Home Asides Manhattan bus cuts and a downward spiral

Manhattan bus cuts and a downward spiral

by Benjamin Kabak

DNA Info this morning has news of some bus cuts. Six Manhattan lines — the M5, M31, M42, M72, M98 and M104 — will see peak-hour reductions in service starting this September. According to their reports, wait times will increase by 1-2 minutes, and the cuts, driven supposedly by demand and not economics, are going to save the MTA $900,000 a year.

A few other buses in Manhattan will see service increase though. The M9 and M20 will see added buses while the M116 will receive a few more buses during nights and weekends. “We look at demand and ridership and take that into account and schedule headway accordingly,” an authority spokesman said to DNA info.

I’m always a bit skeptical when I hear of bus cuts like this because it’s part of the “death by 1000 cuts” approach I’ve worried about. If the MTA cuts bus service in small increments, eventually, they will make it so that the bus is an impractical and inconvenient mode of surface transit. The longer people wait, the less likely they are to use the bus or take transit. At some point, it because cost-inefficient to operate empty buses, but at some point, cuts lead to a downward spiral. It is a fine line between the two.

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21 comments

ferryboi June 22, 2011 - 12:24 pm

What about the Lexington Ave M101/102/103 buses? Even on a Sunday night, I see two or three of these monsters lumbering down Lex one behind the other with MAYBE 2 or 2 passengers on each. A complete waste of resources, especially since the IRT runs right underneath. One bus every 15 mins would serve this route just fine.

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ferryboi June 22, 2011 - 12:28 pm

Obviously i meant “2 or 3 passengers…” (and even that’s a rarity since i’ve seen many a Lex Ave bus with no passengers whatsoever).

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Al D June 22, 2011 - 4:41 pm

Many of these buses are nearly empty when they pass by GCT during the week.

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TP June 28, 2011 - 9:29 am

The Midtown sections of the M101 102 and 103 are fairly useless by themselves, sure, but I think the bulk of ridership on these routes are uptown on the 101 and 102 and downtown on the 103. They do make very useful connections in the sections where they don’t just duplicate the trains, going from, say, Central Harlem to the Upper East Side. Not everybody’s traveling from the UES to Midtown.

Also lots of elderly and disabled people rely on buses because stairs are a challenge. Not that I don’t agree with the basic premise that buses shouldn’t just duplicate existing train services.

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RailBus63 June 22, 2011 - 12:39 pm

Current peak headways on the affected routes:

M5 – 5 to 10 minutes
M31 – 4 to 8 minutes
M42 – 2 to 5 minutes
M72 – 6 to 10 minutes
M98 – 5 to 10 minutes
M104 – 7 to 10 minutes

Even in New York City, I can’t imagine anyone considering a 10 to 12 minute headway to be impractical or inconvenient. I have always considered a 10 to 15 minute headway to be sufficient for walk-up service.

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Alon Levy June 22, 2011 - 1:28 pm

Last time I checked (about a year ago), the M72 had had 10-minute peak service, and was cut to 12 last summer. This made it marginal, and if I had just missed the bus, it would be faster to walk across Central Park, especially since the bus was not particularly reliable.

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TP June 28, 2011 - 9:39 am

But traffic is so slow on these, especially the crosstown routes, that they’re “impractical or inconvenient” whenever you have to wait for them. Who’s going to stand on the street corner waiting for the M42 for longer than 2 minutes during rush hour, only to get on the bus and sit in traffic that’s slower than walking? Unless you’re disabled or it’s pouring rain, nobody.

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Andrew June 28, 2011 - 10:29 pm

And this, my friends, is why bus ridership has been dropping, especially in Manhattan. Buses are simply too slow.

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nycpat June 22, 2011 - 1:28 pm

Shame about the M31. Why don’t they just run fewer M57s and leave the very useful M31 alone.

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Andrew June 22, 2011 - 9:58 pm

Because the M57 is very useful on the other side of town.

Presumably the M31 lost ridership but the M57 didn’t. (The new residential development along lower West End may have something to do with it.)

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Charles Gates June 25, 2014 - 3:50 pm

With the opening of the Mercedes House mega-apartment complex on West 54th and 11th Ave., ridership on the M31 has increased. It is a critical route for residents in that area, which includes Clinton Towers to reach Midtown subways and other bus services. Cutting frequency is absurd.

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Alon Levy June 22, 2011 - 1:28 pm

Is this an actual service cut, or a realignment of service according to consistent loading guidelines?

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Andrew June 22, 2011 - 9:52 pm

The latter. These are the routine adjustments, up and down, that have been made every pick in the past 2-3 decades to bring service frequencies in line with changing ridership trends.

Aside from a huge MetroCard-based blip in the late 90’s (when the fare for bus+subway riders was halved), bus ridership has been trending downward for years. So it’s no wonder that there are usually routes seeing frequency reductions than increases.

Taking a look at some of the specific routes: the M98 obviously lost a big chunk of ridership due to last year’s cutback to 68th; the M5 may be less reliable than it used to be given its increased length, leading to reduced ridership; the M31, M42, and M72 all cover parts of other routes that were cut last year, and too much service may have been added to compensate. The M9 is essentially a totally new route, with major changes at both ends; and the M20 is covering (in part) for the lost M10 between Columbus Circle and Penn Station.

I’m just guessing here, but I don’t see any major surprises.

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Andrew June 23, 2011 - 7:19 am

And the M116, on weekends in particular: there’s a mall at its east end!

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Alon Levy June 24, 2011 - 7:06 pm

No service was added to the M72; on the contrary, headways were cut from 10 to 12 minutes.

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Andrew June 26, 2011 - 1:24 pm

The M30 only ran rush hours. The April 2011 map shows M72 headways of 7 minutes in the AM and 9 minutes in the PM. Outside of rush hours, any changes implemented a year ago on the M72 were guideline-based adjustments, unrelated to the M30 cut.

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Andrew June 26, 2011 - 2:19 pm

Some more M72 details, from http://www.mta.info/mta/news/b.....ransit.pdf:

AM peak, being reduced from 6 to 7 min. (76% -> 85% guideline capacity)
Middays, being increased from 12 to 10 min. (111% -> 92% guideline capacity)
PM peak, being reduced from 8 to 9 min. (78% -> 89% guideline capacity)

ajedrez June 22, 2011 - 11:34 pm

I think the MTA is slowly trying to kill off the M98. They knew ridership was going to take a huge hit once they cut it back from Midtown (a lot of the riders were people who didn’t want to take the subway and crosstown bus to get to Midtown). In this case, what they should’ve done (if they wanted to give it a ridership boost) was reduce a little service on the M101/102/103, so that some passengers would shift to the M98.

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Andrew June 23, 2011 - 7:18 am

That’s a great idea.

Cut the lines that haven’t lost ridership, so that people riding south of 68th (or on 125th, Amsterdam, 116th, and Lenox) are on overcrowded buses.

Then add service to a line that doesn’t run articulated buses (so each additional driver can accommodate fewer riders) and shift its peak load point away from the unproductive highway section, so that more buses are running along the highway, not picking up fares, than are needed there.

I have a radical idea. Reduce service on the lines that have had reduced ridership. Increase service on the lines that have had increased ridership.

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ajedrez June 24, 2011 - 1:31 am

Was that really necessary?

All I’m saying is that, if the M98 has some extra capacity, it makes sense for it to be used. The reduced headways on the M98 will mean more people will shift to the M101/102/103, giving them an excuse to make even more cuts, which will eventually kill off the line.

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Andrew June 26, 2011 - 1:36 pm

But you’re proposing to artificially reduce capacity on the M101/102/103 in order to fill the extra capacity on the M98. That doesn’t make sense, both because the M98 serves as an alternative to the M101/102/103 only at limited stops between 68th and 125th and because the M98 costs more to operate per rider than the M101/102/103. In other words, your proposal would provide worse service at greater cost.

This isn’t some sort of devious plot to kill off the M98. (If there was a devious plot, it was implemented a year ago, with the service cuts.) This is a routine service adjustment to bring frequencies in line with ridership.

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