Archive for the tag ‘sbs’

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.

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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.

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Photo by Allan Rosen

Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: Last week, in Part 1, we started to discuss the Brooklyn Army Terminal as a major transportation hub and I got sidetracked into a discussion about involving the private sector, through the use of vans, to providing legal transit services between major transportation hubs.

I asked why we can’t have legal van operations here, where riders with similar origins and destinations can share rides, since there is not enough demand for regular bus service. Years ago, I was amazed to see all sorts of shared van services at LaGuardia Airport to cities across Connecticut at very reasonable fares. None, however, were available to destinations within the city limit. I attributed this to the influence of the city’s tax industry, which does not want competition.

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Source: Metro Transportation Library and Archive/Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week in Part 1, I briefly summarized the MTA’s “Looking Ahead: A Context for the Next Twenty Year Needs Assessment” and stated that the MTA’s reaction to changing needs is disappointing.  I stated this because many of the transit problems and problems with the MTA I have highlighted here during the past three years are not being addressed, presumably because the MTA still does not recognize them as problems.

Most importantly, the problem of inadequate and outdated bus routes that have not kept up with land use changes during the past 70 years, which I have mentioned numerous times, and has been recognized by others such as Transportation Alternatives, is totally omitted.  There is also no mention of improving reliability on local bus routes, another major problem. The MTA apparently believes that the local bus system operates just fine, except that perhaps it is a little slow, so their primary strategy to fix the bus system involves ramming through dozens of new Select Bus Service (SBS) routes. These routes help some but has been overrated and also makes travel more difficult for seniors since bus stops are spaced further apart. For many, using an SBS and transferring to a local bus will mean paying an extra fare. Presumably, occasionally adding a new bus route or extension at 30-minute headways, as they have been doing this year, is deemed sufficient for the next 20 years, although there is no mention of even the need to update bus routes or the need to do any system-wide studies.

The MTA recognizes that travel to the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) is becoming less important with intra-borough travel and inter-borough travel increasing over the next 20 years.  Yet no mention is made about studying new express bus routes between major urban centers like Flushing and Jamaica, or building off-street bus terminals or even new bus depots. Improving airport access to areas such as southern Brooklyn, which is totally deficient, is also something that needs study and is omitted.

Also, there is no mention of the need to study a new fare structure, such as a time-based fare, or the need to re-examine any aspect of the fare policy such as the refund policy for unused LIRR tickets, which now include a hefty penalty, extending the time that tickets can be used (which I believe now is only two weeks, having been reduced from six months), lowering intra-city LIRR fares, and integrating all MTA fares such as allowing free transfers between LIRR and buses and subways. It also omits adding new subway and bus fare options, such as greater discounts for prepaying for longer than 30 days, offering discounts for groups such as families using the same MetroCard or reinstituting discontinued options such as a biweekly pass, a one-day pass, etc.  The only mention of the fare relates to adding new subway transfers as if that is the only problem with the fare. There isn’t even a specific plan to replace the MetroCard that the MTA eventually intends to phase out.

Subjects that are Mentioned

Even the topics that the MTA does mention leaves much to be desired. For example, in “Overcome Subway Capacity Obstacles,” it is unclear whether “Nostrand Junction” refers to constraints at the terminal stop at the Flatbush/Nostrand Junction or the junction at Rogers Avenue and Eastern Parkway, where the Nostrand Avenue line diverges (also called “Rogers Junction”).  If it is the latter, the MTA promised to alleviate that congestion point in the 1970s and it has never been done. So why should anyone believe that it will be done within the next 20 years due to the MTA’s misplaced priorities, such as providing Wi-Fi services in the subways, which is considered more important than reassessing off-peak subway crowding guidelines to ensure that riders get seats at midnight?

Under “Optimize the Subway and Bus Network” it is disturbing that the MTA inserts the word “possible” when discussing utilizing under-utilized rights of way, rather than making a firm commitment to study the feasibility of the Tri-boro RX Plan, or Rockaway Line reactivation. That leaves open converting abandoned rights-of-way to busways as suggested by mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, instead of building the Tri-boro RX rail line.  The only possible advantage to a busway would be to operate a dozen routes on it, which would diverge to various destinations providing more direct service, which would never happen due to the high operating costs that would entail.

In the case of removing general traffic lanes for a Woodhaven Boulevard SBS instead of reactivating the Rockaway line, traffic would be greatly increased along the boulevard and surroundings streets. A rail reactivation would make midtown accessible from the Rockaways in 40 minutes, while an SBS along Woodhaven could only shave off 10 or 15 minutes from a two-hour commute.

The word “possibly’ also means perhaps letting valuable rights-of-way continue to rot or convert them to green-ways to enable three-hour bike rides to Manhattan. The MTA recommends completing the full Second Avenue Subway, while recognizing that over the next 20 years travel to the CBD will become less important and non-Manhattan travel will increase. So it is interesting that the word “possible” is not used when discussing the full-length Second Avenue Subway but is used when discussing reactivating unused or under-utilized rights of way, although reactivating those lines would cost approximately $50 million per mile, instead of the $2.3 billion per mile that Second Avenue is costing, with costs escalating every day.

The possibility of building other less costly subway lines during the next 20 years such as the Nostrand Avenue and Utica Avenue extensions are also omitted from the 20-year needs assessment, with the MTA putting all its eggs in one basket, SBS, the panaceas and cure-all for our transportation needs of the next 20 years.


Subways and buses came under the control of the MTA in 1968 to create a regional and unified transportation system. Yet now, more than 40 years later, they have not achieved that goal. On the surface there is one logo and there has been some streamlining. We also have some nice maps of the various systems but little else has been done with the exception of using toll monies to support mass transit.

Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority (MaBSTOA) and NYCTA have largely been combined and we now have bus-to-bus and bus-subway transfers, but there has been little or no further fare integration between the rails, subways and buses. The LIRR and Metro-North still operate as two totally separate agencies.

Private bus operations have been absorbed into the MTA as the MTA Bus Company, which still operates independently from New York City Transit preventing efficiencies from occurring like reassigning buses to different depots or streamlining bus routes. MTA Long Island Bus (formerly Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority) was dissolved. Instead of absorbing Suffolk County’s local bus system into the MTA as originally planned, operation of bus service was returned to Nassau County.

Regionalization of transit services is an admirable goal, but since it has largely not occurred more than 40 years after the MTA takeover, there is now talk of returning control of the subways and buses back to the City, which maybe now deserves a closer look.

“Looking Ahead” does not include a word about improving customer service which would include improving signage, announcements, maps, reopening closed subway entrances, changes to subway services, improving coordination between modes, and a willingness to fairly evaluate suggestions from the public rather than just dismiss them, which would result from a change in MTA corporate culture.

During the next 20 years, the MTA has not proposed any further efforts toward regionalization of the system and is showing that in “Looking Ahead” they are still suffering from tunnel vision, not able to see many of the system problems the rest of us see. That includes local bus routes not adequately serving the needs of the residents, some of whom have resorted to using dollar vans. That is a partial reason for “flattening” of bus usage that the MTA cites, the other being fare evasion. The MTA continues to largely ignore both in doing its bus planning. The MTA needs to remove its blinders when “looking ahead.”

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.

Traffic. Ugh. Source: Samuel Leo / Flickr

Traffic. Ugh. Source: Samuel Leo / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: My article about traffic congestion last week sparked a lot of criticism, specifically on SubChat, from those accusing me of being an automobile lover and bicycle hater. Of course, those advocating that we dedicate more street space to bicycles and pedestrians, and who do everything possible to discourage automobile use, misinterpreted my comments.

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The glorious, old Penn Station, before it was demolished to make room for the hideous monstrosity we know today. Source: Wikipedia

The glorious, old Penn Station, before it was demolished to make room for the hideous monstrosity we know today. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: Much of what I was taught in school was either useless or not true. I spent several years studying algebra, which I actually liked, but only had occasion to use it about six times in the 46 years since I graduated high school. Meanwhile, no one ever taught me stuff I need to know in life, such as how to pick a fresh mango. The fruit lady near where I used to work would reject a half a dozen mangoes before choosing the perfect one for me. I should have asked her for her secret.

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“This MTA budget not only lacks accountability, but is also most certainly not elementary, my dear Dr. Watson!” Source: The Gentleman Blog

THE COMMUTE: This can only happen in government. Governor Andrew Cuomo announces that he is making $358 million more available for the MTA in next year’s operating budget. The following week, the MTA announces it is deciding how to spend the new $40 million it will be receiving, while other analysts are claiming the amount is closer to $20 million. Just as the governor’s “new” money can disappear in only one week, so can the additional monies raised by a fare increase. Is it any wonder why transit riders and taxpayers are so frustrated?

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Thomas F. Prendergast, new MTA chairman and former president of MTA New York City Transit (center) speaks to the press. Source: Patrick Cashin for the MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: It was announced on Friday that, after 100 days without a permanent chairman, the former head of New York City Transit, Thomas Prendergast, who had been sharing the responsibilities with Fernando Ferrer, has been named the sole MTA Chairman and CEO. That is good news. We finally have someone who knows the system. We don’t have to give on-the-job training to a real estate mogul, someone whose primary credentials are finances (i.e. the past two chairmen), or a former transit head from another city. We all know that New York is not like any other major city and its transportation system and needs are unique. Continue Reading »

The Jackie Gleason Bus Depot. Photo by Erica Sherman

THE COMMUTE: Governor Andrew Cuomo, who I once said was “not a friend of public transit“ after he cut MTA funding, now has increased MTA funding by $358 million in the 2013/14 fiscal year budget. The question is what will the MTA do with this money? There are several alternatives. The MTA could:

  1. Return subway service crowding guidelines to what they were prior to the 2010 service cuts, thereby increasing subway service and reducing overcrowding.
  2. Restore all the 2010 bus service cuts. Some cuts may have been justified, but the MTA data presented at the time never conclusively proved that was the case. Routes with low ridership were eliminated, such as the B71 in Park Slope, when there were no suitable alternatives.
  3. Finally restructure the bus system to reflect land use changes made during the past 70 years. In many areas, needed bus route changes were never made because the MTA claimed they could not afford the added operational costs. Changes — such as the ones I mentioned here. I say “claimed,” because the MTA never considered increased revenue that would result from improved services, always assuming that additional service would not result in additional ridership or revenue.
  4. Provide new bus routes or extensions at minimal 30-minute service levels, attracting very new few riders.
  5. Provide managerial increases to managers who have not received a raise in five years and also not insist on a zero wage increase contract for the TWU.

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THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, we discussed why it is too late to change the proposed B44 Select Bus Service (SBS). In Part 2, we discussed why the B44 SBS is different from the other SBS routes. In this final part we will answer the question posed above. It is not such a simple question to find an answer for.

If you go to the MTA home page on the weekend, you first have to find and click on the “MTA Home” tab. It is in small print in the upper right hand corner in dark grey on a black background and not very obvious. During the rest of the week this step is not necessary. Next, you must click on the tab “MTA Info” in the top center. Then you click on “Planning Studies” on the left side of the page. Following that, you click on “Select Bus Service.” Then, on “Current and Planned SBS Routes.” And finally, on “Nostrand Ave SBS.” That’s six transfers. Couldn’t the MTA have made finding information about SBS on the web a bit easier instead of it being so cryptic?
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