THE COMMUTE: If the elimination of the B4 in Sheepshead Bay has negatively changed your life, you can let the MTA know next Wednesday evening. The New York City Transit Rider’s Council will be holding its annual Bus Forum, April 25, where you can ask questions, or make comments and suggestions for Darryl Irick, senior vice president for the Department of Buses. There are more than one million different daily bus customers and 60 will be given the opportunity to speak for two minutes each. Isn’t public participation great?
Scott Stringer Spoke Up
It’s no secret that Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer wants to be the next mayor. During the past year, he has been making the rounds all over Brooklyn and in the other boroughs to get his name known. He has also spoken out loudly in favor of public transportation, something no other potential candidate has done thus far. Last December, he held a transportation conference. The same month he appeared in Manhattan Beach and, in March, he spoke before the Plumb Beach Civic Association. At that meeting, he agreed with me that Select Bus Service (SBS) is no panacea.
Stringer, this past April 17, addressed the Association for a Better New York, in which he supported the “X” subway, which would connect three boroughs utilizing the abandoned Bay Ridge LIRR right-of- way and expansion of Select Bus Service. He also criticized the MTA for cost overruns regarding the Fulton Transit Center and their lack of fiscal responsibility. He supports Gridlock Sam’s “Fair Plan.” He also made other funding recommendations, such as the restoration of the Commuter Tax, which was immediately shot down by suburban politicians and New Jersey Governor Christie. An excellent summary of Stringer’s speech can be found here and the entire speech can be found here.
While Stringer is to be commended for taking a pro-transit stance, what does it really mean? Nothing, really, because as mayor he will have no input into the mass transportation planning process, which is under the sole jurisdiction of the MTA. Remember Mayor Bloomberg’s promise for free crosstown buses if elected to a third term?
Stringer can only make a difference if he:
- can return control of the subway and buses to the city, or
- has the same clout as the current mayor, who was successful in getting the #7 line extended to stimulate development on the far west side and benefit the real estate industry.
However, one proposal was missing from his speech. It is what, as mayor, he could do to improve mass transit. That would be to increase the city subsidy to the MTA for providing reduced fares for seniors and students. This has remained unchanged in decades. This is why that would be fair:
First, the MTA only agreed in the 1970s to provide reduced fares if the city would make up the difference. The formula was complicated and the MTA always claimed it was being short-changed. Over the years, much of the city’s burden was shifted to the state, which has cut its assistance to the MTA in recent years.
Second, in most cities, they pay for school bus service. In New York City, school bus service — except for elementary school students and special needs children — is provided by the MTA and that service is substantial. At Kingsborough Community College and Leon M. Goldstein High School, for example, 12 additional buses are put on at school dismissal time. However, extra service is not only provided at the beginning and end of the day. Thousands of students arrive and leave between noon and 2:00 p.m. and all day long.
If not for the MTA, the Department of Education would have to provide all school bus service in the city, which would require the purchase of thousands of extra school buses, not to mention labor costs, fuel and maintenance that the city would have to pay for. Since the city benefits so much from the MTA providing services for them, shouldn’t they contribute their fair share of the cost for subsidizing losses incurred from school bus service and senior citizen reduced fares? They do that for the formerly privately-operated buses that the MTA assumed control over. It’s a lot easier for a politician to make recommendations that he will have no say in than in one that would fall under his or her domain.
I Spoke Up
In 2003, when the MTA first unveiled its plans for SBS, I suggested they order three-door articulated buses rather than the two-door variety to avoid longer dwell times at bus stops. Articulated buses can carry 50 percent more passengers than standard buses. Their response was that three-door buses were not structurally suitable for New York City streets and they would order buses with two doors.
They said the same thing in the 1970s regarding the two-door articulated buses — consumer groups pressured the MTA to buy these longer buses on heavily utilized routes to provide additional seating capacity. After years of refusing, the MTA finally relented. They were first placed on mid-Manhattan crosstown routes, the worst possible choice. That is because most trips on those routes are short and many people get on and off at each stop. It was not until after the buses arrived that the MTA realized that the depots that serve the routes for Manhattan’s avenues, where they were first intended to operate, could not handle the longer buses without extensive renovations.
When I took the 23rd Street crosstown bus that uses these buses, my trip from Sixth to 12th avenue took me 30 minutes with very little traffic and no waiting for the bus because the overcrowded bus spent five minutes at each bus stop loading and unloading. The reason for the overcrowding is that instead of providing 50 percent more seating, the MTA used these buses to cut costs, replacing five standard buses with only four articulated buses. This partially defeated the reason consumer groups asked for them in the first place.
Also, with less frequent service, many passengers using the crosstowns only for two or three blocks decided instead to walk, causing the MTA to reduce service further. I can still remember my transportation professor at Columbia University in 1972 telling us that you would never want to put articulated buses on a crosstown line. Is it any wonder that bus ridership is declining?
Last week, The New York Times announced that the MTA finally has begun to replace its two-door articulated buses with three-door buses as the older buses are being retired (The M15 SBS has already had them for awhile). This should speed service on Manhattan crosstown buses, which usually are slower than walking. It is a step in the right direction, although many years late. Articulated buses will finally be introduced to Brooklyn next year when they will be placed on the B44 SBS.
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).