Jan
24

Queens Drama: MTA turns down free shuttle buses?

By · Published in 2012

This past weekend marked the first of many a circular ride for Queens commuters as the 11-weekend 7-line shutdown commenced. Due to work in the Steinway Tubes and on the communications-based train control system, the MTA isn’t running 7 trains between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square until baseball season. Instead, straphangers are urged to take the N or Q or find alternate routes. There will be no shuttle buses.

That shuttle bus piece, you see, ended up becoming something of an explosive issue today. MTA refuses free money! MTA turns down shuttle buses! Outrage! Drama! That, in a nutshell, is what this teeny tiny article from The Post hath wrought.

To summarize, Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens City Councilman, offered to give the MTA $250,000 out of his discretionary funds while the MTA engaged in this 11-week project. The authority turned him down, and thus Queens commuters who are bound for Grand Central must take the 7 to Queensboro Plaza, the N or Q trains to 59th St. and the East Side IRT to 42nd St. It is a roundabout way to go all of four stops on the 7.

Queens residents weren’t too pleased with the MTA for turning down the free bucks, and after numerous inquiries, Transit released a statement late in the day on Monday: “While we understand the Councilman’s attempts to mitigate the effects of work on the No. 7 line, the proposal to run a bus shuttle between Long Island City and Grand Central would be operationally inefficient, requiring long lines of idling buses and limited curb space to stage them. E, N, Q and R train service all link LIC with midtown Manhattan and these subway trips promise to be faster than a bus ride, which would be subject to traffic congestion and would still require a transfer to the subway for destinations beyond Grand Central.”

So what’s really going on here? Essentially, the MTA is turning down the money for a variety of interrelated measures. First, the MTA has learned over the years that, due to surface congestion, running a bus from Queensboro Plaza to Grand Central via the tunnel doesn’t save on travel time. They claim that due to traffic, the three-train route is just as efficient (or inefficient) as a shuttle bus.

Second, the MTA points to the 42nd Street area as one not geared for such an influx of automobiles. There isn’t enough available street space around 42nd St. on the East or West Sides to serve as the staging grounds for 5-10 buses that are required for a given run of a shuttle. That is the so-called operational inefficiency.

Third, it has long been MTA policy to provide shuttle buses to the nearest station in service, and it is my understanding that the MTA does not wish to break that policy every time a City Council member dangles a few bucks for a few weekends of buses. Fourth, and similarly, Transit seems to recognize that work on the 7 line is going to last longer than through early April. The CBTC project will require numerous segment shutdowns over the next few years, and the authority is concerned that Van Bramer’s well of discretionary funds may dry up. Furthermore, selective shuttle busing based on the whims of the area’s council representative could create inequities as other areas suffering from weekend outages do not enjoy such bonus shuttle service.

Some transit advocates in Queens have not been satisfied with the MTA’s answers. Ahead of the 7 line work, Angus Grieve-Smith urged the MTA to run buses to 34th Street instead. This, he claimed, would solve the staging problem while improving traffic times and providing the necessary subway connections. Service though would be fairly redundant, and the MTA has been hesitant to embrace this idea.

So I live it to you, dear reader: How do you solve this problem? Is the MTA acting foolishly as it rejects free money? Are these concerns valid? Such are the questions of a 24-7 transit system with an aging and technologically out-of-date infrastructure.



Categories : Queens

30 Responses to “Queens Drama: MTA turns down free shuttle buses?”

  1. Bolwerk says:

    I don’t see a problem. I see they’re warning us they’re doing routine maintenance that I know they have to do, and I expect some inconvenience because of it. Buses over the bridge can go either way: either smoothly or as a death trap. I would say that they’d be good for the elderly and disabled, but those groups are not really in great shape now with or without the buses. This is what we spent many years demanding they do better, and they’re doing it. Supplementing Q32 – it doesn’t pass too far from GCT – service a bit may be called for, but that’s about it.

    And it seems a little outrageous that these cretins are getting so much in discretionary funds. If each has $250k, that’s about $12.75M that could go towards making subways better. It may not buy you a new tunnel, but it does buy some accessibility for the disabled at some key stations, or some key bus services.

    • R. Graham says:

      Yeah $250,000 is not a sniff at 11 weeks worth of weekend shuttle bus service. I hate to e so frank but who really is being inconvenienced here. I can see if we are talking about a Plaza to Broadway shutdown or Main Street in reverse shutdown. We’re not even close. We’re talking Manhattan to the Plaza with a killer host of other options for getting to the Plaza and Grand Central. Sometimes I think people want to whine for the sake of whining.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Meh. The main reason to not run shuttle buses is that the set of origins and destinations within Manhattan is fairly diffuse, and for East Side destinations, the N is no worse than the 7. The advantage of the 7 is the one-seat ride, but that’s gone, and the shuttle buses wouldn’t fix that. So the only remaining advantage of shuttle buses to Grand Central is for service to Grand Central itself, and that frankly isn’t all that important.

  3. John T says:

    Shuttle buses from LIC to GCT??? What a waste of money for a less efficent route that parallels alternative subway routes!

    So many better uses for $250k – keep a library open on weekends instead.

  4. John-2 says:

    The unfounded mandate is the bane of governmental agencies everywhere. It’s basically a bait-and-switch by people higher up in the appropriations food chain, where dollar amount X is offered for service Y, and then after a certain amount of time X is cut or reduced drastically while service Y is still expected to be provided.

    As the ongoing travails of the 14th Street-Canarise line show, service disruptions for CTBC work is going to last for years, and a three-month flow of cash for the shuttle buses is no assurance that there will be any money there for the next 123 months (or whatever the duration is) of work on the Flushing line. But even if the $$$ aren’t there, the expectation now will be, and if the speeds of the buses are no better or worse than the 60th Street tunnel alternative, you’ll end up with the MTA wasting its own money on shuttle buses which will be as lightly used as those shuttle buses John Liu forced them to start running between Canal Street and Grand, when B/D service over the Manny B was out about six years ago.

  5. The Cobalt Devil says:

    $250k ain’t free. It only adds 10 mins to backtrack to QB Plaza before catching the N (and the Q, which is extended to Astoria on weekends during the shutdown).

  6. TP says:

    The MTA should suggest that the $250k be used for other improvements that would reduce travel times on affected routes during the work. For instance maybe they could increase frequencies on those lines a little bit so that people aren’t waiting so long to make the transfers. That way the story isn’t “MTA turns down free money to improve service!” but “MTA offers different suggestion to improve service for Queens residents.”

    • The Cobalt Devil says:

      The MTA already extended the Q train to Astoria on weekends when this work is being performed, in effect doubling service on the Astoria line. You can’t make everyone happy during shutdowns; someone’s gonna complain that they are left out in the cold.

      The actual “story” here is why council members have $250k laying around in “discretionary” funds?

  7. AlexB says:

    I am firmly on the side of Jimmy Van Bramer. I don’t care if the service disruption is a “minor” inconvenience or a big one. If a subway is out of service, the MTA should be providing SUPERIOR bus routes, not inferior ones. These shuttle bus replacements tend to happen on the weekends when service is already poor, not during rush hour when very high service can compensate for additional transfers. There should be a bus route from Queensboro Plaza making stops where the 7 goes through LIC, then it should get priority over other traffic to go through the tunnel, then it should go along 42nd St, down/up 7th/6th Aves, along 34th St, and all the way to the West Side Hwy and the Wast 34th St ferry/Javits Center where it can easily find space to turn around.

    By this line of reasoning, when the 1 or A is out of service far uptown for example, the whole line should be duplicated from the terminus to at least Columbus Circle, preferably to Times Sq, and maybe even extending to the east side. If you are going to cancel my train after I already paid my $104 per month, make it worth my while. Service disruptions should not be an excuse for the MTA to save money on service.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Geeze, do you demand a refund from Ford when your car gets caught in traffic? When you buy your monthly metrocard, you do so knowing you’re going to contend with off-hours maintenance if you use the card during off hours.

      Superior to what? Buses only have so much capacity and there are only so many resources available to operate them. The MTA probably doesn’t have enough spare buses or drivers to make unloading a train load of 7 riders, even with reduced usage on weekends, to buses anything but a nightmare. Even with priority, the traffic is a crap shoot. Despite what the bus fantasists always insist, the operating costs of somewhere between two and three buses probably exceeds the operating costs of a single train,* so there is a huge monetary constraint there too. And three buses gets you about probably not two IRT cars of capacity.

      It’s seriously just better to spend resources getting maintenance done ASAP so we have fewer outages.

      * and financial performance is probably worse than that with shuttle buses since I’m pretty sure that is generally overtime.

      • AlexB says:

        No, I do not expect a refund from Ford when my car gets stuck in traffic and that is not analogous anyway. When I buy a product or service, I expect to get what is promised and to be compensated accordingly if it is not provided. In addition, I would hope that the replacement would do something over and above to compensate for the hassle and inconvenience. It’s called customer service.

        Buses do not have the same capacity as trains, but that doesn’t stop the MTA from putting everyone riding the L train onto a shuttle bus. When the subways are busted, that’s the only alternative. I’m saying these shuttle buses could be an opportunity instead of an afterthought. There are hundreds of rush hour buses that are not in service on the weekends that could be put to excellent use complementing the inconsistent and compromised weekend subway.

        My comment about a superior bus route was specific about providing a great route, not an opinion about the entire mode of bus travel. For example, if there is a shuttle bus, why always make it go the shortest distance possible instead of where people might want to actually go. I’m don’t prefer buses over subways.

        • Andrew says:

          Shuttle buses are a last resort. If there’s no suitable substitute train service, buses are used. They’ve very expensive to run, and, as you’re no doubt aware, they’re crowded and slow and unreliable. So why rely on them when they’re not needed?

          You say that the bus should go where people want to actually go. But people want to go to all sorts of places, and the bus can’t serve them all. Anyone who was originally planning to transfer can probably make the same transfer just as easily from the substitute line.

        • Bolwerk says:

          You aren’t promised anymore than the right to use the parts of the system that are working. Just like you aren’t promised the ability to do anymore with the gasoline you buy than sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

          And the L doesn’t get bustituted across the river either. Yes, I commented on the L shuttle buses below. It’s a nightmare and I would guess most people who can avoid it do, and many of the people who don’t are probably caught off guard. Far better than any bus option, for those who have the option (which is only sometimes), is to take the M Train.

          I really just don’t see a “great” route ever being an option when bustitution is available. I would simply prefer work be done ASAP so normal service can resume ASAP.

          • AlexB says:

            “You aren’t promised anymore than the right to use the parts of the system that are working.” Well, if the system isn’t working, that’s pretty obvious. But what are we promised? The MTA is a monopoly and can provide whatever level of service they want at whatever price. However, it is also meant to serve the public interest and is run exclusively for that purpose. As taxpayers and riders, we should be entitled to a minimum level of service and a minimum level of customer service. Stop making analogies to driving a car, they don’t apply and miss the whole point. Buying gasoline has nothing to do with the MTA because a certain contract is implied; i.e. we pay the MTA X and they will provide us with Y. It’s not a good like gasoline that’s measured in gallons, it’s a service that measured in much more complicated ways.

            The L train is a perfect example. I used to live in Williamsburg when that construction was in full force. The L stopped at Lorimer where you had to catch the shuttle bus which made a stop at Bedford before letting everyone out at the Marcy J. There, you have to take the J one stop and catch the M14A. That was and is unacceptable. A “great” route would be a bus that went from Lorimer to Bedford, Marcy, over the Williamsburg Bridge, up Ave A and across 14th St. This isn’t rocket science and I’m not asking for something unimaginably complicated or excessively expensive. Let’s all remember that despite the congestion in Manhattan and on it’s bridges, buses operate there all the time, every day of the week.

            • Bolwerk says:

              The MTA is a monopoly and can provide whatever level of service they want at whatever price.

              They most certainly cannot. They are constrained by the reality of finances, manpower, and environmental conditions the same as anyone else. And there are certainly regulations about what fares they can charge – though in this area the “interests” of the union often trumps the interests of the riding public.

              However, it is also meant to serve the public interest and is run exclusively for that purpose. As taxpayers and riders, we should be entitled to a minimum level of service and a minimum level of customer service.

              Part of that service is maintaining a state of good repair, which by any stretch of the imagination requires service outages.

              Stop making analogies to driving a car, they don’t apply and miss the whole point. Buying gasoline has nothing to do with the MTA because a certain contract is implied; i.e. we pay the MTA X and they will provide us with Y. It’s not a good like gasoline that’s measured in gallons, it’s a service that measured in much more complicated ways.

              It’s actually quite analogous, in more ways than one. The excise taxes you pay on a gallon of gas are intended to keep the roads in a state of good repair. The shortfall is made up for out of general appropriations, just like at the MTA. And your expectations, at least of the MTA seem roughly analogous too, to what most people expect of their automobile – maybe the major difference is most people delude themselves into thinking their automobile is efficient when it’s not.

              A “great” route would be a bus that went from Lorimer to Bedford, Marcy, over the Williamsburg Bridge, up Ave A and across 14th St. This isn’t rocket science and I’m not asking for something unimaginably complicated or excessively expensive. Let’s all remember that despite the congestion in Manhattan and on it’s bridges, buses operate there all the time, every day of the week.

              Even under the most wildly optimistic conditions, getting from Lorimer to anywhere on 14th street would be faster using just about any rail alternative to buses. The people who get stuck on buses are the people who are too disabled to use the rail system, or don’t care about wasting their time.

              And there is no such thing as a bustitution that isn’t “excessively” expensive. The cold hard math is roughly: it takes about $9.55/vehicle-mile to operate a train, about $76.40/train-mile. At $23.54/vehicle-mile for buses, it really does only take about three buses to equal the cost per-vehicle mile of one train. And that’s just cost – it doesn’t take into account lost revenue from fewer passengers or the fact that buses are “free” and offer $0 incremental revenue. Those three buses would be lucky to get the capacity of two L Train cars. Providing the bus service likely costs more by a factor 4, and the revenue return is worse by some untold factor.

              (Cite: all those numbers are from NTD.)

            • Andrew says:

              There, you have to take the J one stop and catch the M14A.

              No you don’t. Why do you keep saying this?

              I don’t know where you’re going, but unless it’s the First Avenue station, you can get there either directly on the M or by making one subway transfer from the M or J. There’s no need to take a bus on the Manhattan side of the river.

              Your proposed route would not be “great.” It would be tremendously expensive and would take longer to get most people where they’re going.

  8. Larry Littlefield says:

    “Selective shuttle busing based on the whims of the area’s council representative could create inequities as other areas suffering from weekend outages do not enjoy such bonus shuttle service.”

    That’s it. The goal is to have public services maintained for the politically influential, while they collapse for everyone else due to excess debts and unfunded retroactive pension deals. Today supplementary service as a gift to some connected areas, tomorrow regular service only to some.

    The MTA doesn’t want to give in to that yet.

  9. Spendmore Wastemore says:

    This was a good move on MTA’s part.

    Wait, I said what?

    “MTA refuses to spend more and waste more.”

    Well, they’ll make it up with triple redundant crews on every TBM.

    I was worried there for a minute.

  10. winson says:

    There may not be enough buses in the NYC fleet to run this shuttle. Over the next few weekends, shuttle buses are replacing trains on many lines, including the L and Q. What the MTA should do is increase service on the E, F, N, and R. They run very infrequently on weekends, like every 8-15 minutes while the 7 runs ever 5-7.

    • Bolwerk says:

      The L is an interesting study in bustitution. When the L is out between Myrtle and Lorimer, even the most off-peak service easily overwhelms whatever buses they run, no matter the frequency – and buses have pretty quick headways at the termini. And I imagine the result could easily be similar on the 7 to GCT, if only because of the geographic barriers in running between Queens and GCT.

      Stuff like that is why I always say there should be an intermediate surface rail network. Two articulated LRVs can approach the capacity of about four IRT cars, and with good headways such a service should be able to handle off-peak L loads easily. It’s not a question of bus v. LRV, but rather a question of the two complementing each other. Bustitution for the LRVs when LRVs need maintenance, LRVistution+bustitution for the subways when the subways need maintenance. If done cleverly, it might even be possible to do it without too route overlap in regular service.

      • Al D says:

        Hang on, are you proposing redundancy for all transit lines?

        • Bolwerk says:

          No, not at all. But redundancy on an intermediate system should be strategically considered.

          Also, keep in mind there are different kinds of redundancy. Route redundancy simply means there are two ways from point A to B, and that’s probably more what I am talking about making possible. One way may be optimal, but the other should suffice as a backup. Capacity redundancy means there is actually additional space to run services in parallel (e.g., paralleling the entire L with a bus), and that probably is truly wasteful in most cases.

          But with some forethought, you can get at least some of the advantage of both at least some of the time. Here is a hypothetical example I mentioned in the past.

  11. Chris says:

    Seems like Van Bramer could just hire one of the city’s dozens of private bus companies to provide charter service.

  12. The Cobal Devil says:

    Or all those LIC residents living in those big-bucks condos can meet up and grab a taxi/car service together. For $5 each they can be in Midtown in no time.

  13. Scott E says:

    Makes sense to me; running buses along that route, and having them idle in front of GCT is a recipe for disaster. And when disaster strikes (hopefully in the form of a delay, not a pedestrian fatality), guess who gets blamed: the operator of the bus, the MTA.

    Also, the MTA learned from a different project on the #7 that when someone else foots the bill for something, they don’t always foot the WHOLE bill. To get sucked into that again would be a mistake.

  14. Andrew says:

    There’s no need for shuttle buses from Queensboro Plaza to Manhattan, and even Van Bramer doesn’t seem to be asking for them.

    What he wants is shuttle buses from Vernon-Jackson to Grand Central, so that Vernon-Jackson users don’t have to take a bus and two trains to get to Grand Central. But, especially on weekends, most 7 riders who go to Grand Central transfer there to the 4/5/6, so the added inconvenience isn’t quite as great as the proponents make it out to be. And traffic is unreliable, especially at East River crossings, so, even with a bus to Grand Central available, most riders would still opt to transfer to the train in Queens.

    Grieve-Smith’s revised idea is even more perplexing. What’s the problem that he’s trying to solve? If it’s a matter of getting to Grand Central easily, sending buses to 34th doesn’t help much. If it’s a matter of getting people to transfer points to other lines, the existing shuttle bus already serves transfer points to the E, N, Q, and R. And, incidentally, the bus lanes aren’t bus lanes on weekends.

    By the way, some people might find the G a useful way to avoid the shuttle bus – it connects with the L and A/C.

    If Van Bramer would like to pay for shuttle buses, he should charter from a private bus operator. The MTA would be in violation of the Charter Rule by the second week of the operation.

  15. JAzumah says:

    I’ve sent an offer to help them get shuttle buses to do this. I have already prepared a schedule for them and can meet their budget. Let’s see how serious they are.

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