The Commute: Why Transit Is A Last Resort For Many – Part 2 Of 3

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And Allan Rosen thinks we have problems. Source: The Indian Express / Google Plus

THE COMMUTE: Last week, I began discussing why the MTA is responsible for transit being the last resort for many while at the same time asking residents to leave their cars at home and choose transit. We discussed unnecessary crowding on the subways, and extra long waits for buses. I left off by giving an example of how, after waiting an unusually long period for a bus, the MTA makes you wait even longer by instructing drivers with one or two standees to not stop to pick up intending passengers.

In my Niagara Falls example two weeks ago, I mentioned how a bus driver decided to short turn the route because she knew that passengers were riding in the wrong direction because of excessive crowding after the fireworks, but needed to get back to their hotels. She first asked passengers on board if anyone was going to Marineland. When no one answered yes, she made her decision to turn around without consulting anyone else.

In New York City, bus operators are not trusted to use their own discretion. However, many do what they want to anyway to make their job easier because of the lack of supervision. They know what they are able to get away with, and some take full advantage. We need more supervision, but at the same time, we should trust our bus operators more by allowing them to make reroutes on their own when there are blockages, which I discussed here.

We give definitive instructions for bus operators to not pick up intending passengers to save time. If 20 passengers are waiting for a crowded late bus and a nearly empty one is right behind, it makes perfect sense for the late operator not to stop. However, what if only two or three passengers are waiting and the bus has to wait for a traffic signal to change anyway? In many instances he is not saving any time at all by refusing to pick up those passengers. He does not have the discretion to pick them up if he knows that, when given the instruction not to.

I have even seen instances in which buses with seats skip stops, leaving passengers to wait for the next bus, which has no seats available. Or worse, buses not being able to stop due to overcrowding while other buses right behind are going back to the depot not in service. That shows a total lack of concern for the passenger. In Brooklyn, Select Bus Service (SBS) was introduced last year on the B44. South of Avenue U it operates with an average of six passengers during rush hours, while neighboring routes are so overcrowded that buses are not able to stop for passengers. This is not an example of inadequate funding, but of mismanagement and inefficiency.

Back to my example of last week, I was curious to see what happened with the B49 that was so late that it was not picking up passengers although it only had a few standees, so I waited to see what happened on its return trip from Kingsborough Community College. It left the terminal after a layover with its “Not in Service” sign. I later checked MTA Bus Time to find it was put back in service later down the line. So how late was that bus that it used its “Next Bus Please” sign for at least the last several miles in one direction and still couldn’t operate in revenue service for the first mile in the other?

Was there some unusual event, such as a fire, that caused four buses to bunch up? Is there just not enough time in the schedule for buses to make their trip on time? Are drivers abusing their layover and taking it regardless, even if they are late? Or, is there another reason? More importantly, does the MTA even keep records of all the stops buses skip by not picking up intending passengers? This would enable them to how widespread the practice is so they can see where the problems are and try to correct them. They certainly have no records regarding how long passengers must wait for buses.

If the MTA truly does not want mass transit to be the choice of last resort, they need to start showing that they care about their passengers more than they care about operating costs. That does not mean they just go ahead and willy-nilly expand service all over the place. However, it also does not mean that they should refuse to provide additional service where it is necessary, by stating that they will only provide service after the ridership appears. You need to assess demand by doing proper market surveys and also study which trips being made by taxi and car service are occurring in great numbers. They cannot limit your studies only to existing routes and existing ridership.

Only recently has the MTA looked at changing land use and population shifts in areas such as Williamsburg. However, their response has been pathetic, with new routes operating only Monday through Friday at 30-minute scheduled headways. Is it any wonder why these new routes have the lowest patronage in the system? The B32 in Williamsburg, operating every 30 minutes, ranked dead last at 181 carrying fewer than 42,000 riders in 2013. Another new route operating every 30 minutes, the B84 in East New York, carried a mere 55,000 passengers last year. The B84 only operated for half the year, while the B32 only operated for four months. If we project annual ridership, assuming no difference between winter and summer months, the B32 would have 126,000 annual riders, and the B84 would have 110,000 annual riders. Yet the MTA considers these new routes, the B32 and B84, success stories. But wait! How many annual passengers did the discontinued B23 along McDonald Avenue and Cortelyou Road carry before being discontinued in 2010?

The answer is 198,000 annual riders — nearly twice what the MTA’s new routes are expected to carry after a full year in operation. Now imagine how many more passengers the B23 could have serviced if it was extended at the eastern end to make a connection to the B8? Or split up attaching itself to other routes such as the B67 or B69, rather than being discontinued? The numbers would be significant.

However, rather than doing real planning by restructuring outdated bus routes, the MTA is content with making minimal nearly meaningless changes that make the system less efficient not more efficient. They view operating expenses separately from revenue, when the evidence is clear that better service directly affects revenue. This is clearly evidenced by the amount of B39 passengers before it was discontinued verses after it was restored.

Ranking 178th, the B39, which was restored last year, carried only 101,000 riders — fewer than 25 percent of the riders it carried in 2008 and two-thirds of what it carried before being discontinued. That is due to the fact that it now operates at 30-minute intervals. Prior to being discontinued, it probably operated at 20-minute headways.

To put these numbers in perspective, the median traveled bus route carries more than three million annual passengers and the heaviest traveled route carries 17 million annual riders. The B44, which had SBS introduced on November 17, 2013, lost 425,000 annual riders, a loss of three percent.

Next week: Why the MTA needs to pay more attention to customer service.

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.

  • CptBlood

    Very good article! Thank you!

    • Allan Rosen

      Thank you for reading!

  • randomdude

    Few winters years back, I was waiting for the 82. Bunch of school kids waiting as well. The first bus stopped for us and was packed with kids. A little too packed. So 5 of us was not able to fit in, including me. Right behind that bus was another 82. It was almost empty. And he refuse to let us in. He just laughed and kept pointing at the first bus. He couldn’t even keep a straight face when he did that. The first bus won’t let us in because obviously he was full. Then they left us there waiting another 20-30 minutes in the freezing cold for the next bus… which is also really packed. I really hate the mta….

    • mightymouse

      Blame the driver in that case…. Did you report him?

  • Allan Rosen

    Erica, at least those Peope in India may get where they are going. I remember once reading that some place in South America bus service is so bad and overcrowded, a one way trip to work may take from three to five hours. On some days it it even worse taking seven or more hours and many riders just give up and take the bus back home without ever getting to work when that happens. I seem to remember something about it being either in Mexico City or in Brazil but I could be wrong.

  • Jen

    I know you know about the B1, but that bus has “Next Bus Please” issues worse than any other line. I can’t even count the number of times that’s happened at Stillwell and 86th in the Bay Ridge-bound direction during evening rush.

    • Garry

      I am surprised that there are still people Jen, Allan, Erica and Ned left in South Brooklyn. Instead you have Russians, who are freaky and demonic, with names like Lyudmila, Vyacheslav, Bronislava and Bagdan. I will take the Chinese anyday over the Russians. This neighborhood is crime ridden, due to their unsavory presence. The Asians are a good and quite group. Shame on you, Sheepshead Bay Americans that you cannot look past the color of one’s skin. Many a finer neighborhoods than Sheepshead Bay are proud to call Asians their friends and neighbors.

      • die-in-a-fire

        Can you take your hate filled rants somewhere else? Preferably into the recently filled outhouse you just used, you back-assward hillbilly. Dem der Russians got them diff’nt names! Hyuck! Hyuck!

  • LLQBTT

    Allan,

    Can you talk more about what seems to be a change in bus management? Specifically, many years ago, when buses bunched, they would leap frog one another as they went along the route. That sort of helped the passenger distribution and travel time. Now it seems that they are more likely to follow one another on the route, so the first bus remains crowded and the trailers get less crowded as you go back in the pack. They all pull over at the stop whether or not anyone gets on or off, or will wait behind for the traffic light to change, causing more traffic as they block a lane. This only makes service worse. Why the change?

    • Allan Rosen

      Personally, I have not noticed such a change. So I can’t really comment on what you observed.