MTA Caught With Their Pants Down: Part I

A crowd waiting 20 minutes for a bus on Falmouth Street at 5:09 p.m. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: Regular readers of this column know that my favorite subject is bus service, especially in Brooklyn. I particularly like to focus on subjects that virtually no one else pays attention to such as service to the area’s beaches. I’ve written about this subject several times before. Having ridden the B49 since the 1960s to go to Manhattan Beach, and constantly witnessing service irregularities dating back to then, I first attempted to get the MTA to pay attention to this problem in 1982 when I was director of the Brooklyn Transit Service Sufficiency Study, since irregular or poor service not only affects beachgoers, but it disrupts service along the entire route for all passengers.

Historical Perspective

Beach service is much improved today than it was in 1981 when I documented 90-minute waits on the B49 in front of El Greco. Bus after bus would not stop because they were packed with beachgoers. At that time, the MTA had no idea at all as to how many of its passengers used buses to access the beaches, and the grossly inadequate service reflected that. Passenger data was primarily collected for rush hours and midday weekdays only, with much it being fictitious. Dispatchers recorded times buses were supposed to arrive, instead of actual times, to make it appear they were doing a good job. They also were hesitant to get drivers in trouble for violating rules since they themselves had been promoted from that title and were friendly with their former co-workers. Some of that changed in 1985 when NYCT President David Gunn hired part-time traffic checkers to provide regular passenger counts on all routes to better match service to demand.

Beach Service On The B1 And B49 Today

The Manhattan Beach Community Group and Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association both started paying attention to bus service in 2010 when a sudden spring thunderstorm left thousands stranded on the beach on Memorial Day, and after gunshots and a killing on Brighton Beach caused the police to direct beachgoers to Manhattan Beach, severely overloading it. Those groups’ main concerns were that the MTA get the visitors out of their neighborhood in the quickest manner possible. The MTA made assurances that they would address the situation.

It was no secret that last Wednesday and Thursday’s temperatures would reach the mid- to upper- 90s. The weather forecasters were predicting it for days. Years ago, the MTA would listen to the weather predictions and schedule extra beach service on routes serving the beaches on very hot days, in addition to the already beefed up summer schedules for beach routes. Today, most beach routes receive the same amount of service whether the temperature is in the 60s and raining or if it is sunny and near 100 degrees. Extra service is no longer provided, except for Orchard Beach in the Bronx and Riis Park, because the base service is higher and the emphasis today is on minimizing overtime. Although 90-minute waits are a thing of the past, 30- to 45-minute waits are still quite common, since the emphasis is not to provide reliable and adequate service.

Providing the same level of service, regardless of the weather, delays everyone. The higher demand on beach routes on extra hot days plays havoc with service reliability, as I witnessed on Thursday. After spending a few relaxing hours at Manhattan Beach, I noticed a large crowd forming for the B1 and B49 buses at Falmouth Street at 5:00 p.m. (see photo above). There were about 30 people waiting, which meant that another 40 were waiting at Hastings Street and Jaffrey Street, combined. I was curious to see when the next bus would arrive so I waited. What I saw was so appalling, I stayed until 6:45 p.m., after first quickly going home to change and shower.

Passengers routinely waited 20 minutes for a bus with some waits exceeding 35 minutes. At Falmouth Street, they waited from 5:58 p.m. to 6:25 p.m. for the B1 and from 4:50 p.m. to 5:22 p.m. and again from 6:10 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. for the B49. The average B1 wait between 5:00 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. was eight and a quarter minutes, although the schedule calls for a bus every four minutes. The average B49 wait was 10.39 minutes, when the schedule calls for an average wait of four and a half minutes.

This was not a weekend, but a weekday rush hour, in which buses are supposed to operate every 10 minutes, or more frequently, on each route. On the B1 from about 5:11 p.m. to 5:31 p.m., buses are scheduled to arrive at Falmouth Street every five minutes. Two B1 buses arrived at 5:10 p.m. and the 5:16 p.m. and 5:21 p.m. buses were exactly on time. That’s where the good news ends. The 5:26 p.m. bus was 15 minutes late and arrived at 5:41 p.m. Then one B1 bus arrived at 5:49 p.m., and two more at 5:51 p.m.

Now I was getting curious, because last week I wrote that B3s were arriving and leaving from the first stop at Ulmer Park Depot already bunched together, and chastised the MTA for not having a dispatcher on duty. So I decided to walk to the first stop of the B1 and B49 outside Kingsborough College to see if a dispatcher was stationed there. There, indeed, was one and buses were still leaving the terminal bunched, not on one but on three occasions during the hour and three quarters I was watching them. I couldn’t speak to him because every time I checked, he was on his radio.

What Was Causing The Problems

Most bus delays are due to traffic conditions beyond the MTA’s control. However, from what I could determine, the Thursday delays on the B1 and B49 were caused by poor scheduling, poor dispatching and excessive passenger loads — all within the control of the MTA. The B1 is scheduled to travel from Kingsborough College to the Brighton Beach subway station in seven minutes. The B49 is scheduled to travel to Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue in six minutes. Those times are quite adequate when patronage is light. However, when students are exiting from the college, five minutes could be spent just loading the college students, so how could the buses arrive at their next time point in only one or two minutes? Clearly, it is not possible. Taking five minutes to pick up a full busload of passengers would already make them five minutes late.

Similarly, on heavy beach days, such as Wednesday and Thursday of last week, buses can easily use up five or six minutes just to pick up beach goers returning from the beach. When that happens it is not possible for the bus operator to make the next time point despite his or her best attempt. Once the bus is five minutes late, right off the bat, it easily loses another five slowing down to pick up additional passengers, or bypasses stops altogether, slowing down the following bus. If no corrective action is taken, and it seems little was taken, excessive waits are unavoidable.

Witness what happened with bus #5188 on the B49. It left the Mackenzie Street Terminal at 6:40 p.m. but did not arrive at Falmouth Street until 6:45 p.m. because it had to first spend several minutes picking up passengers at Jaffrey Street and Hastings Street. It left Falmouth at 6:46 p.m. — the time it was due at Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue. The two buses before it were missing, and the B49 just ahead of it, bus # 4596, left Mackenzie Terminal “Not in Service” at 6:35 p.m. That meant that Falmouth Street passengers waited 35 minutes for a bus.

I was able to walk the distance from the terminal to Falmouth Street faster than the bus. When it finally pulled out of Falmouth, 36 standees, or more than 75 passengers, were aboard.

Seventy-five people cramming onto bus #5188. Photo by Allan Rosen

Most likely, it did not stop again until it reached the train station, and that would mean that passengers waiting at West End Avenue and beyond had to wait even longer for a bus — perhaps longer than 45 minutes, instead of the 10 minutes scheduled!

Tomorrow: Other irregularities I witnessed and why the MTA was caught with their pants down.

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).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  1. I think the most amazing thing about the MTA is that there is no digital customer complaint database. I called a few weekends ago to notify them that Manhattan bound Q trains were not stopping at Neck Road or Ave U and this fact was not on their website – not on the front page of the “Weekender” or in any of the deeper website pages. I was told by customer relations person that he would forward my complaint to a supervisor. When I asked for the complain ID number, he proceeded to tell me there was no number. Startled, I called him out and said surely there must be some identification metadata given to my current call that he could provide me for future reference. He told me he was not in front of a computer. He was writing down my complaint on a piece of paper – in 2012, when phones are as powerful as some computers. The idea that the MTA doesn’t have (or pretends not to have) a complaint or complement database is astounding. How can you track improvement if you have no data? It is a clear lack of concern for the customer.

  2. you can go to and click on contact us to write about your complaint. works for me.

  3. I find it difficult to believe in this day and age that by calling a central number your complaint was not logged in anywhere. I could see it if you called a depot. Since I don’t doubt your word, the MTA certainly has some explaining to do. Considering all the emphasis Jay Walder gave to new technology, what you stated even sounds more incredible. Hopefully, it was a temporary glitch and the computer was just down.

    What I don’t like is that there is no direct button on the home page to lodge a complaint. You shouldn’t have to go through hoops by first going to several links like “Contact us” then click email, etc. when the Weekender is up how many people even know to hit the tiny grey “home” button first?

  4. Allan, another problem that I’ve experienced on the B1, while waiting at Papa Leone (West End Avenue). Middle of week, middle of day, not necesarily a beach day.

       The buses pass us by 1,2,3,4 of them, because they’re “too crowded”…. The problem is, they are NOT. The ENTIRE back half of the bus is empty. On a couple of the buses, I notice there are even EMPTY SEATS in the back. The passengers, for reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, crowd near the front of the bus, making the bus look “full”.

        I don’t know what to do about this problem. But I can’t blame the MTA for this one. Unless the bus driver threatens not to move until people move back, I don’t know what he can do. I guess it’s easer for the bus driver to keep moving. But we’re left standing at Papa Leone’s pretty darned frustrated.

       You’ve talked about lost revenues from people skipping the fare. But I can’t entirely blame people for going in the back door when there’s such a pile of humanity up front, and empty seats in the back!

  5. I have experienced what happened to you one many occasions and have had many discussions with the MTA about it and have also written about it here last year. There are several reasons. It is especially a problem with the new low floor buses where people tend to congregate in the front. I do not know why there can’t be a prerecorded message that the operator can’t just keep pushing. Many are reluctant to make announcements. Many times when they do, the drivers are just ignored. One reason is that 90% of the riders have a device stuck in their ear and can’t even hear a drivers announcement. One time the bus driver woudn’t open his door. I asked him why and he said there was no room. I told him there was and he opened the door and I made a loud announcement for everyone to move back. If I could do so coud he. They moved and I got on.

  6. The bus service has gotten our of hands in the Sheepshead Bay area. It has never been this bad. Buses just pass bus stops without stopping. Reporting it to 311 does nothing. And this is when Sheepshead Bay has built so many new condos, brought so many more people, and is paying SO MUCH in property taxes….. ridiculous.

  7. “I told him there was and he opened the door and I made a loud announcement for everyone to move back. If I could do so coud he.”
    You know as well as I do that many of them do not because they want to avoid confrontation that could lead to assaults. The shields are going up on more buses, but still I cannot blame them for not wanting to tell the people to move as you might still have a knucklehead that attempts to take things too far even with the shield there. If the operator does not want to say anything to them, then the people can do it themselves as you did. A passenger is not as much of a target as a rank-and-file employee and MTA does virtually nothing to back up employees that enforce the rules [and in some cases get hurt while doing so]. Employees that try to enforce the rules are typically treated even worse than passengers that try to enforce the rules, because it is usually harder for the employee to pursue legal action than it is for the passenger to do so.

    I completely support the actions of MTA employees in these situations, considering the fact that they have been physically and verbally abused for things as petty as skipping bus stops due to construction and not letting people on with pets. Not too long ago, one operator was hit for absolutely no reason on the M15; that story was all over the news. Better to leave most of these things such as making room on the bus to the passengers rather than the employees.

  8. Thats why I said there should be automated announcements. If they can have those automatic announcements telling people to use the rear door, they coulalso tell them to move to the rear.

  9. B49 drivers are all bitches – they never stop at Corbin Place – no matter how many students are inside: 1 or 50.

  10. I never have this problem, I just get into my luxurious Mercedes SUV using diesel, turn the key and go. No waiting, with air-conditioning running at full I look at all those sad people sweating at the dirty bus stop and nearly feel sorry for them. In fact, those sad people are still waiting when I come back. 

  11. I once complained how they left two elderly men about 80 out in the cold for thirty minutes when it was 20 degrees outside because the B1 wouldn’t stop at Corbin Place for them. I asked them if they woud treat their father that way. That driver got in trouble.

  12. Isn’t it just amazing how the same problems at the MTA never get solved? We’re talking decades now. And BusTime won’t address crowding.  Fine met the next bus…oh wait, ti’s passing me by because it’s full and now I’m stuck at a bus stop waiting 45 minutes for 1 to pick me up.  But most disturbing seems to be that the scheduled service is far more frequent than the actual service!  How can they do this?

  13. To be fair, most of the people skipping the fare aren’t going in through the back door just because there’s no room. But you’re right that a certain percentage (maybe 5-10%) is people going in through the back because there’s no space in the front. Like you said, there have been times when people are packed into the front, and yet there are seats in the back.

  14. This is why the MTA needs BusTime sooner than later—dispatchers could use it as a tool to send a bus from the terminal empty to pick up loads down the line. What the MTA needs are smarter dispatchers who are given historical ridership trends for certain seasons—as well as OP who thinks that way.

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