Former Transit Brass Criticizes Latest Cuts

Photo courtesy of a-NeRo86 via Flickr

Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of Bus Planning for New York City Transit, has fired off a 2,600-word missive at the MTA for its latest round of cuts.


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Rosen posted his planned testimony for this Wednesday’s MTA hearing, in which he lays into the befuddled agency for poor planning. And he should know – in addition to his role as Director of Bus Planning, Rosen wrote his masters thesis on the “Inefficiency and Ineffectiveness of Brooklyn Bus Routes” at Columbia University. He’s also a 25-year veteran of the MTA, retiring in 2005 after recovering the authority millions of dollars as Director of Asset Recovery.

The scope of Rosen’s challenge to the MTA is breathtaking. His years of experience afford him an advantage few critics of the MTA have, including a deep knowledge of criteria and guidelines used to determine “acceptable” cuts. And he uses that knowledge to do an almost point-by-point decimation of the MTA’s plan.

Among Rosen’s critiques, which he explains at length, are that the MTA:

  • overestimates the cost savings provided by cuts
  • assumes inconvenience is not a factor in determining whether someone chooses to use the system or not
  • grossly understates the negative effects … [which include for some] no mass transit option at all
  • based its cuts on faulty criteria (which Rosen picks apart well)
  • routinely chose cuts over optimizing efficiency

He also hints that the plan being put forward now is not based on fresh data, but has been a “go-to” plan shelved for many years until deficits grew too deep.

Notably, one of the bus cuts that Rosen singles out for examination is the B4, which will have service eliminated east of Coney Island Avenue. Not only has he observed much higher ridership than the MTA’s data claims, but the service elimination leaves residents with a walk much longer than the MTA’s own planning guidelines allow. The cut will sever mass transit options to the Emmons Avenue waterfront, including a shopping and dining district, major movie theater, and several senior homes.

Rosen is submitting his full testimony electronically, but he’s also planning on attending Wednesday’s hearing and delivering a three-minute version. “I have not been this upset about service cuts since 1993, which was the last time I testified at a hearing,” he told Sheepshead Bites.

He urges all of Sheepshead Bay’s residents to attend the hearing or send comments by e-mail, because he says the MTA is attempting to “overwhelm” with cuts and make it impossible to fight.

Below I excerpt pieces of Rosen’s post, but I strongly advise residents to read his entire testimony.

Most people believe that the purpose of the MTA’s Operations Planning staff is to change routes to facilitate travel.  It has always puzzled me why the MTA needs such a large planning staff when routes are rarely revised. After a quick review of the latest proposed service cuts, the largest number of service changes in MTA history, the answer is obvious.  Planners are not trying to change routes to make travel easier, but to eliminate them entirely or severely reduce the duration of service, such as by cutting weekend service. These changes, however, mark a departure from previous proposals. An attempt is made to alter bus routes to minimize the effects of eliminating them entirely.
We recognize the MTA’s need to cut service due to the size of the budget gap and the City and State’s reluctance to increase MTA subsidies, and agree with the goal to cause the least inconvenience to passengers.  However, a close analysis of the methodology reveals:
  • Much more ridership and revenue will be lost than acknowledged resulting in an overestimation of the cost savings; by assuming inconvenience is not a factor in determining whether someone chooses to use the system or not;
  • There is no way to determine how the final decisions were arrived at just from knowing the criteria utilized.
  • The negative effects of the changes are grossly understated causing massive inconvenience to great numbers of people, sometimes leaving them with no mass transit option at all.  This is unprecedented.
Given the scope of these changes, it is incomprehensible that these Proposals could have been prepared within 30 days as claimed, because they differ so greatly from the December 2009 proposals. It is more probable that such a complex set of service changes have been sitting on the back burner for years ready to go at a moment’s notice when the deficit reached a certain level. The question then becomes: were the changes validated with the recent data that are provided, or were earlier data merely replaced to justify previously determined service cuts?
Underestimation of Revenue Loss
When service is reduced, patronage and revenue decline. Yet, revenue losses are projected only in a few instances, usually only when overnight service is eliminated, where absolutely no mass transit alternative exists.  In other cases, it is stated that some passengers may require additional transfers, and it is assumed that these passengers will not use other non-MTA modes of travel. Untrue — inconvenience does count. Passengers will not be reallocated among the remaining services if the inconvenience is too great.  This pattern of severely underestimating revenue loss is the reason why traditionally, after the effects of service cuts are analyzed; projected savings are never fully realized necessitating further cuts.
Underestimation of Customer Impact
Alternative routings are listed that are not within walking distance of the routes being eliminated.  The ones shown for the B71 are between a ½ and ¾ miles away, way above planning guidelines of ¼ mile to the nearest bus route.   In many cases it would take you longer just to walk to and from the alternative route than to make your entire trip by walking.  Yet no revenue loss is projected.
The B4 east of Coney Island Avenue is proposed for elimination because it is “duplicative” In actuality, walking distance to the closest route is well over the planning guidelines of ¼ mile if the route were discontinued   Distance was determined as the crow flies, not by true walking distance, since the Belt Parkway was not taken into consideration. The Belt Parkway makes it difficult to just walk from Emmons / Neptune Avenue to Avenue Z. because you can only do so at Ocean Parkway, Coney Island Avenue, East 12 Street, Sheepshead Bay Road, and Ocean, Bedford, and Nostrand Avenues. This means you first have to walk to one of these streets before you can begin your journey to Avenue Z which itself is over ¼ mile away. The true walking distance is almost a half-mile to the alternative (B36) route. In fact, for riders east of Nostrand Avenue, the walking distance to the B36 can be close to a mile away. Yet, you state the effect in your report as merely adding 5 to 10 minutes to per trip.  People do not walk that distance in 5 to 10 minutes and all are not able to.
Also, the B4 is not as lightly utilized, as you would like us to believe. On February 3, 2010 at 2:35 PM, I counted 35 passengers on the B4 eastbound at Neptune and Ocean Parkway, about half of which were students.  A westbound bus was spotted a minute later carrying 25 people.
On Sunday, February 7th I rode it again from Brighton 3rd Street to Emmons and East 29th Street. The bus came right on schedule at 3:05 PM. There were 13 people on board. By the time I got off, there were as many as 18 on the bus, and 16 remained when I got off.  I also took the bus in the reverse direction since a bus was due in 5 minutes; it arrived on time. There were 13 on the bus in that direction. The Sunday headway is 20 minutes.  One would logically think that you would first cut headways to 30 minutes before discontinuing the route entirely.  It’s difficult to believe that virtually every other route in the City is busier than this one during the off-peak.
All east-west access is lost to a major movie multiplex theater and several restaurants.  For the people of Plumb Beach, it is their only way to access the Sheepshead Bay Station.  Even if an additional free transfer is granted, people will not take two buses to reach a subway and will not endure a longer bus ride on the B44 to the Nostrand Avenue subway.  Illegal vans will just fill the void to take people to the Sheepshead Bay Station and you have absolutely no problem with that.
Your strategy is to overwhelm with so many service cuts all at once that it will be impossible to fight them all assuring that many will be approved. The Notice of Public Hearing in the buses is inadequate because the details appear in 10 or 12 point condensed type making it extremely difficult to read and does not even mention “Route Eliminations” in large type and just states “Service Changes.” The cuts themselves are not adequately described, referring you to the internet for further information.  Not everyone especially seniors know how to use a computer.  Many people will not even realize that entire routes and portions of routes are being eliminated until they wake up one day to discover no bus service.  Supplementary signs on the buses were needed on the affected routes.
The service cuts that are well thought out should be approved, but not until you correct your data deficiencies, so we can be absolutely sure that the ones chosen cause a minimal amount of harm.