Passengers prepare to board the Q35 at Riis Park Beach en route to Flatbush Avenue. Source: Ryan Janek Wolowski | Flickr

Passengers prepare to board the Q35 at Riis Park Beach en route to Flatbush Avenue. Source: Ryan Janek Wolowski | Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Regular readers of The Commute know that my favorite topic is the need for better bus routes. I have written about this on numerous occasions. We also often hear about reliability issues, a subject we have also addressed.

The big push now by the MTA, the mayor, and New York City administrators is to greatly expand Select Bus Service (SBS), conceived more than 10 years ago, and first arriving in Brooklyn last year on the B44. The MTA recently sponsored a discussion at the Transit Museum about their plans to greatly expand SBS. I did not attend because I heard their spiel many times before. That SBS makes service better for everyone. Buses travel faster and everyone benefits. Ninety-nine percent of the SBS riders love it. We can’t afford to build any more subway lines (except in Manhattan, of course), so this is the answer for the next generation. I knew there would be no opportunity to challenge these claims.

I have been a frequent critic of SBS, not because I disagree with the concept that promises faster bus service through increased spacing of bus stops, exclusive bus lanes, fare prepayment in most cases, and through other measures. The concept is fine. What I disagree with most is the inadequate, incomplete, and faulty data collection process, which exaggerates the benefits of SBS and trivializes its disadvantages.

However, this article is not about SBS. It is about how local bus routes have been ignored and have not changed as needs warrant. I have also criticized the MTA’s meager attempts to address this issue by creating a few new shuttle routes operating Monday through Friday at 30-minute intervals, which amounts to using band-aids when a tourniquet is needed.

When MetroCard Gold was created in 1997, it allowed free bus-subway transfers. The slogan was “One City – One Fare.” Yet the city never really achieved that goal, which is becoming further out of reach as SBS and Limited services expand. These services have increased the need to transfer, and in some instances the need to pay a double fare or make a more indirect trip to avoid it. (Only one bus-subway transfer is allowed or one transfer between buses in virtually all cases.) I have also discussed how this policy could be changed to be more fair.

Today, we will focus on the need to make indirect trips or pay double fares because of inadequate bus routing. For example, anyone traveling between Sheepshead Bay and the Rockaways must use three or four buses at a cost of two fares. Although the trip is not lengthy in terms of miles, it is very time consuming. One must use the Q35 and transfer to at least two other buses to reach the Rockaways. The only way to avoid a double fare is to take the Q or the B in the opposite direction to Downtown Brooklyn, change for the R at Jay Street Metrotech, then change for the A train, and change again for the Rockaway shuttle and perhaps another bus. That trip could take two hours and isn’t convenient requiring three or four transfers.

That was why I proposed a direct bus route from Sheepshead Bay to the Rockaways during the discussion of restoring the B4 to Sheepshead Bay. Restoring the old ferry that used to depart for Breezy Point from Emmons Avenue and Ocean Avenue until the early 1960s — for the whopping sum of 25 cents — would also do much to reduce the barrier to travel between these areas. Connecting these areas would also be an economic boost for both, as encouraging the use of mass transit since the toll rates on the Gil Hodges-Marine Park Bridge increased from 10 cents each way to $3.75 and will most likely go to $4 or $4.25 in another year.

Another important need is to provide direct bus access from southern Brooklyn to JFK Airport and the regional shopping center in Spring Creek. I made detailed proposals for increased access to Kennedy Airport here.

Sheepshead Bay Is Lucky

Unlike other areas such as Borough Park and Bensonhurst, where north-south bus travel is abysmal, most of the bus routing in Sheepshead Bay is satisfactory. That is due to the southwest Brooklyn bus changes I was responsible for in 1978. Before then, it was not possible to make a direct bus trip from Brighton Beach to Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge, which could only be accomplished using three or four indirect bus routes or two subways and transferring in Downtown Brooklyn. Now it is a one-bus trip via the B1. Accomplishing those changes, however, was not easy. It required four years of effort on the part of the Department of City Planning and constant obstacles thrown our way by the MTA.

The only other major needed bus route changes in Sheepshead Bay are the needs to make the B2 and B31 more useful by converting them from subway feeders to trunk routes by lengthening them, which I discussed here. Presently these routes are only well-utilized during rush hours and only carry a half dozen or fewer passengers per bus at other times. This causes a drain on the MTA’s finances. Trunk routes that extend across the borough are generally better utilized than short feeder bus routes.

Queens And Staten Island Fare Even Worse Than Brooklyn

Queens and Staten Island’s bus routes meet the needs of its residents and visitors far worse than Brooklyn. Some were just haphazard combinations of other routes, such as the Q38 in Middle Village, which does nothing more than nearly forming a big circle with the route ending near where it begins. Yet it remains unchanged for 50 or 70 years with little thought given to its usefulness. The MTA merely absorbed it into its system along with other formerly privately operated bus routes without study or analysis.

The B21, which I replaced with the B1, was a similar example of a low usage route that served little purpose. It began at Haring Street and Emmons Avenue, and operated on Emmons Avenue to Sheepshead Bay Road, and Avenue Z, Ocean Parkway, Brighton Beach Avenue and Oriental Boulevard to Manhattan Beach. Why would anyone traveling between Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach want to first take a grand tour of Brighton Beach? They wouldn’t. So should there be a direct route to circuitously connect the two areas? It made no sense and the low ridership on the B21 proved it. There was a far greater need to access Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge directly.

Next Week: How the bus system was never planned and how the MTA’s shortsightedness prevents proper planning.

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

    (re the B2 and B31) “Presently these routes are only well-utilized during rush hours and only carry a half dozen or fewer passengers per bus at other times. This causes a drain on the MTA’s finances. Trunk routes that extend across the borough are generally better utilized than short feeder bus routes.”
    Um, every route the MTA runs is a drain on its finances, pretty much. Are there any routes in New York that have a farebox recovery over 100%?
    Extending these routes would only improve the MTA’s finances if the additional patronage from extending them brought in more revenue than the additional cost of operating the longer routes.

    • Allan Rosen

      There may be a few that have a farebox recovery over 100%, but a lot depends on how you do your accounting. Do you consider breaking even when only the direct cost of operation is counted, or should you count indirect costs like pensions, healthcare benefits, capital costs for obstructing new depots, etc? That debate has been going on for a long time.

      I didn’t say that making tese routes for useful which would likely triple the patronage on the existing segments would result in them turning a profit, only that they woud loose less money than they lose now. If you are going to count indirect operating expenses, then you should also consider indirect benefits to the city also, like ease of finding a job, and an increase in commercial activity and spending more frequent transit ridership would cause and the resulting increase in income and sales taxes generated. The MTA only looks at one side of the picture, the cost to operate new or extended routes.

  • Mat50

    Has there ever been a bus line or suggestion of one, that directly connected the Sheepshead Bay area to either Kennedy or LaGuardia or both?

    • Allan Rosen

      As far as I know, no one ever proposed a bus from Sheepshead Bay to LaGuardia. I first proposed one in 2001 to Kennedy. At meeting with Community Board 15 in 1993, the MTA stated it was looking at a route to JFK from Bay Ridge via the Belt Parkway, but didn’t give any details. That was the same time they were reconsidering rerouting the B1 from Bay Ridge Avenue to 86th Street which thy finally did in 2010. They were also considering bringing back the F express in Brooklyn, then changed their mind saying there was no money or it. The idea was recently revived a few weeks ago by some elected officials.

      What is so frustrating is that it takes the MTA 5 years to study a single bus route change.

      • Mat50

        If anyone starts a petition, I’ll sign it. It’s cheaper and faster to take the bus from Newark Airport to Penn Station and then the subway and bus home than pay $50 cab fare. Thanks!

  • winson

    A bus route from Sheepshead Bay-Brighton Beach to the Rockaways would be awesome

  • Wi Cho

    Like to see MTA to extend the B2 bus to Rockaways.