THE COMMUTE: I have often been critical of MTA route planning. Last week I asked what faulty methodology resulted in truncating the B4 at Coney Island Hospital on weekends, middays and evenings when service was cutback in 2010. The original plan was to truncate the line at all times until I provided data showing that the route was well utilized on weekdays at 2:30 p.m., with seated or nearly seated loads at Ocean Parkway and Neptune Avenue. Despite that data, the MTA still decided to reroute the bus from Neptune to Avenue Z where it was already served by the B36. That decision was rescinded two weeks ago.
Another fault with that plan, which I criticized at the time, was that it created a one-way transfer between the B68 and B4 during the times the B4 terminated at a Coney Island Hospital. So how does the MTA make their planning decisions? They first draw their conclusions, then manipulate the data to support them rather than testing their hypotheses in an objective fashion. When justifying their 2010 service cutbacks, they minimized the ill effects by inaccurately measuring walking distances to alternate routes and by providing unrealistic alternatives.
When proposing new routes or extensions, they usually do not consider the potential of additional ridership — only the additional operating costs involved. For that reason, all improvements are balanced with service reductions that unnecessarily harm passengers in order to even out costs. One exception was a Queens bus rerouting when the Aqueduct Racino began operation more than a year ago.
That analysis failed to take into consideration the inconvenience to existing riders, but magically assumed that the change would generate 400 new riders per day. Coincidentally, that was the exact number needed to balance the additional operating costs. No backup was provided as to how the additional patronage was projected. When I once suggested a bus route modification, it was rejected solely for the additional expense, which would have required only two new riders per trip to balance the increased operating costs. Those were exaggerated anyway because the additional mileage was overestimated and the fact that running time would remain unchanged was not considered. That is in the past now.
What About The Future?
The MTA claims to use computer modeling in planning Select Bus Service (SBS) routes, but has not revealed any of its assumptions. It should be able to predict additional patronage and ridership shifts resulting from proposed route changes if it works properly. However, the benefits of SBS have been exaggerated and the disadvantages minimized. The only measures — used to evaluate its success or failure — are running-time savings and additional route patronage, not even considering that some “new” patronage may merely be riders attracted from other routes. However, that still does not tell the complete story.
Often, local service is denigrated once SBS is instituted. At the September meeting of the PCAC NYCT Transit Riders Council, Council Member Trudy Mason remarked the following:
“…She stated that on 2nd Avenue, the SBS buses come along at a rapid rate and there are no M15 local buses available for riders who want them. She said that she stood for 27 minutes at the stop between 85th and 86th Streets and that five SBS buses passed the stop before a local bus arrived.”
The MTA continues to push forward with additional proposed routes despite not performing proper evaluations of existing routes. The B44 SBS will commence later this year, and along Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens in the next few years. The MTA makes a few changes, like adding stops due to community opposition, but instituting SBS in the selected corridors is a foregone conclusion.
The Future Of The F Express
In the early 1990s, the MTA briefly considered re-instituting the F Express in Brooklyn, but dropped the idea because of the increase in operating costs. Now they are considering it once again, but only in Park Slope, where there are four tracks — not in Southern Brooklyn, where the three tracks would permit express service only in the peak direction. Again, rather than performing an objective study to determine if the return of express service is warranted by weighing the costs, and the effects of ridership, they have already arrived at their conclusions, which are to reinstitute express service north of Church Avenue — only without stopping at Bergen Street, as it had done in the past — and retaining the G extended to Church Avenue permanently.
At the same PCAC meeting, Jay Krantz, NYC transit director, Rail Network Planning, discussed the future of the Culver Line following the completion of the Culver viaduct rehabilitation. Retaining the G to Church Avenue, which was brought about through community pressure, not by the MTA’s own initiative, was justified by stating: “[T]he extension of the G train to Church Avenue on a permanent basis will continue a time savings for riders of about one and a half minutes per trip.” An F express north of Church Avenue was justified for further study by stating: “[T]wo-way express service between Church Avenue and Jay Street (would save) 4 minutes in travel time for riders.”
However, when asked why there would not be one-way F express between Church Avenue and Kings Highway, Mr. Krantz stated: “[I]t offers little or no net travel time benefit and so is not recommended for future study.” It would save at least two minutes, which the MTA apparently does not consider significant. However, added to the projected four-minute savings by operating expresses north of Church Avenue, a six- or seven-minute savings would have resulted for residents of Gravesend and Coney Island.
Does anyone else see this contradiction in logic that a two or three minute savings is called “insignificant” when the MTA does not want to make a change, while a one-and-a-half-minute savings is significant, in the case of the G, where the MTA has already decided to make a temporary change permanent? Contradictions in MTA planning logic are nothing new. It is something I have been pointing out for 40 years. Proposing to lengthen any bus route results in a response that the route would become unreliable, except when the MTA makes the proposal, when decreased reliability is not a factor.
Responsible planning projects new and lost ridership, as well as considering the effects on neighboring routes. The MTA makes no such projections. Increased ridership on the M15 SBS was used to measure success, but no one considered the possibility that the bulk of the “new” ridership may have merely shifted from neighboring routes. In deciding the future of the F express, the MTA, again, is only concerned with existing ridership — not the effects on other routes or additional ridership generated.
Presently, many who live between the F line and the B/Q lines choose the Brighton line, even if it is further away, because it operates an express while the F does not. Even when there is no Brighton Express, the MTA admits that beachgoers choose the Q over the F making it more crowded. Those living equidistant between the F and the D, choose the D because it operates express at least part way. An F express from southern Brooklyn would help equalize ridership between the D, F, and B/Q, and would mean quicker trips and better service for most. Perhaps, the MTA would arrive at the same conclusion if only they would not draw their conclusions before embarking on their “studies,” instead of after.
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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