THE COMMUTE: Last week, in Part 1, I presented some findings from two hours of observing the B44 and B36 at Nostrand Avenue and Avenue Z. Here are the remainder of my findings and some conclusions and recommendations. You can see the original B44 data here, the B36 data here, and more here.
Average Passenger Loads
The average number of passengers carried by SBS buses at Avenue Z was 3.67 passengers per bus in the northbound direction and 2.52 in the southbound direction. (Note: All SBS buses are of the extra length variety, with more than 60 seats, and standing room that can accommodate at least another 40 passengers.) The average B44 local carried 4.5 passengers in the northbound direction and 1.89 passengers in the southbound direction. One SBS bus carried 10 passengers, and another 14. The remaining 44 buses all carried passengers in the single digits. In other words, the buses were virtually empty.
The total number of SBS passengers carried by all 46 buses passing Avenue Z was 77 going northbound and 63 going southbound or a combined total of 140 passengers. The number of B44 local passengers going northbound at that point was 36 passengers and 17 southbound or a combined total (on 17 buses within two hours) of 53 passengers. Total B44 patronage passing Avenue Z in both directions on the local and SBS was 193 passengers on 63 buses.
Compare that with B36 ridership. The average B36 bus carried 16.5 passengers leaving Avenue Z northbound, which is the off-peak direction. Toward Sheepshead Bay station, the average B36 carried 41.5 passengers. The least crowded bus carried nine passengers, while the most crowded one carried 92 passengers. (I computed 92 passengers by counting 52 standees as the bus left the Avenue Z stop bound for Coney Island. Eleven passengers boarded through the front door and six through the rear because the bus was too crowded in front for any more passengers, although boarding through the rear is illegal on non-SBS buses.) There was a total of 912 B36 passengers traveling toward Sheepshead Bay station and another 314 going toward Avenue U, for a total of 1,226 passengers on 41 buses.
Summarizing, the total number of 63 B44 buses passing Avenue Z within a two hour period carried 193 passengers, while the total number of 41 B36 buses carried 1,226 passengers within the same period! In other words the B36 carried 6.3 times the number of B44 passengers at this point with one third fewer buses, a gross misallocation of resources.
It is important that the MTA match its service to demand if they are to operate an efficient system. It is clear that in this portion of Sheepshead Bay that is not the case. Resources are being wasted, which are sorely needed on other routes, such as the B1, whose drivers routinely bypass passengers due to overcrowded buses.
Few conclusions can be drawn from a singular two-hour survey at one location, but the following is clear:
B36 bus service reliability is horrendous and, because of that, car services are starting to take advantage. One car service passed by the intersection I was watching twice and I saw about a half dozen green cabs patrolling the streets in search of potential bus passengers.
There is virtually no demand for a quick B44 SBS service to Brooklyn College and points north from points south of Avenue X, just as I predicted. The amount of B44 SBS service provided south of Avenue X is excessive, averaging between two and four passengers per articulated bus, which has a capacity of well above 100 passengers.
The MTA predicted that Plumb Beach riders would choose the B44 over the B4 and B36 serving Sheepshead Bay station. However, the B4 continues to carry between 160 and 200 passengers in the two-hour peak to Sheepshead Bay, and the B36 about 1,000. That is 12 times as many passengers as the B44 SBS, which only carries about 100 passengers even if we assume that an additional 33 percent of the passengers board at Avenue X.
- Fewer SBS buses should serve Knapp Street, because of a predicted demand that never materialized. I do not agree with CB15, which suggested the MTA utilize regular length buses on the SBS instead of standard length buses. These buses do get utilized further down the route, and the entire service cannot be planned according to ridership in Sheepshead Bay.
- However, B44 SBS buses could operate with nearly full loads in the off-peak direction on school days. That is, if alternate buses served Kingsborough Community College directly on school days, as I proposed earlier. The MTA rejected that idea because of “funding limitations.”
- Buses could also be much more efficient in the off-peak direction if SBS buses operated to the Sheepshead Bay station instead of Knapp Street if that were possible, and that alternative was chosen. The MTA failed to keep its promise to evaluate this suggestion. Speaking of broken promises, additional B44 locals were promised but never materialized. Only the SBS schedule was revised, which now permits a direct ride between Knapp Street and Williamsburg without a change of bus. Judging from the average two to four people aboard at Avenue Z, the demand for that service is also questionable.
- The MTA must make a much better effort to operate buses closer to schedule. Waiting 37 minutes for a bus scheduled at every 15 minutes; waiting 31 minutes for a bus scheduled at every 12 minutes, or waiting 16 minutes for service scheduled at every eight minutes is unacceptable. Pre-paying your fare at a machine costing $50,000 each, excluding maintenance, could conceivably cost you 15 minutes if it causes you to miss the bus, while the bus has the potential of saving the average passenger only 4.4 minutes. The only statistic you will hear from the MTA is how buses save 25 minutes from one end of the route to the other. If 10 people a day are making that trip, it would be a lot.
Having four B36s make the turn from Avenue Z to Nostrand Avenue within seconds of each other, all in service, at 8:36 a.m. is also inexcusable when the scheduled headway is every six minutes. The operating people and supervision do try, but without the proper resources from management, their task is all but impossible, and limited to putting out fires.
The MTA needs to pay better attention to the needs of the riding public. Rather than be a victim of its own arrogance, thinking they can fool the public with phony statistics, such as 99 percent of the riding public are satisfied with SBS. The methodology employed is like asking people to rate their current job satisfaction. A majority would rate their job satisfaction above 50 percent.
All that means is they would rather continue working at their current job than look for another one. It does not mean that 99 percent are satisfied with their current job. It is a known fact that the public is generally unhappy with all MTA bus service, not that 75 percent are satisfied with service reliability, according to the MTA.
As long as the MTA continues to waste resources by providing excessive service where it is not needed, inadequate service where additional service is needed, and does not more effectively reduce bus bunching, the system will never be run efficiently and we all lose.
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.