Mar
09

USB charging ports, wifi not the answer for better bus service

By
Two Millennials tout the advantages of USB ports and wifi on local buses. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office)

Two Millennials tout the advantages of USB ports and wifi on local buses. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office)

Over the past few years, the phrase “lipstick on a pig” has been bandied about so many times that it’s nearly lost all meaning, but now and then, it’s still an appropriate way to describe a laughably feeble attempt to do something. Today, that something is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to improve bus service or make New York City buses more attractive to Millennials or all riders or someone by slapping some new colors on the outside of the bus and adding wifi service and USB charging ports on the inside. Without a commitment to improving bus service, whether through more frequent service, better routing, pre-board fare payments or dedicated lanes, this is the very definition of putting lipstick on an exceedingly slow and unreliable pig.

The MTA’s bus ridership issues have been pronounced over the past few years. Even as subway ridership has shown historic growth, bus ridership — spurred in part by deep service cuts in 2010 that were never reversed — has declined for much of the past decade. Even last year, as the subways saw rush hour expand and ridership hit 6 million on over 40 weekdays, local bus ridership declined by 2.5 percent, and if this trend continues through 2016, ridership on the MTA’s local bus routes could dip below 2 million per weekday.

Over the years, the MTA has wondered internally and publicly why this trend is a downward one. When BusTime, the MTA’s real-time bus tracking application launched, the agency hoped access to information would drive ridership up. After all, an informed ridership should be one that better exploits the system. Rather, ridership has decreased. Maybe informed riders who realize the next bus is 20 minutes away simply choose to walk or take a cab instead of waiting as they used to.

Gov. Cuomo praised the MTA's new three-door articulated buses for their "European flair" and "Ferrari-like" design. The New Flyer-produced vehicles will hit city streets beginning next month.

Gov. Cuomo praised the MTA’s new three-door articulated buses for their “European flair” and “Ferrari-like” design. The New Flyer-produced vehicles will hit city streets beginning next month.

Now the latest efforts at making buses a sexy and attractive option involve elements that do nothing to get at the core of the problem. Following his State of the State tour that involved a mention of state-of-the-art buses, Cuomo, with MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast at his side, unveiled the details. The 2042 new buses, some of which will begin arriving next month, include a new look and feel and feature USB charging ports and on-board wifi. In describing these new buses, the governor said they have “European flair” with an “almost Ferrari-like look,” which led many to wonder if Cuomo has ever set eyes on a Ferrari.

In discussing these upgrades, Prendergast stressed how the MTA is trying to appeal to Millennial riders who, he claims, expect these amenities from buses. “As more and more millennials enter the system and use it daily, these are expectations, not desires on their part,” he said. “Many of the young people using our system today grew up with a smartphone in one hand and a tablet in the other.”

According to MTA estimates, adding USB ports and Wifi service to new buses will cost around $5000 per bus or around $10.2 million overall. For an agency currently working through a $28 billion capital plan, $10 million is pocket change, but $10 million is also enough to restore or expand a significant number of bus lines. And therein lies the rub.

It’s true that these upgrades, by themselves, are not totally useless. In particular, new buses will also have information screens (at an even higher cost of $15,000 per bus) that will show next-stop information, available transfers, weather and, I assume, some advertising. Plus, for those who have long bus rides, wifi and charging stations may be useful features.

But they cannot be the only improvements made to the bus network if the MTA is serious about making buses better. Millennials, just like the septuagenarians who ride the buses, simply want better service first and amenities second. They want buses that are faster than walking and reliable enough to show up regularly and on time. They want buses that move smoother through congested streets and a stop a little less often than ever other block. That’s how the MTA could build a bus network to attract more riders. Wifi, to a certain degree, and USB charging ports are simply elements of window dressing for a redesigned decal stuck on the outside of city buses, none of which all that European or Ferrari-like. It is the quintessential lipstick for a rather slow pig, and that pesky funding question hovers above all of Cuomo’s hollow initiatives.



Categories : Buses

64 Responses to “USB charging ports, wifi not the answer for better bus service”

  1. Duke says:

    Hypothesis: the growth in bicycling as a means of urban transportation is digging into bus ridership.

    If you think about it, biking is similar to city buses in speed and practical range for the average rider, but more flexible in terms of scheduling and destination. It’s therefore quite plausible that it would take trips away from them.

    • LLQBTT says:

      Cycling is faster in so many circumstances. The bus (excluding wait times) is faster in low traffic, low ridership situations. Most everything else, the bike wins.

      • SEAN says:

        some food for thought…

        In places like China, bike usage is being replaced with cars & yet here in the states the reverse is happening all be it at a glacial pace.

        • another TOM says:

          In China bikes are being replaced by powered bikes and then automobiles at a tremendous rate. Car sales are to be 32 million in 2020, I’ve read.

          The “reverse” is not happening here. We’re not seeing comparable huge bicycle purchases( #’s, ???) There were 17.5 million motor vehicle sales last year in the USA, more this year. Certainly by “glacial” you mean the movement of a glacier but not the heft of a glacier.

        • Steve says:

          Albeit at a glacial pace.

      • Roger says:

        If you have ever been to China you will figure out that the presence of bike lanes make the traffic much more complicated (and dangerous) than here in NYC. An expansion of cycling as a means of urban transportation must proceed with caution.

        • Miles Bader says:

          The problem in China is the insanely ill-thought-out out push to increase car usage, not bicycles. The lesson is simple: cars are very dangerous and not a good fit for urban transport, so their use should be limited.

    • tacony says:

      Bus ridership has declined largely because bus service has declined:

      Out of nineteen possible variables, far and away the most influential determinant of demand for buses was “transit supply.” In other words, providing adequate bus service is the single most important way transit agencies can improve bus ridership.
      http://www.tcf.org/blog/detail.....earing-bus

      As Ben points out, the MTA cut a lot of bus service in 2010 and has restored very little of those cuts. They also made some cuts to Manhattan buses (and maybe some other boroughs) in 2011.

      Even SBS, which is an improvement in bus service, is not a service increase. In fact, if you think about it, by maintaining the current number of bus runs while speeding up bus service (which is what SBS does) you’re actually increasing the waits between buses. You’re creating longer headways. It’d be great if the MTA decided that if you can move the buses a little quicker we could add a couple new runs, but I don’t think that’s happened in many cases.

      The political class and other people who don’t ride the bus are way too obsessed with the scourge of “empty buses driving around!!” and don’t see less buses in the road as a problem– they just get in the way of drivers anyway… so the solution is just more technologically advanced buses and GPS and bells and whistles, so make it look like they’re improving things. Win-win!

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        If there are 12 buses an hour one should come along every 5 minutes. Whether it’s creeping along at 5 MPH or zooming along at 50.

  2. BBA says:

    This is what you get when transit policy is set by people who only hear about transit secondhand. “My kids said they had WiFi and charging ports on the Megabus ride home from college. Why don’t we put them on MTA buses? A bus is a bus, right?”

    • cartouvh says:

      This is exactly what happened, I’d imagine. These people are so out of touch with what a commuting new yorker needs that they’re just passing things off secondhand without a thought. “I heard that so that must be the answer.” Haha so right and so simple.

  3. hU0N says:

    Perhaps he was thinking about this bus when he said “Ferrari-like”.

  4. Michael549 says:

    There is also another issues – it is planning by “anecdote.”

    The stories that get told over and over again, that some folks think are true and universal.

    Much to often there is the tendency to use experiences in Manhattan to guide the thinking and planning for other places where the facts on the ground and circumstances are very much different.

    On Staten Island the buses generally MOVE VERY QUICKLY – if a rider is not at the bus stop before the bus arrives, they are simply out of luck with a 30 or 20 minute wait for the next regularly scheduled bus – that is the usual schedule at all times. There is no “walking to the next bus stop to catch the same bus” – not especially with the typical distances between bus stops on Staten Island. There simply is “walking faster than the bus” that myth gets repeated so often that some folks think it is true and respond accordingly.

    There’s the repeated idea that it is great idea to REMOVE bus stops without considering the needs of the nearby residents or users of the bus, the walking distances to/from the nearby bus stops, or even the existence or the lack of sidewalks! Yes, there are still many places on Staten Island that lack sidewalks, and bus stops that are not actually on actual sidewalks!

    Or about the notion that there maybe plenty of bus stops along particular bus routes – but that the buses do not actually stop at each of the “bus stops” because either there is no one at the bus stop (at all times – certain times yes), or there is no one getting off the bus at that stop – so the bus simply drives past that bus stop. In train terms, those “bus stops” are flag stops – if no body “flags” the bus – it does not stop there, meaning the speed of the bus trip is not slowed down by these “bus stops”. However the of meme of “too many bus stops” gets repeated as if it were true in all or too many cases.

    I know that the situation on Staten Island may or may not apply to other neighborhoods or boroughs in this very huge city. New York City is a very complex place with many different needs, neighborhoods and circumstances – thus actions appropriate for one place might not be suitable for other places, neighborhoods and certain streets. If one really wants to improve bus transit – looking really closely at the particular situations and devising solutions tailored to meet the real needs and goals of the workers, residents and riders is most appropriate.

    No more planning by “anecdote.”

    Mike

    • Herb Lehman says:

      Mike, out of curiosity, what bus do you take on Staten Island that “moves very quickly”? On the North Shore the buses are tortoise-like, an absolute joke, and they stop at almost every corner, so the request to remove stops is a more than reasonable one. I suspect things are very different on the South Shore, which is hardly served by any buses at all.

      • ajedrez says:

        The S40 in general is pretty quick. The limited-stop buses move pretty quickly as well. And in the evening, buses like the S62 move pretty quick as well.

        • Lady Feliz says:

          The S40 is pretty quick…whenever it actually arrives. But as far back as I can remember, the Castleton Depot routinely cancels S40 runs and transfers those buses to “school specials” or other such nonsense. One can routinely wait 30-45 mins for an S40 DURING RUSH HOUR. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s usually packed because there hasn’t been a bus in almost an hour.

          • Herb Lehman says:

            I’ll admit that I’ve never been on the S40, though I live near the terminal and virtually every S40 I see entering or leaving the terminal is packed to the gills. At various times I’ve taken the S48 (pathetically slow), S61 and S62 (not much better), and S74 and S76 (which do move a little more quickly but are inefficient, meandering routes with buses that don’t come often.)

  5. John-2 says:

    My guess is the new amenities will be about as durable over the life of the buses as the first generation air conditioning units were on the city’s buses back in the 1960s — i.e. keep your portable device charged when you leave the house and prepare to still be on cellular service instead of wifi by the time the buses are 4-5 years old.

    Has the MTA broken down the decline in ridership into various categories — short/long distance or (in Manhattan) crosstown and uptown/downtown riders? Without looking at it, I’d think be the main drop-offs would be focused in the shorter rides and the crosstown lines, where in many cases unless the weather’s truly miserable or you have a physical condition, there’s no point in taking the bus, because it will save little or no time over walking.

    That’s something that can’t be worked out by the MTA alone, since it also requires improved traffic flow (and even then, people wanting to burn off more calories and get in some low-level exercise may simply never get into the habit of taking buses, as opposed to the subway, which is seen as more suited for longer-distance travel).

    • tacony says:

      Some of the biggest drops in ridership are on buses that had major service cuts. If you provide less service, you get less ridership. Seems obvious to me. Between 2009 and 2014, the Bx20 bus went from 1,897 to 856 average weekday riders. Sounds terrible, right? Well, in 2010 they cut off-peak weekday and all Saturday service. The M104 went from 21,092 to 10,216 weekday riders. The M104 has been cut and truncated a bunch of times. It used to run from the UWS to 42nd and 1st. Now they cut it back to Port Authority. The result is that almost 11,000 trips vanished!

      Where did they go? Surely more people don’t bother taking these buses anymore. Likely many changed to the subway. Wonder why they’re so crowded lately?

      In some cases, the MTA has figured that buses with lower ridership where people have the option to take the subway are fine contenders for service cuts. Why would you take a bus all the way from West 96th Street to the UN anyway? The subway is much quicker. The M104 provided very frequent service along that route for years because it was a vestige of an old trolley route that predated the subway and was run by a different company anyway. In this context, it’s not always necessarily a bad thing that we’ve shifted ridership from the bus to the subway. It just creates issues when we can’t even fit onto the subway, which is a problem we’re having now.

  6. Eric says:

    $10 million for wifi/charging is barely $1 per New Yorker. That sounds like a good deal to me.

    Of course it does not replace the need for POP fare collection, all-door boarding, signal priority, or separate lanes.

  7. Christopher says:

    Surprised to read that ridership is declining. My own anecdotal experience in Clinton Hill is the buses are more crowded at even off hours. I’m really glad next stop info is coming to the buses. Literally every bus system I’ve ever ridden in the US has it from big towns to small towns. I’m here in Cincinnati this month. The buses are fantastic: frequent, beautiful boarding areas, tons of information screens, pre-payment and dedicated lanes. Admittedly this is the primary transit system but they are doing an excellent job at it.

  8. Mike M. says:

    Everything is better with Bluetooth.
    –Sheldon Cooper

  9. jnros says:

    the great majority of bus routes should be free! all door loading and no fare collection would increase speed, capacity and ridership by 20% easily. raise the subway fare 25-50 cents to cover the lost revenue. most bus riders are transfers anyway. at the very least the crosstown routes in manhattan should be free.

    just one riders humble opinion.

  10. Herb Lehman says:

    On the one hand, it almost seems like the MTA is making light of how slow the buses are by adding WiFi and charging stations. Like they’re saying, “You’re going to spend forever on a bus, and there’s nothing we can do about that, so you might as well surf the internet and charge your phones.”

    That said, I genuinely think it’s a good idea. UNLESS the video screens they add are going to bring with them more automated announcements (like the countdown clocks in the subways have) and just add to the pervasive and unnecessary noise pollution commuters have to deal with.

    • SEAN says:

      On the one hand, it almost seems like the MTA is making light of how slow the buses are by adding WiFi and charging stations. Like they’re saying, “You’re going to spend forever on a bus, and there’s nothing we can do about that, so you might as well surf the internet and charge your phones.”

      Well… it’s amazing to me how people cant put down there phones for a few minutes out of fear that they will miss the next celeberty news story or some other useless text message. The 2015 film “Spy” has a joke regarding that.

      Melissa McCarthy “stop texting!” Rose Byrne “I’m not texting – I’m playing Candy Crush & I just made level 95.”

    • Stephen says:

      What announcements do the countdown clocks put out? I see things like ‘backpacks can be searched’ but I don’t hear things too often and it’s the audio that would annoy me no end. Just like the audio on the new buses – the yellow pole buses. They have the following announcements that drive me up the wall:
      1. Touch yellow tape to open doors
      2. Doors are closing.
      3. Move away from the doors. (Like that’s an option on a crowded bus).
      4. Use rear doors for exit (that’s an old-time announcement, and by itself wasn’t too bad, but now, in conjunction with these new ones, useless).
      They are usually played when someone has pushed the stop button, and for the morning commute, heading to the train, usually not much of a problem. But, the other day, a bus driver (operator) actually enabled the ‘touch tape’ message even though he was stopping to pick up folks.

      • SEAN says:

        It amazes & infuriates me that the MTA to this day still doesn’t have audio visual stop & route announcements on it’s busses. Even the hapless NICE has it & it works well. In fact they are on there third system upgrade since 1995 & second in the past few years.

  11. smotri says:

    Having lived in all boroughs but Staten Island, and taken buses in those boroughs, my experience is this: buses are reasonably good only for short distances, and where time is not a pressing matter, and on weekends things seem to run faster. I think they are often better for the elderly, the handicapped, and adults with small children. Buses as we have them now, SBS included, are not really viable for things like commuting.

  12. lawhawk says:

    New buses with wifi isn’t going to solve the capacity crunch. Being able to move more buses along the same streets would. That means dedicating space for buses – and doing everything possible to reconfigure the streets to maximize the capacity for buses.

    That isn’t what the new buses provide.

    Buses have to be replaced on a semi-regular basis, so as new buses are added, older buses are retired. If the new bus is articulated and the old one wasn’t, you’ll get a marginal increase in capacity, but if that bus is still stuck in traffic, it’s not improving the commute time; that’s a separate issue.

    Reconfiguring streets to prioritize buses will not only allow for capacity increases, but improve commute times. That’s where the focus has to be, especially on priority corridors in each of the outer boroughs where subway expansion isn’t likely in my lifetime.

  13. pete says:

    The most of the MTA’s MCI D4500 express buses have 120v outlets every 4th row for about 10 years. Much more useful than USB since I can run my laptop off the bus.

    USB ports will be obsolete very soon. Not enough watts. 120v outlets have been unchanged for 104 years, except for the grounding pin. The M8’s 120v outlets are perfect.

  14. Hank says:

    It’s ridiculous that they’re going to put USB ports on these buses, and LOCAL buses at that. They’ll probably cost more in annual maintenance to fix them once they’re stuffed with gum, toothpicks, candy wrappers than it cost to install them in the first place. The WiFi is long overdue, but again, why the LOCAL buses with this? Express bus riders, who pay a premium fare and generally longer rides, have none of these amenities on brand-new buses.

  15. Roy says:

    Changing the subject slightly, but is this all-over blue with yellow swirls going to be the new MTA NYC Bus livery or is it another iteration of SBS?

  16. Jim D says:

    It’s funny that the Governor and the MTA are touting the ‘European flair’ of these New Flyer buses when the authority is already running hundreds of these same exact ‘Xcelsior’ buses already. The only visible difference is a new paint scheme. Lipstick on a pig, indeed.

    • SEAN says:

      In all seriousness, the Xcelsiors are much more durable than the RTS’s ever were. The Orions are also good in that respect.

      • NFA says:

        In all seriousness, while touting style, sleekness “Ferrariness” and “European flare” of SBS buses, it’s important to remember NO North American bus maker holds a candle against actual European buses like Benz, MAN, Solaris or others when it comes to sophisticated styling that could be used to attract new riders. Just compare this New Flyer with that gorgeous Benz Citaro artic that trialed a few years ago.

        And don’t get me going with the rec vehicle paint job.

    • pete says:

      I wish it were Nova LFSes and not Xcelsior. LFSes all seem to have more aggressive acceleration than Xcelsiors. LFSes are also made from stainless steel, so they will last forever. Xcelsior are hot dip galvanized carbon steel and will rust.

      • Setsuna0520 says:

        MTA will be ordering from both NFI and Nova. The existing NFI fleet and Novas will be upgraded to the new standard as well.

  17. SEAN says:

    In the past two years, New Flyer bought NOBI, the production & after market parts business of Orion bus industries & most recently MCI.

    • SEAN says:

      To continue…

      NFI chose to focus on it’s Xcelsior model line as well as MCI coaches & discontinue production on the NOBI & Orion lines. This has resulted in only a half dozen companies or so building busses for the North American transit market.

  18. Westchesterite says:

    I get very nauseated when trying to use my smartphone on a bus, so this won’t help me at all. I’ve experience this almost instant wave of nausea on Bee-Line Bus (Westchester), NYC Bus, and even on a long-distance Coach Bus. It is a real bummer for me, since it makes travel time on these modes unproductive.

    I don’t get nauseated on MetroNorth, the subway, Amtrak, or even on an airplane. and one of the few articles I’ve seen written on this subject is about “The Lurch”: http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2012/04/lurch.html

    And I’m very sympathetic to @Michael459. Bee-Line Bus in Westchester doesn’t have BusTime, and from what I hear, isn’t going to get it anytime soon. Buses can come 5 minutes early or 10 minutes late — you never know. And then depending on the day and time, you can wait 20-30 minutes or many hours for the next one.

    • SBS=sad bus system says:

      That’s because Bee-Line is a system of last resort in a county that’s all about the private automobile. I remember seeing a Bee-Line bus in Yonkers with ads for Porsche of White Plains on the side. As if 99.9% of bus riders could ever afford a $100,000 vehicle. If that’s not a sad summation of everything wrong with the current modal split, I don’t know what is.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        People in the bus can’t see the ad on the outside. People outside the bus, even the ones who never get on one, are allowed to read them.

  19. Brian says:

    Cuomo is a joke. When people start tripping over plugged-in cables, how long before the charging ports are disabled?

    Regarding BusTime, it is useful when more than one transit option is available. Though the number of minutes is always underestimated.

  20. JJJJ says:

    Many international agencies understand that more doors = faster service = better service. They also help distribute riders all the way to the back.

    Why cant the MTA understand that?

    Articulated buses should have 4 doors
    https://komarjohari.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/14c1448_043.jpg
    http://www.michaelkostiuk.com/.....Crop_2.jpg

    Standard buses should have 3 doors
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-P9BM.....1600/7.png

    Thats where the “innovation” should come from

  21. GregK says:

    I mean look, these things do improve quality of life a little. It’s like the countdown clocks. Everyone likes the countdown clocks in the subways even if they do jack to improve service.

    What I want is more SBS lines. SBS really does make a difference especially in the areas with the build-outs and dedicated lane.

    • pete says:

      SBS is worthless. Because there is no official schedule, bunching is much worse. Drivers routinely stop at green lights and wait for them to turn red, and no NYCT bus goes faster than 20 mph unless it is on the LIE (QM-something) because of Vision Zero. I’ve never seen the “bus lanes” being exclusive to buses. “bus lane” means no parking during rush hour, not that it is a dedicated bus lane. NYPD, ambulance, NYCT trucks, garbage trucks,taxis, and right turn cars mean the bus lanes are basically parking lanes during rush hour. Instead of constant double parking outside rush hour, the “double parkers” park in the bus lane during rush hour, so you get 1 more traffic lane, but its not the bus lane that became a traffic lane.

      • Roger says:

        We should grant SBS buses the same status as police cars or ambulances so that they can go forward at green light and red light alike. Then we can actually make the bus stick to schedule.

        For deliberate bus bunching…. Is there any way to penalize those drivers without incurring another strike?

        • pete says:

          European transit systems have clocks infront of each driver with the headway to the next vehicle. Drivers keep it accurate to 45 seconds.

          A week ago I took my first ride on SCT in Suffolk, the bus driver stopped infront of Dunkin Donuts on the route to get coffee. That bus arrived 7 minutes late to its timepoint. My return bus was 26 minutes late, or the next bus was 4 minutes early. I came 15 minutes early to the bus stop, waited ~40 minutes at the bus stop. No discipline. No giving a fuck. That is why nobody uses the bus.

          • Roger says:

            When I was in St. Louis buses there were pretty punctual. They usually arrive within 2 minutes at major stops.

            Or is it just because, again, “New York is special”?

            • SEAN says:

              Interesting bit of info on St. Louis Metro…

              There fleet is only 355 busses witch is a tad smaller than Bee-Line. Knowing the physical size of the metro area, I expected there would have been at least 500. To put things into prospective, Miway in the city of Mississauga ON has a 450 bus fleet & they have 700,000 residents. There are 2.3 Million in metro St Louis.

            • Eric says:

              That’s because St Louis has such low population density that there’s essentially no traffic.

  22. Kevin Walsh says:

    What’s behind all the bowing and scraping to millennials? There was never a generational push before.

  23. Roger says:

    To make buses faster, make fewer stops.

    In NYC the distance between neighboring subway stations are already unreasonably short. (SAS, in my opinion, is making the right call when it comes to station density.) Distance between bus stops is even more ridiculous, I mean, 2 blocks per stop?

    At least for SBS, the distance between stops should be much longer, as long as the distance between subway stations. This makes sense as SBS is basically a substitute bus service for subways that should have been built.

    For example, M86 should only make 5 stops, at Broadway, CPW, 5 AV, Lex, 2 Av and that’s it.

  24. SBS=sad bus system says:

    ‘Milennials’ must be code for young white professionals between the ages of 18-34. The buses are already full of millennials, they’re just mostly low/moderate income brown people in corridors that are poorly served by heavy rail.

    Seriously, come ride the Bx12 SBS with me from Inwood to Fordham some morning – millennials abound. Most of them are everyday folks struggling to survive in a very expensive city. Others are fare beaters coming in without a receipt from the fare kiosk (a daily occurrence). I’m guessing that these millennials are not the ones that Prendergast is looking for, though.

  25. Alon Levy says:

    It’s indeed lipstick on a pig, but it’s cheap lipstick. Just do it already, $10 million systemwide is nothing and it makes it easier to work on the bus if you’re in a rush.

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