger was never important to the MTA. The MTA only cares about its budget. Not devoting more resources to road supervision or asking bus operators to work overtime when necessary is penny-wise and pound-foolish. The MTA is more concerned with how service looks on paper than what is really happening on the street. Thieving pieces of garbage!

  • Jimmy

    Because all the lowlives ride the B49.The Russian vile welfare cheating women and the other eastern european trash. Then it goes to the North Brooklyn neighborhoods. Poor drivers, they deserve a raise.

  • Jimmy

    When you get on the B49, even after waiting for an hour, the bus is hardly packed. If nothing else it can use less service.

    • Allan Rosen

      If the bus isn’t crowded after you’ve waited an hour, it only means that everyone gave up waiting and walked over to the Brighton Line.

      • Kriston Lewis

        You missed his point.

        • sonicboy678

          Honestly, who would want to wait for an hour for a bus to show up, especially when it’s scheduled more frequently than that? Decreasing service may end up making the problem worse, especially since Flatbush is known for late and/or bunched buses.

          • Kriston Lewis

            That’s not what Jimmy was getting at. He’s saying that the B49 (even when it’s running properly) is a low ridership line that doesn’t deserve the level service that it has.

          • sonicboy678

            I know, and that’s why I mentioned that decreasing service may actually worsen the situation. It doesn’t help that much of its ridership was robbed by that S-BS (that was deliberate) route.

          • Allan Rosen

            I don’t believe he was saying that at all. And who says the B49 is a low ridership route? It ranks 50th out of 181 local city bus routes with over 14,000 daily riders. By contrast, the B4 carries 5,000 daily weekday riders.