Source: bebo2good1 / YouTube

Source: bebo2good1 / YouTube

THE COMMUTE: Last August, I critiqued the 23-page MTA planning outline, entitled “Looking Ahead.” Last week, the MTA released the full report — a 142-page “MTA Twenty-Year Capital Needs Assessment 2015-2034.” Most of my previous comments still apply. I will try not to repeat myself. Rather than summarize this document or critique it as others have already done, here and here, I will just mention where this ‘Needs Assessment’ is deficient.

This comprehensive document details investments that are needed to maintain “New York’s standing as one of the world’s preeminent economic centers.” Everyone can agree that the needs to keep the MTA system up and running are great. The MTA does a good job detailing these needs as well as describing the changing travel needs over the next two decades.

Let’s Focus On Local Buses

Long standing problems with local bus service are described as: “including slow speeds, poor reliability and long travel times [which] have plagued bus services and limited the efficiency and, therefore, the appeal of surface transit. Future investments in surface service will incorporate smart approaches to addressing these problems.” The report goes on (on Page 22) to discuss new fare and toll payment options because “fare processing equipment — is approaching the end of their useful lives.”

The report continues:

“Just as this infrastructure was transformative with its introduction in the 1990s enabling elimination of New York City Transit’s two-fare zones and implementation of fare discounts, the replacement of these assets with the next generation of fare payment technology promises a similar transformation.” (Page 23) “The future promises the ability to use a single smart card or a cell phone with a smart chip…including increasing bus speeds by shortening the boarding process.”

On Page 128 under “Local Bus Strategies” the MTA finally recognizes the problem with the bus routing system.

“…a significant portion of the bus route system has not kept pace with the seismic shifts in development and travel behavior, such as new business centers in areas such as Long Island City and downtown Brooklyn, and new residential neighborhoods that have emerged in the outer boroughs. The resulting changes in travel demand and trip destinations, especially within and between the outer boroughs, are not well served by the largely radial, Manhattan-oriented subway network and the bus system that feeds it. Consequently, many riders making intra-outer borough trips take a subway through Manhattan and double back to their outer borough destination, increasing travel time and adding demand to already crowded subway lines.”

The MTA then states: “Many improvements put in bus service have been made in recent years.” That I dispute. Yes, a number of minor improvements were made this year and last year after the severe service cutbacks of 2010 and some service restorations were made earlier this year. However, most of the routing deficiencies that have existed for 70 years or more continue to plague local bus riders.

The improvements the MTA speaks of are implementing 30-minute local bus service on poorly planned new B84 and B32 bus routes in Spring Creek and Williamsburg, respectively, and extending the B67 via a circuitous and indirect routing to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

These routes do not consider the rest of the bus system and are not integrated into it. Both the B67 and B32 fall short of offering convenient bus transfers by terminating only a few blocks short of transfer points. The B84 does nothing to help riders from southern Brooklyn access the Gateway shopping center in Spring Creek and the MTA has not yet offered any new routes although the shopping center has been open for 12 years.

Select Bus Service

The report goes into great detail discussing the improvements made by Select Bus Service (SBS), which, in the 10 years since it has been conceived, is operational only on five routes out of 229 local bus routes. There is a long discussion of why we need more SBS. The MTA continues to greatly exaggerate its advantages by stating “Existing SBS routes have saved as much as 20% of previously scheduled travel times.” They omit any discussion of its disadvantages. (Their claim of a 20 percent improvement is similar to the ads for products for $19.95, which do not disclose shipping and handling fees that can add 50 percent to the cost.)

A 20 percent savings in travel time is not an honest assessment of SBS. First of all, they state the maximum time-savings, not the average time-savings. Second, while this time-savings translates into lower operating costs, it does not translate into a similar savings for the passenger. A passenger must travel the entire length of the route to achieve the 20 percent time-savings. The average local bus trip is 2.3 miles, while the average SBS route is approximately nine miles. The average rider achieves a little more than five percent time-savings. This does not take into consideration the extra walking time to and from the SBS stop, which could negate that time-savings all together.

Local or former limited bus riders also now have to wait longer for a bus if they are not able to use SBS, another disadvantage. As I have stated many times before, while SBS may speed up trips for some, and may encourage longer distance bus travel, it is no panacea to improving the local bus system.

In designing the proposed B44 SBS, the route was considered in a vacuum without incorporating changes to the existing B49 route. It will now duplicate this route along Rogers Avenue, providing a glut of bus service on that street. It will not serve Sheepshead Bay station or Kingsborough Community College students. Will the MTA respond to the glut of Rogers Avenue service by rerouting the bus along Ocean Avenue, thus making it simpler and more direct, and enabling easier transfers to crosstown buses? Or, will the MTA attempt to relocate the B44 local to Rogers Avenue and seek to truncate the B49 at Foster Avenue, insisting that the northern portion of the route is no longer necessary? My guess is the latter, after SBS is in operation for a year or two.

What Else Needs To Be Done?

On Page 127, the MTA discusses addressing growing demand for non-hub-based travel patterns: “Strategies that can be considered include restructuring and enhancing the bus network, and making better use of the commuter rail system to address intra-suburban and reverse commuting needs.” The MTA continues by saying they have already begun to address new markets, like Spring Creek and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

As I pointed out earlier, these attempts are deficient.

“An examination of changing non-CBD travel trends and how they mesh with the existing bus network could identify new travel corridors for local bus services.”

The MTA makes no mention of long-standing routing deficiencies. For example, Maimonides Medical Center, having greatly expanded since it opened almost 100 years ago, still has no north-south bus service to access it. There are short gaps in the bus routing system all over the city — for example, on Empire Boulevard — denying riders convenient bus transfers and forcing them to take indirect routes to reach their destination.

Other than the single statement I quoted earlier, in which the MTA admits that non-hub travel is not well served by the subways and buses, the MTA offers little in terms of solutions.

Next week – Part 2: What local bus strategies the MTA should be proposing, and more.

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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