Southern Brooklyn

The Commute: Why The MTA Can’t Be Trusted

A familiar sight: Next bus please! Source: afagen / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: They do not keep their promises, tell different communities different stories, and they mislead.

In my March 31 article, I promised to keep you informed regarding any MTA response I receive regarding my continual complaints about B1 and B49 buses not stopping to pick up passengers in the afternoon in Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. My lengthy complaint received a response (15 business days later, the maximum time allotted by the MTA), which basically stated that they sincerely apologize for the buses not stopping and that they will try to do a better job in the future.

It was a nice gesture but it did not answer any of my specific questions. The MTA closed out my complaint without solving the problem. However, I responded on April 21 with the following:

I appreciate your apology and the fact that you are striving to do a better job. However, I would just like to let you know that the very day I received your response, I and three other passengers were passed up again by a B1 bus, this time at Falmouth Street, also in the late afternoon.

No sense in providing the date, bus numbers or times since you are not taking any action regarding the bus operators or dispatchers I reported on. Luckily, this time three of the four passengers were able to take the B49 to the subway which was right behind. One passenger however, could only use the B1 and was forced to wait at least another 10 minutes, and possibly a half hour if two consecutive B1 buses did not stop, which is a distinct possibility, according to past experience.

I also would have appreciated a response to my questions regarding MTA policy for buses skipping stops when they are behind schedule and there is not another bus able to pick up those passengers. The problem still exists and I will continue to keep you informed until it is corrected.

I received a secondary response two days later on April 23, which stated:

We appreciate your interest in New York City Transit. We have forwarded your additional comments to appropriate Brooklyn Road Operations supervision for investigation and review.

Twenty-two business days passed and no further response. On May 14, the day I attended the MTA public hearing, the same thing happened again in the late afternoon. Two in-service buses passed by without stopping, although there was room for at least 10 additional passengers. Not knowing when the next bus will stop, and not wanting to be late for the hearing, I decided to take the bus in the opposite direction to Kingsborough, where I could change buses. I crossed the street and walked back one block to the bus stop and saw a bus coming. However, the driver also made no attempt to slow down or pull over to the curb. So I start walking out to the center of the street. When he stopped, I asked him why he didn’t pull over to the bus stop. He responded that he didn’t know I was waiting for a bus and thought I just wanted to cross the street.

The following day at about the same time, a B1 skipped Falmouth Street again, but luckily, this time there was a B49 right behind that did stop. However, if you wanted a B1 destination other than the Brighton subway, you were still out of luck.

So, What Is The Point?

Sheepshead Bites readers know that I have been complaining about this problem for around five years. At first, the MTA was very responsive, stating that they only could address the problem if I provide bus numbers, times, and locations. So I did that from that point on. Then they met with me personally on about a half dozen occasions, sometimes sending up to six employees to discuss the problems with me. Each time they made promises that they would remedy the situation. First they provided extra buses. They posted notices in the depots, which helped only for several weeks. Then they told me they would reinstruct their dispatchers, who I believe sometimes actually make the situation worse. Bus operators were then instructed to leave the college not quite full so as to be able to pick up remaining passengers. Off the record, I heard that bus operators were threatened when that was attempted.

I am not saying the MTA has been ignoring this problem or that they have not tried. Still, it’s been five years and the buses still do not stop when school is in session. School enrollment increases each semester and the MTA bases the number of buses on the previous semester’s enrollment, so the demand always exceeds the supply even with the yellow buses provided by the college.

When I suggested sending virtually empty B44 SBS buses to Kingsborough during school hours, to ease the burden on the B49, it was dismissed due to “funding limitations.” The MTA acts as if they have all the answers, which they obviously do not.

So, Why The Headline?

In five years, the MTA has not been able to solve this problem, which they promised to do on a number of occasions. They promise to reply within 15 days, and they do not. Nor do they notify the complainant that they need additional time. Some complaints and suggestions are just ignored or routinely dismissed. Recently, the Upper East Side’s Community Board 8 summoned the MTA to explain why M31 service along York Avenue is so unreliable, with off peak buses scheduled at every 20 minutes and often arriving every 40 minutes. Weren’t Bus Time and Bus Trek supposed to reduce bus bunching? Why didn’t the MTA mention the status of Bus Trek at that meeting?

Meanwhile, in Glendale, Queens, when Community Board 5 complained about infrequent and overcrowded bus service, the MTA representative promised more efficiency because of bus tracking. “Managers [sic] now how the ability to keep better track of things. It’s a great advantage.” Why do different community boards get different stories?

Manhattan Community Board 8 suggested the route employ low floor buses to reduce dwell time, a seemingly logical suggestion due to the high numbers of seniors and disabled passengers using the route to access a half dozen medical establishments along York Avenue. The MTA had no response and made no promises to try to increase bus reliability or to provide additional service. “It is not financially prudent for us to schedule more buses than there are riders,” they said, although riders insist that they often end up walking rather than waiting for a bus.

The MTA also intentionally misleads. When announcing new projects, only the advantages are mentioned. Disadvantages are ignored and are not known until after implementation. Regarding the B44 SBS, the MTA ignored repeated requests from Community Board 15 for the number of parking spaces that will be lost. They also never stated that those waiting at local stops south of Avenue U would have waiting times reduced by 50 percent at non-SBS stops. The MTA’s East Side Access Project will benefit Long Islanders traveling to the Manhattan’s East Side, but it will hurt Brooklynites, since all service to and from Atlantic Terminal will become a shuttle service to Jamaica. Anyone wishing to go further will not even have the convenience of an across the platform transfer. This has never been publicized.

The MTA is slowly returning service that was cut in 2010. However, they refuse to call them “service restorations,” but rather refer to them as “rider initiatives,” in order to make it appear that new service is being added. I have written many times regarding the misleading customer satisfaction surveys — not designed to assess customer problems, but to serve as propaganda as to how well the MTA is doing. I am certain if B1, B49, and M31 riders were queried, 75 percent of the passengers would not be satisfied with the service provided, as MTA surveys claim.

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.