Southern Brooklyn

The MTA Leaves Passengers Out In The Cold In Seven Degree Weather, And Politics Over Transit

A passenger languishes in frigid conditions while hoping to board a B1 or B49 bus. Source: Dav1d / Flickr
A passenger languishes in frigid conditions while hoping to board a B1 or B49 bus. Source: Dav1d / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: The ongoing problem of the B1 and B49 bypassing intending passengers while school is in session, which I have mentioned many times before, took no vacation during the recent Polar Vortex. I know I sound like a broken record, but I will continue complaining until something is done. The reason this practice continues is because passengers just accept it as normal operating practice and do not complain. Others believe their complaints will fall on deaf ears, so what’s the use? However, complaining does get results. The MTA, like other agencies and companies, use complaints to measure how they are doing.

On January 7, when New York City was enduring its lowest temperatures since 1896, and one day after school winter recess ended, New York City buses were still not making attempts to pick up all passengers waiting for buses. This required some passengers to needlessly wait at least double the scheduled headway. Normally inconvenient, this could have had deadly results for our elderly population, were they are forced to wait 30 or 40 minutes, or longer, for a bus in such sub-frigid temperatures.

Last Tuesday, I decided to make a short trip to the post office, the bank, and do a little shopping. Rather than wait for a bus, I decided to walk and only take a bus if I saw one coming, which is my usual practice, since I rarely use buses for long trips these days. When I arrived at West End Avenue, I saw a B1 approaching with three other passengers waiting, either for the B1 or B49. The bus (#4881) did not stop although there was room for at least three more passengers. After several more minutes, a B49 (#5171) approached and also bypassed the stop. Another B49 (#4623) with only about 55 passengers aboard was marked “Next Bus Please” and also refused to stop.

I was ready to resume walking until I saw another bus in the distance. I figured if it was a B49, I could use another post office and another bank, and forego the shopping. It was a B1 (#4887), more crowded than the buses ahead of it, with about 70 passengers. However, since it was a low floor bus, it appeared very full with passengers, although there was some room in the back of the bus. This driver, however, did stop and asked passengers to move to the rear. All three passengers were able to board. The operator remarked that it was important to serve our seniors, and he knows how difficult it is for them to wait for a bus in this frigid weather. He had a heart and I thanked him for stopping.

I also told him that the three buses before him refused to stop although they were carrying fewer passengers than he was. One of the other boarding passengers immediately corrected me stating that the previous “seven” buses did not stop. This occurred between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. — certainly not the peak hour.

Where else in the city is this also happening and when will something be done about it? Years ago, buses never left passengers standing at bus stops unless they were absolutely filled to capacity. Now, even buses with available seats bypass waiting passengers on occasion and use their “Next Bus Please” sign even when there is no other bus in sight. I will be investigating this problem further and hope to report back with some positive results in the near future.

Politics Over Transit

In other news, we saw this past week how politics became more important than the public’s welfare. Of course I am talking about the George Washington Bridge scandal, or the phantom-traffic-study-gate. You know, where an inordinate number of lanes on the George Washington Bridge were closed for four days last September. That caused massive traffic tie-ups, which spread throughout Fort Lee, New Jersey and posed a danger for emergency vehicles. At least one death was reported where the delay in receiving emergency aid could have made a difference. [Ed. – The Daily News reports that “The family of a 91-year-old woman who died during the George Washington Bridge lane closings won’t blame her death on the government-generated gridlock.”]

It was the top news of the week, in which political payback took the front seat over the public good. Before the scandal broke, the official reason for the lane closures was a “traffic study.” Did anyone actually believe that reason? Why would you create massive traffic chaos in order to conduct a study? If there was, in fact, a traffic study, any sensible person would have immediately halted it after the first day and not allow it to continue for three more days. The reasons for the huge traffic jam had to go deeper. I will not take a partisan approach blaming one political party over the other, because both parties are capable of such unconscionable actions.

Another example of politics being more important than transit was Governor Cuomo’s announcement to add four Metro-North stations in the Bronx. This is great news for north Bronx residents who have, for too long, suffered with overly long commutes to Manhattan. We built the massive Co-op City in the Bronx in the 1960s and it took more than 50 years to decide to serve the area with rapid transit. Unthinkable.

It also shows that the governor is considering other mass transit improvements besides mega projects for Manhattan and Select Bus Service (SBS) for the outer boroughs. Now, only if intra-city railroad fares are rationalized, so that it doesn’t cost three times the price of a subway ride or more to use a railroad within the city limits. Also, why should the construction of four stations and some other improvements cost more than one billion dollars? After all, we are not doing any underground tunneling. Can’t the costs be brought down somewhat? I guess I am asking too much now.

The obvious question, however, is why the MTA chairman was not allowed to announce this good news and why it had to come from the governor? The answer should be obvious. Governor Cuomo is up for re-election this year. After first stealing transit money necessitating severe service cutbacks and fare hikes, and twice defeating the Transit Lockbox bill (once by watering it down to make it mostly meaningless), he needed to show he does indeed care about mass transit for the outer boroughs. Let’s just hope he also cares for the other three outer boroughs as well.

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).

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