THE COMMUTE: On June 23rd, I wrote how there were unacceptable gaps in bus service on the B1 and B49 at the same time on a recent Sunday afternoon. Wondering if this was just a fluke or a regular occurrence, I decided to check Bus Time on the previous Sunday, June 22, after I boarded a B1 bus eastbound at Coney Island Avenue without any wait and noticed a second B1 right behind it. This is what I uncovered.
At 4:22 p.m., Bus #4938 left the Fourth Avenue terminus. Five minutes later, at 4:27, Bus #5092 left the same terminus. The scheduled departure times were 4:18 and 4:28.
At the other end of the route, Bus #9659 left the Mackenzie terminus at 4:30 and a following bus, #5106, left two minutes later at 4:32. The scheduled departure times were 4:27 and 4:35.
So with buses leaving the terminals off schedule, how could they possibly operate on time? Is there any wonder why large gaps in service are the norm? This is a Sunday in which schools are closed, traffic is not a major problem and the beach season has not really begun.
This is how service looked at 3:38 p.m.
There was a two-mile gap in Fourth Avenue-bound service at 23rd Avenue and a 4.3-mile gap in Manhattan Beach-bound service at Coney Island Avenue with the next bus approaching 18th Avenue. That is at least a 20-minute wait.
At 4:07 p.m., an approximate 40-minute wait (4.6 miles away plus layover) at Oceanview Avenue and Ocean Parkway was documented, Fourth Avenue bound.
At 5:10 p.m., there was more evidence of B1 buses bunched along the entire route with no buses at all west of 18th Avenue, with the next buses shown at 3.9 and 4.0 miles away plus layover.
The B49 service was even more erratic and totally unacceptable. At 4:04 p.m., there were at least five B49s on the portion of the route north of Ocean Avenue and only two buses south of Foster Avenue.
There was no bus at the southern terminus as evidenced by this Bus Time display, which shows if you were waiting for a northbound bus at Avenue M, the next bus was at Avenue U southbound having to first make its trip to Mackenzie Street before returning northbound. As this screenshot shows, taken at 4:05 p.m., the next bus northbound at Avenue M is an astonishing 7.0 miles away plus layover.
That is an approximately 60-minute wait! This is not the first time we documented 60-minute waits on the B49.
At 4:13, a bus was inserted at Avenue U northbound, reducing the 60 minute wait for passengers waiting north of that point to 20 and 40 minutes — still unacceptable for a route with scheduled 10 minute headways.
At 5:09 p.m., the 40-minute wait was now southbound at Eastern Parkway with no northbound buses at all along the length of Rogers Avenue.
Bus bunching is rampant throughout the system at all times, something I have always speculated about but could never prove until Bus Time was extended system-wide. Take a look for yourselves. Pick any route at any time, except after midnight, and you will find at least one instance of bus bunching, and sometimes four or five. Bus Time was supposed to be used to reduce the problem. There is no evidence that is occurring. If I could find a 60-minute wait on the B49 without looking very hard, on a seemingly normal Sunday afternoon, and encounter a wait exceeding 40 minutes, the Sunday before, and similar waits on the B1, that proves bunching on these routes are common occurrences. They are not unusual occurrences resulting from unusual circumstances. Thanks to Bus Time, the MTA can no longer dismiss bus bunching as caused by traffic and as being solely beyond their control.
It is within their control on a Sunday afternoon, is happening in epidemic proportions, and is being ignored by management. Buses are leaving terminals bunched, and drivers are not using layovers for their intended purpose, which is to get back on schedule. If the problem is due to inadequate run times, that has to be addressed. If some buses are skipping stops to make up time, which you cannot tell from Bus Time unless the “Next Bus Please” or “Not in Service” signs are displayed, these waits are even longer.
The MTA must start caring about its passengers. Routine 30-minute waits for buses scheduled at 10-minute intervals is not only extremely wasteful and inefficient for management, it is a severe inconvenience and waste of time for riders, in addition to being totally unacceptable.
If the MTA needs to beef up its Road Supervision unit, then that needs to be a priority. However, serving the passenger was never important to the MTA. The MTA only cares about its budget. Not devoting more resources to road supervision or asking bus operators to work overtime when necessary is penny-wise and pound-foolish. The MTA is more concerned with how service looks on paper than what is really happening on the street.
However, if buses operated on time and were not bunched, less service would be needed in the first place, increasing efficiency. That is not how the MTA sees it. They would rather deny that the problem is as extensive as it is or dismiss it as beyond their control. If they understood the relationship between acceptable service and increased ridership, they would address the problems that need addressing. Until that happens, getting a bus on time will remain a crapshoot.
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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