Jan
25

In service cut plan, bus riders hit hardest

By · Published in 2010

The M10 is one of numerous city buses to see its route altered. (Source: New York City Transit)

In the overall scheme of the New York City public transportation landscape, buses are often considered the forgotten step child of the transit network. Because of long-standing stereotypes that unfairly label buses as an inferior means of travel that only those of the lower class use, buses have not earned much respect in New York City. We see that in the way Select Bus Service plans do not include separated routes, and we see that in the way Albany has yet to approve camera enforcement measures for bus lanes in the city. They don’t get no respect.

Yet, buses are a key component to life in New York City. Every weekday, 2.324 million New Yorkers ride the bus. Some are the elderly or handicapped, and the subway infrastructure is simply not an option. Others ride buses for the direct connections they provide between adjacent neighborhoods; others use buses to get to subway lines; and still others resort to buses because they simply have too many grocery bags to haul down to the subway and the bus is right there. A third of New York City Transit’s passengers can’t be wrong.

The bus though remain shrouded in mystery. The borough’s maps are incomprehensible. Bus routes overlap in weird and inexplicable ways, and the schedules published on bus stops are oftentimes simply wrong. If anything is indicative of the way the MTA simply sucked up private transit companies, the buses are it. And now, many of the buses are on the chopping block.

When the MTA unveiled its revised package of subway cuts on Friday afternoon, I focused on the subway service changes. Those are, after all, the sexy part of the package of cuts. Everyone likes to hear about the Chrystie St. Cut, and few really care if a bus route they’ll never ride in Eastern Queens is combined with another route they’ll never ride. Yet, the buses are bearing the brunt of the Transit cuts.

New York City Transit is cutting $77.6 million from its budget via service cuts. The subway changes we discussed on Friday will account for just $17.6 million of that savings, and changes to the city’s bus routes will account for the remaining $60 million. No borough is spared an extensive restructuring of the bus cuts, and 14 routes in total will be eliminated. Another eight routes — including Manhattan’s M8 route, subject of multiple protests in 2009 — will be cut during the weekend. In total, 41 weekday routes and 32 weekend bus lines will be partially discontinued or restructured in such a way that other bus routes will be extended to cover the same territory.

On paper, it’s hard to make sense of all of the changes. I can’t do justice to the $60 million in discontinuations, restructuring and replacements simply because I’m not as conversant in the ins and outs of the city’s rather inefficient bus map. Instead, as an example of Transit’s approach to these cuts, let’s explore how my neighborhood — Brownstone Brooklyn — will be impacted by the cuts. For those who want to see the city-wide impact, Transit’s PDF of the service changes delves in depth, and I’ll conclude this piece with some thoughts on the bus changes.

This map shows Transit’s first approach toward addressing bus redundancy issues. The agency plans to eliminate the B75 and extend the B57 to a turnaround at Smith-9th Sts. This will provide a more streamlined bus route from Carroll Gardens into Downtown Brooklyn and beyond while shuttling passengers to and from the subway. Meanwhile, the B61 will be extended from Red Hook to Windsor Terrace, replacing the B77 and parts of the B75. Generally, these shifts will improve dwell times, provide for more efficient turnarounds and better direct service. Bus frequency should remain the same as well, but fewer drivers will be needed to man the routes.

Next, Transit is looking to eliminate routes with low ridership that aren’t far from more well-traveled neighborhoods. As part of its study in Brooklyn, Transit determined that most of the riders on the B69, a route that current runs to and from Windsor Terrace along 8th Ave. and Prospect Park West are bound for the B/Q subway stop at 7th Ave. Furthermore, with just 2510 riders per weekday, this route is among the city’s lowest utilized bus.

To maintain service from Windsor Terrace to the 7th Ave. subway stop, this bus will be rerouted along 7th Ave. from Windsor Terrace to Flatbush Ave. North of the subway stop, the B69 will continue to run via Grand Army Plaza and Vanderbilt Ave. to Fort Greene while the B67 will continue to travel to Downtown Brooklyn via Flatbush Ave. Passengers along 8th Ave. and Prospect Park West will have longer walks, but those subway-bound riders will have a more direct trip with less walking on the other end.

The final approach, seen in cuts throughout the city, involves the whole-scale elimination of entire bus routes. In Brownstone Brooklyn, the B71, a bus that connects Crown Heights with Park Slope and Carroll Gardens will be eliminated, and the B37 and B71, routes that run north and south along 3rd Ave., will be discontinued as well. In Bay Ridge, other buses will replace the B37. For Transit, these cuts are simply a matter of economics. The B37 sees 3280 riders per day and costs Transit $5.29 per rider to operate. The B71 sees just 1080 riders per weekday. With other routes nearby, these extreme money-losing routes simply cannot be support in lean economic times.

For many people, these bus cuts will be devastating. It will take longer to travel from Point A to Point B, and trips will involve more walking on both ends. Residents in neighborhoods long used to the convenience of bus cuts will have to change the way they travel. But the MTA has its back to the wall. The agency has to save a lot of money, and eliminating redundant and underutilized service is the way to go.

In the end, everyone in densely-populated areas of the city will be no more than a quarter of a mile away from a transit route, and those in the eastern reaches of Queens and less densely-populated regions will be no more than a half a mile away. Furthermore, many of these bus cuts optimize bus routes, eliminate unnecessary overlap and provide more one-seat rides through some neighborhoods. Still, cuts are cuts are cuts. No one in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn or Staten Island wants to suffer through changes in their commutes, and with money tight, these changes will come. Transit should be praised for trying to minimize the pain, but when $60 million in service will disappear at the end of June, the buses will become less convenient for those 2.3 million people who ride them.



Categories : Buses, Service Cuts

33 Responses to “In service cut plan, bus riders hit hardest”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    I’m not sure there’s really a stereotype against bus riders. After all, the most affluent neighborhoods of the city, the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, are both dependent on bus service for east-west travel. When I ride those east-west buses during the day, I see riders who seem to represent the neighborhoods’ demographics: they are largely white, and seem to be middle-class or upper-class.

    • Joe says:

      Alon, surely you can agree that while these are middle class people riding the bus, they are treated to the nicest buses in the MTA fleet. Even in my home neighborhood of Brownstone Brooklyn (I use the same term that Benjamin uses), the B63 is reliably stocked with the newest and nicest buses in the system. Comparbly, picking up the B6 from Brooklyn College heading to Canarsie, the bus is typically one of the older models in the bus fleet.

      I admit, I don’t know buses as well as subways, but when it seems like the newest and nicest buses are relegated to the nicer neighborhoods of the city, it doesn’t help to stem the stereotype that bus riders who really need the bus are neglected by the MTA.

      • Alon Levy says:

        I don’t think the Uptown crosstown buses are actually treated to nice buses. I’ve only seen a couple of low-floor buses, all on the M30. The M72 and M66 both use the old buses with the sloping front.

      • Andrew says:

        Each bus route is assigned to a depot (based primarily on geography), and each depot is assigned a bunch of buses. Aside from local buses vs. express buses (and articulated buses, for the depots that have them), there are generally no restrictions on which bus operates on which route.

        The B63 comes out of Jackie Gleason Depot (as do many of the other routes serving Brownstone Brooklyn, because Gleason is in Sunset Park), which happens to have a CNG fueling station. All of its buses are CNG buses, and most are low-floor, although the newest buses are about 6 years old. The B6 comes out of Ulmer Park Depot, which only runs RTS’s (on the local routes) – and the newest RTS was built in 1999.

        Plenty of upper class neighborhoods get old buses; plenty of lower class neighborhoods get new buses. Flatbush Depot (B41 and B44, among others) and much of the Bronx have brand new buses; Manhattan still has plenty of buses from the 90’s.

        http://www.ttmg.org/mediawiki/.....pot_Roster

  2. Marc Shepherd says:

    …stereotypes that unfairly label buses as an inferior means of travel…

    Well, they sort-of are inferior, aren’t they? That doesn’t mean their riders are inferior, but as a mode of transit buses are not that great. They move people far more slowly and less efficiently than trains do. I do realize that there are many routes where bus travel is the only option, there is nothing stereotyped about it.

    Bus routes overlap in weird and inexplicable ways, and the schedules published on bus stops are oftentimes simply wrong.

    Many of the bus routes are descendants of streetcar and trolley routes. When the streetcar tracks were lifted, bus routes were introduced that followed the same path. That the schedule is often wrong goes to the whole issue of why bus travel is inferior. Buses don’t have a dedicated right-of-way, and are susceptible to delays.

  3. Avi says:

    And when you talk to Upper East/West Side residents they talk about the other neighborhood as if it’s impossible to reach, because “nobody takes the bus”. You can maybe convince people to ride straight east/west but if there is any uptown/downtown component to the trip the answer is obvious, “take a cab”.

    When I mentioned to people the possibility of the cross town buses being cut overnight the response I got was who cares. They either walk or take a cab cross town. No one was waiting 30 minutes for a cross town bus before so the lack of the bus wouldn’t have mattered.

  4. AK says:

    Side note: the fact that the Chrystie St. Cut is (aptly) described by Ben as the “sexy part of the package of cuts” that “everyone likes to hear about” is why I love this blog.

  5. AlexB says:

    I understand the logic of removing the B71 and B77, but this is really cruel irony. Those routes were both supposed to be extended to downtown Manhattan via the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when they implemented a fare increase a couple years ago. Those extensions would have been extremely useful for thousands of riders in Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, and Park Slope and probably would have dramatically increased ridership. Those routes, especially the B71 really do cut down the overall time of many trips in that area. This sucks.

    • Andrew says:

      The fare increase and the planned service increases were independent. They just happened to have been announced around the same time. Alas, the MTA’s finances went sour before the service increases could be implemented.

      I will say, however, that I think this particular route extension would have been silly. It’s a pretty long ride through the tunnel, and traffic can be quite bad at times – so the MTA would have to pay for several additional buses on the line, and riders on the entire line would suffer a loss in reliability, all to serve one additional stop? A particularly useful one, granted, but at substantial cost.

      • AlexB says:

        If you’ve ever tried to get to Red Hook, you’d realize how much of a pain it is to take the B61 from downtown Brooklyn or walk from the Smith 9th Stop. Midtown is an hour away. Even if it took half an hour to get to Bowling Green, it would be an improvement

    • Fredrick Wells says:

      B71 must extend to Broadway Junction as the MTA is able to extend other routes to Lower Manhattan via Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

  6. aestrivex says:

    When I was on the Stuyvesant HS baseball team (and before pier 40 made itself accessible) we would often take the M22 from school right to the east river park to practice, which was convenient because it alleviated the need to carry many bags of heavy equipment.

    However, I agree that cutting the M22 west of city hall is a perfect solution; Chambers St is a one lane street that was always congested and extremely slow. In fact, once or twice as a team we simply carried the equipment all the way to city hall in order to avoid the excruciatingly slow trudge down Chambers, to take the bus the rest of the way at a reasonable pace (as Manhattan buses go, anyway).

  7. Andrew says:

    Is it just me or is the editorializing here just a bit over-the-top? Nobody’s “forgotten” about buses.

    I’m not sure what’s “shrouded in mystery” about them. I’ve never had any problems understanding the maps (if you want incomprehensible maps, get thee to New Jersey). It’s impossible to write a bus schedule that’s perfectly correct every day, since traffic conditions vary. (Traffic conditions are far less variable on the subway; are subway schedules always perfectly accurate?)

    You proceed to give a good explanation of one set of changes. So what’s the point of the snarky comments?

    • It isn’t snark as much as it is my commentary on the way buses are perceived in New York City. Read Marc’s comments above and then check out this take on it, and I think you’ll see a disregard for buses. I don’t agree with it; I’m just putting forth reasons why people don’t focus on the buses as much. The routes aren’t, by and large, very intuitive outside of the north/south and east/west routes in Manhattan, and they’re often looked down upon by the media and straphangers in general.

      • Andrew says:

        Throughout the U.S., buses are treated with disdain because, by and large, nobody rides them unless they can’t afford a car.

        New York City is one of the few exceptions. Here, lots of people don’t like to ride buses (especially people who have to ride buses because they can’t walk to the subway), simply because they’re usually much slower than the subway.

        If you look at a bus map of a part of the city that you’re not familiar with, of course it won’t make much sense. Spend some time studying it, or, better yet, hang out in the neighborhood for a while, and it’ll make sense. The streets in much of the city aren’t intuitive – so how do you expect the bus routes that run along those streets to be any better?

    • rhywun says:

      I was baffled by the local routes when I moved to Bay Ridge a few years ago. Many of them meander around Brooklyn in seemingly random directions with no rhyme or reason. I’m not even going to try to fathom the tangle of routes in “Brownstone Brooklyn” unless I have to. I have a feeling a lot of this is because of routes getting combined in innumerable ways over the years. The proliferation of one-way streets doesn’t help, either.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        The buses run where the trolley’s used to run, back when there was little other traffic. It’s as simple as that. And up until now, the MTA hasn’t had the guts to make changes, either to save money or improve service.

        There was once a horsecar route that ran up Coney Island Avenue to the border of the City of Brooklyn at Park Circle, where a transfer was available to another car that ran on what is now the B75 route to Downtown Brooklyn. That later became one electrified trolley route, which continued over the Brooklyn Bridge. All this pre-dated the construction of the Smith/9th Street IND subway line.

        In a radical development, when buses came in, it was divided into two bus routes at Bartell Prichard Square, the B68 and B75, decades ago.

        • rhywun says:

          > The buses run where the trolley’s used to run

          Yeah, that’s true, and pretty much the same story in every city. Wikipedia shows a lot of these routes are combinations of two earlier routes–that’s what leads to the wildly meandering look of the current map. I’ve seen a couple historical maps (like this one) which look a lot more rational to me. Yeah, the city is denser now but the lines mostly stuck to major streets, there was no one-way street nonsense to double the complexity, no weird detours required because of the expressways that eventually tore up many neighborhoods, etc. etc.

  8. Larry Littlefield says:

    Bear this in mind. I am a transit fan, as is the author of this blog, and know the system in and out. I also worked for NYCT twice, from 1986 to 1988 and from 2001 to 2004.

    But I also know a great deal about state and local government finance, including the effect of decisions make in the past on the future. And I now ride a bicycle to work.

    My advice — substitute a bicycle for the bus. The former costs little and is getting better. The latter is burdened by legacy costs from Generation Greed, and will be getting worse.

    • rhywun says:

      Not gonna happen for anything more than a tiny slice of riders. The distances are simply too great for most people, the weather too uncooperative, and the provisions once one arrives at work (showers to wash off the sweat, somewhere to put the bike) too non-existant. Nothing wrong with pursuing these goals for those who can take advantage of them, but it’s just unrealistic in the long run. Unless the economy gets really, really bad.

  9. AlexB says:

    It’s not that people think buses are second rate, it’s that the MTA and the DOT treat buses as though it’s the least they can do. If all buses were treated like the SBS Bx12, public perception would be much higher. All the discussions of BRT on the internet have made it clear that a bus can be whatever you want it to be and serve whatever group of people, with the right investment.

  10. Lawrence CA says:

    One thing both the MTA and non-bus riders don’t realize is that in the outer boroughs a significant portion of the bus ridership is children going to and from schools. With the city not providing reliable school bus service, public buses are the choice of many due to closer proximity to destinations. Buses are also used by many elderly who can’t traverse the stairs necessary to subway use. Neither of these populations are liable to cry foul, so cutting bus service is a great option.

  11. Ebert says:

    As a faithful 71 rider, I am not sure what my family and I will do. Without a car, we depend on that bus line to get us from Crown Heights to the only local markets that sell fresh organic vegetables (in Park Slope). Without the 71, we will be forced to take 2 trains and walk further (this with a shopping cart)

  12. moonbeam says:

    this is a damn shame. and the current MTA cuts affect me also. with the cut to the B-37 and the elimination of the B-75 its gonna get harder for me to get home from work. well i can take the R train to 9th st and walk up all those hell of a stairs to get the F at 4th ave,but i rather take the B-9, to mc donald ave and get the F. but the B-9 weekday service is being reduced. so my daughter says take the R to 9th and get off and take the replacement for the B-75 which is the B-57 which has been extended. ok but oh the hell with this confusion.

  13. Fredrick Wells says:

    The B71 bus route must be restored, however the route must extend to Broadway Junction. On Labor Day, the route is via St. John’s Avenue due to street closure.

  14. publicadministration031568 says:

    why not combine the b37 with the s53, giving it more of a purpose than just running parallel to the fourth avenue subway?

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