The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round... Source: Lempkin / Flickr

The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round… Source: Lempkin / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week, we discussed the MTA’s recent attempts to fix problems with the local bus system such as newly-designed routes that suffer from the same problems plaguing the rest of the system. An example is the B67 extension to the Navy Yard, which is circuitous and not conducive to transferring to other bus routes since it terminates short of Williamsburg Bridge Plaza. It misses vital bus connections and operates with extremely poor headways of 30 minutes. Yet, the MTA visualizes routes such as this as a partial solution to fixing gaps in the routing structure.

What Is Really Needed To Improve Local Bus Service

We need comprehensive studies of travel needs once every 10 years where bus routes are examined in groups, not individually. The very successful Southwest Brooklyn bus changes studied about a dozen routes at once and made changes to 10 interlinked routes on the same day. That type of a change cannot be done by incremental examination of individual routes as the MTA does. The Southwest Brooklyn changes took underutilized bus route segments such as the one on Brighton Beach Avenue and turned it into one of the heaviest utilized segments in the borough, after a comprehensive study.

The MTA makes no mention in its Needs Assessment of performing any comprehensive bus route studies. All they say is that Select Bus Service (SBS) analyses will be incorporated into the regular planning process. That planning process has been shrouded in secrecy. The MTA does not reveal on its website what its service planning guidelines are. No one knows how the MTA plans its bus routes. Their attitude is “we know what is best for you,” and their refusal to compromise has resulted in the failure of their previous comprehensive studies undertaken in the 1980s and 1990s, the last time these were performed. Proposals were presented to communities on a take it or leave it basis, resulting in no changes being made.

These studies can be effective as the Southwest Brooklyn Study performed by the NYC Department of City Planning proved. Community input was sought prior to the study being undertaken and after the study was completed. Some other bus route changes were made during the 1980s in Rhe Bronx and Staten Island, which included a bus renumbering. Most crosstown Manhattan bus routes were also renumbered, at my suggestion, to have the bus number reflect the street of operation. Other than those changes, there have been only minor changes to the bus system since the 1930s, other than trolleys being converted to bus lines.

It can be inferred from this Needs Assessment, that with a few new routes (at poor headways) to reflect land use changes, additional SBS routes, and some strategic enhancements (discussed below), no other bus operational changes are needed.

On Page 7, the document states: “Over the next 20 years, these (strategic enhancements) will transform the MTA’s network so that by 2035 customers will use an MTA system where customers can seamlessly travel throughout the region.”

Untrue.

A handful of new bus routes will not fix problems with existing routes.

What Are These Strategic Enhancements The MTA Is Proposing?

Page 21 – Providing Innovative and Enhanced Bus Service: However, the only solution discussed in some detail is “the continued deployment of NYC Transit’s Select Bus Service (SBS) to areas of long-standing need.” Translation: Install Select Bus Service routes where we once wanted to construct subway lines.

Another enhancement discussed is: “adding new transfer points between intersecting subway lines and between bus and subway or bus and rail connections through intermodal terminals.”

Bus Time arrived in Manhattan this month. It is already available in The Bronx and Staten Island, with Brooklyn scheduled before the end of this year. The MTA cites poor reliability as a problem with local bus service, but does not mention in this report how Bus Time will be used to improve reliability.

Page 37 – New Bus Purchases: “These purchases will shift the composition of the bus fleet to include more articulated buses and fewer standard buses, as selected high-volume routes are converted to articulated operation.” Articulated buses mean fewer buses on the street and longer wait times since four articulated buses replace five standard buses. Labor costs are lowered, but dwell times at bus stops are increased when used on non-SBS routes when the buses are crowded so they are slower.

Page 38 – Making Paratransit more efficient through purchasing smaller vans with lower capital costs is discussed. Years ago the MTA added vans to its fleet of sedans. This was hoped to improve efficiency by increasing the number of passengers these vehicles can carry. However, most trips still carry only a single rider and the cost to the MTA is between $50 and $60 for each trip. This year, the MTA began distributing free MetroCards to discourage Access-a-Ride use. For many, Access-a-Ride is a last resort, and it is doubtful that these cards will result in fewer trips. It would seem that more efficient scheduling of trips with the vans carrying more than one or two passengers could result in a greater savings. Yet this is not addressed.

Page 82 – MTA Bus Company (the division of the MTA that operates the routes recently operated by private companies) is discussed here: “The MTA has implemented strategies to integrate management and coordinate operation of its two bus services (MTA Bus and New York City Transit); so from a customer perspective, the two services are seamless and largely indistinguishable. However, the agencies are still legally separate entities, and so their capital needs are outlined separately.”

However, there is no mention of possibly merging MTA Bus Company routes and New York City Transit routes, or sharing bus depots so routes such as the B100 would not have inefficient run-on and run-off routes. The B100 operates out of the Spring Creek Depot, miles from the route that passes directly in front of the Flatbush Depot. If that depot were used instead to house the route, many daily non-revenue miles would be saved, thus increasing efficiency.

Page 117 – Increasing bicycle access, including evaluating the feasibility of adding a bike lane to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Bike storage racks on MTA buses, and providing storage at rail and subway stations are also discussed. (I mentioned bike storage in my Chicago series.)

Page 124 – The MTA uses the lengthy amount of time it has taken to construct the Second Avenue subway as justification for not undertaking additional “megaproject-sized strategies to address current or anticipated transportation needs in a timely manner.” This, thereby, eliminates the possibility of other long-planned subway line extensions, such as the Utica and Nostrand Avenue subways. They neglect to mention that the decision to deep tunnel the Second Avenue subway was responsible for much of the delay and expense.

On the following page, alleviating hotspots is discussed, which “may include: Rebuilding critical subway junctions where lines merge and separate (such as Nostrand Junction on the 2 3 4 5 lines) to maximize train throughput and reduce delays.” The key word here is “may.” The MTA has promised this improvement since 1968. Why should we believe them now that this will be done?

Page 126 – “[R]estoration of former station entrances that were closed for safety or maintenance reasons when ridership dropped in the 1970s but which might accommodate growing and changing passenger flow today” is discussed. (I suggested this last year. Glad the MTA is listening.)

Page 127 – “Utilizing Available Rail Rights-of-Way: One challenge in providing for non-core-based travel is the availability of travel corridors supporting radial routes linking existing subway, bus and rail lines. A possible option is the utilization of abandoned or underutilized Rights of Way such as the LIRR Bay Ridge Branch (linking southern and eastern Brooklyn with central and northern Queens) or the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch (linking Howard Beach and Ozone Park with Woodhaven) as transverse routes linking radial subway lines. Conversion of existing ROWs, where a solution to an identified travel need can be defined, could help reduce land acquisition and construction costs, and facilitate construction time in densely developed areas.” (I also previously mentioned the advantages of reactivating these rights-of-way, several times before.)

Conclusion

Much more is needed than these strategic enhancements to enable “seamless travel.” Many local bus routes need a major restructuring. There needs to be a crackdown on fare evasion. A time-based fare needs to be investigated. Utilizing “Rail Rights-of-Way” is only mentioned as a “possible option,” not something that should be done. No mention of off-street bus terminals or the need for express routes for non-Manhattan travel, possibly using smaller vehicles, or how Bus Time will be used to increase reliability and reduce bus bunching. No mention of new subway lines other than Second Avenue, or the possibility of light rail. Only SBS and busways are being considered for the next 20 years.

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.

  • Nick

    I’m sure business along Nostrand Avenue will love the fact that the B44sbs is stealing tons of parking spaces that there soon to be ex-customers used to use.

    • BrooklynBus

      The MTA never did state exactly how many parking spaces would be lost despite numerous requests by CB 15. All they would say is that the number of spaces lost would not be significant.