A screenshot of the MTA’s BusTrek website, currently under development by the City College of New York’s MTA Intern Team. Click to enlarge

THE COMMUTE: Regular readers of “The Commute” know that one of my favorite topics is bus bunching, because it has always been the number one concern of bus riders and very little is done to combat it. That may be changing. Most likely you have already heard about BusTime, but chances are you have not heard about BusTrek.

BusTime is the new GPS bus tracking system already in effect on the B61 (Columbia Street and Lorraine Street) and B63 (Fifth Avenue) routes in Brooklyn, and in all of the Bronx and Staten Island. It has been heavily publicized by the MTA as the way to know when the next bus is arriving. I have criticized the MTA because it will only be available to those who use smart phones, which excludes many seniors. The MTA scrapped plans to also install displays at bus shelters, informing passengers of the next arriving bus, as other cities such as Chicago do.

The MTA has only hinted that BusTime will be used to help regulate buses to reduce bus bunching. I recently learned, however, that BusTrek is the companion system used by bus dispatchers designed to do exactly that. The MTA currently is seeking to make the following enhancements to this system through a sole-source contract with U2Labs.

This is what a dispatcher who currently uses Bustrek has to say about it, and this is from the sole source contract:

“Enhancements to Bus Trek will include 1) improving and enhancing real time graphical user display; 2) implementing statistical reporting to monitor individual bus route performance; 3) implementing monitoring and reporting tools to optimize bus dispatching; and 4) validating Bus Trek’s capacity through load testing the system to confirm and/or make any necessary modifications to the Bus Trek architecture to support the fleet of approximately 5,600 buses, 300 routes and applicable NYC Transit/MTA Bus employees.”

Expanding The Bus System

After the 2010 service cutbacks and the restoration of some of those cuts this past January 6, which included the restoration of the B4, the MTA finally has announced a few new bus routes. That is the good news. The bad news is the proposed routes will only be scheduled to operate every 30 minutes and that includes service level during rush hours. Many have asked the question: Who would wait 30 minutes for a bus in the rush hour? Especially if you could walk a few extra blocks to a route that already exists having more frequent service?

You wouldn’t have to wait if you knew exactly when the bus would be arriving at your stop and could schedule your trip accordingly. By March 2014, you actually might be able to do that and avoid the wait if you have a smart phone. That is the revised completion date the MTA hopes to have BusTime fully implemented in Brooklyn, after being delayed for three months.

I previously mentioned the proposed new bus route for the Williamsburg waterfront. Now the MTA has proposed two additional new bus routes: one for the west side of Manhattan (the M12 along 11th Avenue and 12th Avenue), and another in East New York (the B84, connecting the New Lots Avenue IRT and the Gateway Shopping Center at Spring Creek).

I believe in the case of the B84. It is part of a larger plan to straighten the B83 along Pennsylvania Avenue and eliminate the B20, with the B6 taking over the eastern end of the route. Those changes may not necessarily be bad and may result in more efficient routing. However, rather than implementing these changes in stages like they did when splitting the B61 into the B61 and B62, and six months later combining the B61 with the B77, they should be honest and reveal their complete plans now. Changing more than one bus route at a time is also more efficient than doing it piecemeal because it involves the writing of fewer schedules.

Another possibility is that the MTA is setting up these new routes to fail in order to justify that the existing routes work just fine. Or will these routes be utilized to the point that the MTA will increase service to acceptable levels? Are these the complete plans or will these new services lay the groundwork to reduce other services in the future? These are fair questions.

In the case of the B84, if, after six months, the MTA makes other changes it is already planning, but has not revealed which involve service reductions, and that also entails doubling B84 service, it will appear the route was a success. It also provides the MTA with leverage for getting the East New York community to accept those reductions in order to get the increased service they want on the B84. Those aren’t the types of games we need to play, but they are typical for the MTA.

More bad news is that no new bus routes or extensions have been proposed for our area, such as ones I have proposed along Knapp Street.

A Call For City Takeover Of The Subways And Buses

In other news, longshot candidate for mayor and former city councilman, Sal Albanese, has called for a city takeover of our local mass transit system. I am undecided if this is the best course for the future of mass transit in New York City because of the uncertainty of how such a move would affect transit funding. If it results in less state funding, we would be in worse financial shape than we are today.

One of the reasons for the 1968 MTA takeover of the New York City Transit Authority was to enable increased funding for the subways by allocating a portion of the Tri-borough Bridge and Tunnel tolls to the subways and buses. I have not found the MTA to be any less accountable or responsive than the NYCTA it absorbed. Anyway, this is not a new idea.

The Future Looks Brighter

Last week I stated that we need a balanced transportation system, and not only Select Bus Service, to serve our future needs. That is still true. However, if the MTA sticks to its March 2014 deadline for implementation of BusTime — and if it eventually displays an estimated wait time instead of how far away the next bus is, and BusTrek is fully instituted and it works — that would indeed be good news for bus riders. Having bus information at the bus shelters, which CEMUSA is required to do, but is not doing, would even be better news.

Also, if the trend now is to add bus routes, rather than cutting back service further, that is more good news. Let us just hope that the MTA keeps its promises, is not playing games, and doesn’t screw up.

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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  • sonicboy678

    I agree that there should be more service for Sheepshead Bay.

    Eliminating the B20? Not sure if that’s a good idea. Granted, it does run near some other routes, but it also serves as a connection to Ridgewood west of Crescet Street and Euclid Avenue. In any case, let’s hope that the B84 is successful enough to warrant a higher frequency without devastating the B83.

    The 30-minute headways are a real headache. This is one of my problems with how they went about the Q36 along Little Neck Parkway. As much as people may use their own cars, the frequency of bus service will certainly influence this. Continuous operation like this will probably result in this half-restoration being eliminated by year’s end.

    I hope that BusTrek is used to its full potential. I’ve seen plenty of bus bunching myself, and it leaves a terrible impression. I wonder if it will also enable dispatchers coordinating buses from different depots to directly send out alerts to other dispatchers. For example, there’s an accident at Flatbush Avenue and Avenue H. Seeing that the B41 comes from Flatbush Depot, the B11 comes out of Jackie Gleason Depot, the B103 and BM2 come from Spring Creek Depot, and the Q35 comes from Far Rockaway Depot, it can get pretty hectic. If, for example, a bus operator on the B103 comes across the scene, the dispatcher would have to be alerted. Unless there’s a quick way to contact the appropriate dispatchers (for Jackie Gleason, Far Rockaway, and Flatbush), the other buses will not have a fair chance at avoiding the situation until a driver from each comes across the situation. I know I’m bad with hypothetical situations, but bear with me on this.

    • Allan Rosen

      Flexibility among depots when BusTrek is fully available sounds like a very good idea. Let’s just hope that is built into the system.

      My friend and I came up with what we think is a better alternative to the B84 perhaps even at a lower cost. It would involve changes to five routes. The B20 would be eliminated, but the B7 would be extended in Ridgewood to replace it and headways would actually be slightly improved. Service on the B83 would need to double to replace the B20. The eastern end would also be covered by another route.

      Rather than explain it here which would probably bore everyone, I just want to say it greatly increases connections (much moreso than just instituting the B84, and I think the costs could be worked out to be comparable to what is being proposed. Even if they do not want to do it now, it certainly is something to consider for the future.

      • sonicboy678

        (I meant to say Crescent Street. I don’t know how I managed to skip that error.)

        Those plans sound pretty interesting. Would you be able to make a map comparing the two options so people can see the differences more easily?

        • Allan Rosen

          My friend will prepare a map and present it at the public hearing since most of the idea was his.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Quintus-Murray/1469036783 Quintus Murray

        email me some ideas to [email protected] I will get around to NYC I am currently busy with school and other non NYC proposals I am working on my NJT and SEPTA proposals.

        • Allan Rosen

          I may post them soon on NYCTransit Forums. When I do, I will make a post here.

    • Allan Rosen

      They intend to give Sheepshead Bay more service with the B44 SBS. Buses will be operating like every 3 minutes during rush hours..

      The thing is that people would rather see a new service on Knapp Street every 15 minutes rather than more B44 service south of Avenue U which is not needed because the buses will be nearly empty south of Avenue Z.

      • sonicboy678

        If anything, beef up B36 service and run it up to Flatbush Avenue. It’s not a great proposal but it probably beats B44 SBS (emphasis on the BS).

      • Pasha

        I think they make B44 limited every 20-30 minutes. We don’t need any extra buses creating noise, pollution without any passengers on them. There are hardly ever any passengers on these buses south of Ave Z

        • Allan Rosen

          That’s why I proposed the SBS go along Avenue Z to Sheepshead Bay Station instead. But the MTA doesn’t even want to consider it..

  • westerner

    is there a map of the proposed m12 on manhattans west side?