Southern Brooklyn

The Commute: Bus Bunching Is Rampant And Nothing Is Being Done About It — Part 1

Source: Brooklyn Reader
Source: Brooklyn Reader

THE COMMUTE: While recently attending Councilman Chaim Deutsch’s site visit at Avenue R and Nostrand Avenue, in an attempt to convince the MTA to convert the current local bus stop into a local bus stop that would accommodate Select Bus Service (SBS) buses as well, I took the opportunity to arrive one hour early to once again observe B44 SBS and local service. Last April, I documented a wait of 37 minutes for the local and 16 minutes for the SBS at the tail end of the morning rush hour at Avenue Z as well as extensive bus bunching with multiple buses arriving one after the other.

This time the monitoring was performed between about 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at Avenue R where more buses are in service and one would expect shorter waits. Northbound local service was fairly regular, with buses arriving at 11-, 10-, 14-, 10- and eight-minute intervals. The SBS buses passed the stop at five-, eight-, one-, five-, six-, six-, six-, six- and eight-minute intervals, also fairly regular service.

However, that was not the case in the southbound direction, which I monitored from 8:25 a.m. to 9:11 a.m. after I noticed several SBS buses right behind the other. Their intervals were zero, three, eight, 19, zero, five, three, one, four and zero minutes. Local service was just as irregular. Buses arrived every 22, two, 13 and three minutes. I was not paying attention to destination signs this time, so it is possible that the gaps south of Avenue U were even higher as some buses terminate there. Here is the link to the original data.

The fairly regular northbound service is probably attributed to the fact that the monitoring was performed closer to the beginning of the route whereas the southbound monitoring is toward the end of the route. However, should that really matter that much considering many schools have already closed for the summer, lessening passenger loads and lessening the opportunity for delays? In fact, of all the buses I observed, only one carried more than about 35 passengers. That was the southbound SBS, which arrived after 19 minutes, and was fairly crowded with many standees. Southbound SBS buses are scheduled at every four minutes during the time I was observing.

Since that bus was 15 minutes late, it is obvious that those passengers were not saving any time, since one has to ride at least three-quarters of the route just to save 15 minutes over the discontinued Limited service.

I also understand that there is major long-term construction on a portion of Nostrand Avenue north of Atlantic Avenue. If that is a major problem, why couldn’t the schedule be adjusted with buses terminating at Fulton Street, so as to minimally affect service at the southern end of the route?

What Is Being Done About Irregular Service On The B44?

According to Andy Inglesby, deputy director of Government Affairs for MTA New York City Transit, the MTA is very aware of the service irregularities and is addressing the problem. But how? Weren’t the exclusive bus lanes supposed to reduce traffic delays? Yet the delays on the SBS appear to be greater than on the locals, which do not use exclusive lanes for a good portion of its northbound service. One SBS bus was delayed at least 15 minutes, whereas the maximum local delay observed was about 12 minutes, assuming a 10-minute headway. So are the exclusive lanes really helping and is there any enforcement?

One can also wonder if the southbound delays were so extensive on a day when patronage was light due to many schools being closed. Are the delays worse when patronage is higher?

The MTA is concerned about the irregular service. However, the questions are: Are they concerned enough? And what are they actually doing about it? The SBS riders were promised faster, more reliable service. The service is somewhat faster for those who are able to take advantage of it. However, many riders still have to rely on the local, such as the riders using Avenue R, and for them service is definitely worse than when they had access to the Limited. One troubling comment made by Inglesby at the Avenue R site visit was that the MTA is most concerned about serving “the majority” of its bus riders. Shouldn’t the MTA be concerned about serving all of its riders?

Is counting the number of transferring passengers at Avenue R and usage at that bus stop all that is important in evaluating if SBS buses should stop there? Isn’t a mile between SBS stops excessive? Wouldn’t some Quentin Road and Avenue S passengers also gravitate to Avenue R if it were an SBS stop? Wouldn’t some B9 passengers use the B2 instead if it was closer, and also use the Avenue R stop if SBS buses stopped there?

Assuming the technical problems of extending the bus stop could be worked out, hundreds of additional daily Avenue R passengers would save time by being able to take advantage of the SBS and save up to 20 minutes each when you consider waiting less time for a bus. The SBS buses would only be delayed by about 15 seconds — negligible in terms of the schedule. Are hundreds of daily passengers not important because they are not “the majority” of riders?

Other Routes

On June 22, 2014, I monitored Sunday service on the B1 and B49 routes. I have frequently written about inadequate service on those routes due to the very high numbers of Kingsborough Community College students using that route. Apparently, service is just as irregular on Sundays. I will share those observations next week in Part 2.

In summary, the questions are: What is being done to improve reliability? Why, after more than seven months of operation, is service on the B44 SBS and B44 local so irregular? Will the service problems ever be reduced? And how about a Vision Zero for bus service delays?

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.