Jan
26

Fighting for and fighting against the MTA

By · Published in 2010

Slated for a late-June elimination, Staten Island’s S60 bus route is a questionable one in any economy. (Source: NYC Transit’s PDF of planned service changes)

Staten Island’s S60 bus is a very curious route. It runs between Sunnyside and Grymes Hill with stops at St. John’s University and Wagner College. It operates during the week from 6:15 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Notable about this route, though, is how no one rides this bus. Average weekday ridership is just 210 passengers per day, and Saturday and Sunday combined see just 90 total riders. It is nearly a private bus for those who get on.

For the MTA, operating the S60 for its 1140 passengers a week — or fewer passengers than all but seven buses see during an average weekday — isn’t cheap. Systemwide, the total cost per ride to the MTA is $2.73, but for the weekday S60 runs, the total cost per rider is $12.98. Over the weekend, the bus costs $25.69 to operate. Even in a good economy, I’d have to question the need for or wisdom behind this bus route.

So then it is more than a little strange to hear transit rider advocates speak about the elimination of this route — the city’s least used and most expensive local bus — as though it will be missed. In a statement about how “the cuts still stink,” Gene Russianoff and the Straphangers Campaign used the S60 to highlight how the bus cuts will impact New Yorkers.

“As for bus service, go through your own 150-page list of cuts,” the group said in a statement. “Thousands of your bus riders will be forced to walk many minutes to a different bus line, make extra transfers, suffer longer waits or have go out of their way to get to their destination. Take, for example, the S-60 that goes to the top of Staten Island’s Grymes Hill. Your accompanying text says that it will be eliminated and ‘customers would be required to walk 12 to 20 minutes’ to a different route.”

This is a rather egregious example of a service cut for anyone to highlight and few should, as I mentioned, object to this cut. Furthermore, the 12 to 20 minutes of estimated increased walking time are the highest in the book. Most other bus riders would have to walk approximately five to 10 minutes out of their way, and many would suffer through longer wait times rather than longer walks. Make no mistake about it: The service cuts are going to slam bus riders, but the S60 makes a mountain of a mole hill that houses just 1140 riders every seven days.

To circle back around to the title on the post, I often wonder against whom or for whom the city’s more vocal transit advocates and politicians are fighting. In its release yesterday, the Straphangers Campaign spent five paragraphs highlighting the ways in which we the commuting public will suffer and one paragraph calling upon the MTA to shift stimulus funds to cover the operating deficit (a plan with which I disagree). At the same time as the group is fighting against the MTA, it is also trying to fight for the MTA, and they’re not alone in this odd dance.

In Brooklyn, Assembly representative Joan Millman engaged in the same two-headed attack-and-support effort. She first called upon the MTA to save the Carroll Garden bus routes. “We are urging the MTA to abandon its plans to cut bus service to this neighborhood and keep our full service,” she said. At the same time, she is trying to drum up support in Albany for a restoration of the commuter tax that would generate $300 million or a parking permit program that would funnel money to the MTA. She is one of many who control the purse strings, and if she’s serious about stopping the cuts, getting more money to the agency would do the trick.

In the end, politicians and advocates simply cannot have both ways. They cannot slam the MTA for passing cuts when the authority’s back is to the wall and then turn around to propose another fee-based funding mechanism. Rather, these politicians and advocates need to attack the route of the problem — a broken political system in Albany that leaves the MTA perennially underfunded and looking for handouts. Only then will the MTA enjoy the support it needs. Only then will the MTA be able to offer more service with more money instead of cutting service to save ever penny.



Categories : Service Cuts

16 Responses to “Fighting for and fighting against the MTA”

  1. JPN says:

    Have you seen City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s petition to the MTA? The MTA shows in its service cuts report that certain routes are expensive to operate. Yet from the tone of the petition, the City Council wants to fund those expensive routes. As long as the dubious “two sets of books” belief lingers, as well as general mistrust in the MTA, I feel so hopeless that no amount of influence can change the City Council’s and the Straphangers Campaign’s positions.

    Now, I wonder why doesn’t the MTA post or adopt a service standards and process document like that of SEPTA? I find that whenever SEPTA needs to revise service, they articulate their rationale well and in great detail, and as a result there is little to no controversy. But that’s not the case in New York. The Q45 extension to Atlas Park as an example, the MTA still has a long way to go in being transparent and believable.

  2. Scott E says:

    As I read this, I was thinking of SEPTA as well, but from a different perspective. On many of its more lightly used bus routes, they use smaller buses, more like vans or the so-called “short” school buses, with only 8 rows or so of seating. I’ve never seen this type of bus used in New York. I have to believe that the fuel and maintenance costs of these vehicles is substantially less than that of the large buses (especially for climbing some of Staten Island’s steep hills), even if the driver is paid the same. Does MTA have any of these buses? Do they use them? If no, why not?

    • JPN says:

      Doesn’t Long Island Bus have some of those buses? And yet I think some of the routes that use them are also slated for elimination (correct me if I’m wrong). Plus, could the depot facilities in the city handle these buses now?

      • Scott E says:

        Yes, Long Island Bus does have some of those buses – I forgot about those!. But Long Island Bus is owned by Nassau County and operated by the MTA, so I’m not sure what type of cross-over efficiencies they would be permitted to use. I should also point out that, while the agency is owned by the county, I don’t know about the buses themselves – they all seem to look the same, except for some paint and/or decals.

    • Boris says:

      The biggest single expense in operating a bus is the driver’s wage. If the agency can only afford to hire a few drivers, it will also choose to run a few big buses instead of many small buses. This is one of the ways union wages hurt the general population – less service, higher unemployment.

      • rhywun says:

        True, but why not run small buses or vans on these routes anyway, rather than regular buses that are mostly empty? The wage cost is the same. I’ve long wondered why the MTA doesn’t pursue this strategy.

        • pete says:

          The maintenance is double. You can’t run the small bus during rush hour, but you still have to maintain it.

          • rhywun says:

            Seems to me if you replace a few hundred big buses with a few hundred small buses or vans for routes with low ridership, the maintenance cost will be the same or lower. It doesn’t matter if some of them require a big bus during rush hour. The total number of buses remains the same.

  3. Andrew says:

    There are five weekdays per week, not just one.

    (210 x 5) + 90 = 1140 riders per week

    Rather than looking at the bus route in a vacuum, look at its traffic generators. The S60 serves Wagner College and St. John’s University – hence the substantially greater ridership on weekdays than on weekends.

    However, Schumer and McMahon recently obtained federal funding for a shuttle bus:
    http://www.silive.com/news/adv.....038;coll=1

    So why should the MTA try to compete with a free, federally funded shuttle bus?

    • John says:

      I know this is a little bit late, but since the MTA is about to restructure the S60 and S66 (running the S66 up Howard Avenue), which was suggested by both me and Edward, could the MTA ask the federal government to discontinue the shuttle and give the money to the MTA to run the S66 on weekends?
      The whole point of the shuttle bus was because the routes on Victory Boulevard didn’t directly connect to Wagner College. Since the S66 would do that, and be much more efficient, since it could pick up passengers along the way, it would be a better use of resources to run give the money to the MTA to run the S66 on weekends (In addition, this would also serve riders that used to rely on the northern portion of the S54, since Jewett Avenue is fairly close to Manor Road, solving 2 problems with one bus)

  4. Ben –

    You lament the “restructuring” of bus routes in Brownstone Brooklyn, an area you know, as “inconvenient.”

    But you don’t object to the total elimination of bus service to Grymes Hill – an aptly named hill in Staten Island. It’s true the line carries only about 1100 riders a week. But have you ever tried to trudge up Grymes Hill when it’s raining, or even when the sun’s out.

    You also seem resigned to the cuts. I am not, as my testimony at this morning’s MTA Board meeting below.

    Gene

    STATEMENT ON MTA BUDGET
    January 27, 2010

    The MTA has proposed three controversial steps to help balance its 2010 budget. These are:

    • $62 million in drastic “doomsday” service cuts;
    • $31 million from beginning the total phase-out of student MetroCards; and
    • $40 million in savings from slashing paratransit service.

    The New York City Council and the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign have proposed several actions to prevent these proposals from happening.

    Specifically, we are urging the MTA to use 10% of its federal stimulus funds and other operating money to prevent these cuts in 2010.

    It’s incorrect to say these steps are taking transit capital dollars to pay for operations.

    Federal law specifically allows a small portion – 10% of transportation stimulus money – to pay to maintain service. Congress and the President recognized it was in the national interest to help transit agencies maintain service in this troubled economy. Transit agencies – like Atlanta, Portland and St. Louis – are using this option to maintain vital service and jobs. The use of the stimulus dollars for operations would be short term to help agencies and their riders through tough times.

    It is just wrong to compare this action to the “Beame Shuffle” in the 1970’s. There, the City convinced the federal government to allow the use of $88 million earmarked for construction of a subway tunnel as a loan to underwrite the transit fare. Here, we are not talking about a New York exception, but national policy on the use of stimulus funds.

    One other suggestion: Right now, the MTA is planning to spend $50 million in operating funds on capital projects. How can you direct operating funds to capital and thereby worsen service cuts at a time of when the operating budget is badly pinched?

    The Straphangers Campaign thinks you should change course and used these two operating funds to maintain service. The proposed deep cuts to service will only darken the climate for future capital investment.

    Gene

    • Gene: Our paths, in a way, crossed. As you were discussing your plan, I was highlighting Sen. Gillibrand’s efforts at finding MTA funds. I’m still waiting to see what comes about before signing onto your stimulus plan because I’d rather seem something more permanent. Won’t shifting funds this year simply result in the same problems next? Wouldn’t a more permanent and stable funding solution be the ideal resolution to the MTA’s financial problems?

    • Andrew says:

      Bus service is not being eliminated to Grymes Hill. The federally funded Staten Island Ferry Campus Shuttle Bus Service – see the post directly above yours! – will continue to operate. Why do you want the MTA to waste money to compete with a superior federally funded service?

      The capital program is facing a funding crisis as well. Diverting 10% of stimulus funding from the capital budget to the operating budget is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

      Besides, the MTA’s funding problems are not temporary. Why apply a one-time fix when weeding out inefficient operations can save money year after year?

      Especially when many of the newly proposed routings are not only less expensive to operate but may also be better for the riders! (The M/V proposal comes to mind – it gives Ridgewood, Bushwick, and Williamsburg residents direct access to Midtown, which now is a much more important job center than lower Manhattan.)

  5. Edward says:

    Wonder if the MTA has thought of extending one of the other local routes nearby (the S66 especially) up Grymes Hill during weekdays to give college students and seniors without cars the chance to get up/down this very steep hill? A quick loop around Grymes Hill on the S66 would only add about 10 mins to its route to/from the ferry terminal, and would actually give Grymes Hill a one-seat ride to the ferry instead of the current S60 shuttle service that terminates at Victory Blvd.

  6. John says:

    I wrote a letter to the MTA suggesting some ways in which they can keep a similar level of service without spending too much extra money. I actually suggested that every other S66 be run up Howard Avenue to serve Grymes Hill.
    I also suggested that the S61 be routeed up Manor Road on the weekends and that the S57 be extended on weekends to make up for the S76. I also tried to say to extedn some Q46s to make up for the loss of the Q79 (the second most expensive bus to run), and extend some Bx42s to make up for the loss of the Bx18.
    Unfortunately, they have yet to get back to me. It has been almost 15 days and still no response.
    I also wrote about why they should get the DOE to pay for MetroCards. Believe me, if they take away mine, I’m not paying. I would rather walk over 2 miles each way to school than let them have my money.

  7. John says:

    Also, about the small buses, those buses could run on routes with low ridership throughout the day. For example, the B71, according to the MTA, doesn’t get many riders.

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