Home Asides Bananas, and not buses, should come in bunches

Bananas, and not buses, should come in bunches

by Benjamin Kabak

When the MTA cut bus service in Brooklyn, they restructured existing lines in such a way that often combined parts of two routes into one. For example, the B69, which used to run south along Prospect Park West and north along 8th Ave., now runs north and south along 7th Ave., sharing a road with the B67. By implementing this service change, the MTA could down on the frequency of both buses while ostensibly maintaining service levels on the busiest corridors — that is, 7th Ave. — of those routes. On paper the plan works, but on practice, it has ran into some problems.

As Ben Kochman in The Brooklyn Paper details today, the buses have been arriving not at all and then in bunches. Oftentimes, riders wait up to 10 minutes between buses during rush hour before both a B67 and a B69 show up at the same time. During the off-peak hours, with each bus set to come every 30 minutes, instead of four evenly spaced buses every 15 minutes, the bunching has led to very long wait times. I too have noticed this peculiarity as I’ve walked along 7th Ave.

For its part, the MTA cited “scheduling snags” in the weeks after the cuts as well as the vagaries of traffic, always an easy fallback for bus bunching excuses. A spokesperson said the authority will try to adjust bus times accordingly as the fallout from the service cuts just keeps on coming.

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Josh K July 21, 2010 - 12:58 pm

This is why buses, even BRT, will forever be the bare minimal standard level of transit.

You don’t see subways or commuter trains getting bunched up. The investment is worth it.

Alon Levy July 21, 2010 - 2:33 pm

On the contrary, full BRT, on the model of Curitiba or Bogota, sidesteps the bunching problem completely. Buses come every 30 seconds there, not every 3 minutes as in local systems.

Where BRT genuinely has bunching problems is in implementations that mimic LRT and not heavy rail, including SBS.

SEAN July 21, 2010 - 2:52 pm

You got that right. If the MTA had tracking systems for all busses, bus bunching could solve it self. That could leed to more riders on the system because they would know when the bus will show up. This would create it’s own demand.

Alon Levy July 22, 2010 - 11:42 am

Bus tracking has nothing to do with bunching. You fight bunching by making all buses go at the same speed and cutting dwell times. On higher-end systems, e.g. Bogota, they squeeze more capacity out of a busway by building each station to have four-lane bypass sections and stopping room for multiple buses; thus, a single trunk line carries many different lines, each stopping at a separate bay at each station to avoid interfering with other lines.

BrooklynBus July 23, 2010 - 1:01 pm

Bus tracking certainly is related to bus bunching. That is its major use to prevent or minimize it. It’s other function is to let people know how long they will have to wait for a bus. If that were its only function, it would hardly be worth installing it at all. So someone knows his bus will arrive in 10 minutes not 5, he feels a little better knowing, but otherwise nothing is accomplished. A few might be able to pick another travel option if the delay is big enough, but that would be just a few and this number would be reduced as service is reduced lowering travel options.

The prime purpose of a tracking system is so a central dispatcher can alter routes, turning buses short or having others skip stops to more evenly space out the buses. Years ago, this was attempted by bus dispatchers when heavy routes had as many as six dispatchers to regulate them. Their affect was limited since they couldn’t see the entire picture at once, and a seemingly helpful decision could actually make things worse.

With labor costs continually rising, the number of dispatchers over the years has been drastically reduced and their numbers are too few to have any type of meaningful effect. A tracking system, once installed, should be cost effective to operate than paying a team of dispatchers, but for some reason the MTA or perhaps just the Department of Buses can’t seem to get their act together. The last I heard it was the skyscrapers in Manhattan preventing transmission of the signal was the problem. This doesn’t explain why it couldn’t at least be implemented for the outer boroughs. I’ve also heard from an inside source that the MTA has had a successful tracking system in place for their revenue vehicles for a number of years. If they can track those, why can’t they track the buses. Or is it that they just don’t want to track the buses?

BrooklynBus July 23, 2010 - 1:03 pm

I forgot to say that a tracking system would also pinpoint drivers who are intentionally following their leader to ease their work load.

Alon Levy July 23, 2010 - 1:39 pm

Bus tracking doesn’t actually increase the peak useful frequency for buses. When headways are shorter than 3-4 minutes, local buses bunch no matter what. In dedicated lanes, with absolute signal priority and short dwell times, this is mitigated, because a bus driver doesn’t really have the opportunity to go far ahead of schedule.

Andrew July 25, 2010 - 11:22 pm

Actually, a lot of people have multiple options – multiple bus routes, or a limited and a local, or a parallel subway line, or (for shorter trips) walking. It would save them all time.

And even for people who can’t save time, if they could tell before leaving home or work that the bus won’t be coming for a while, they can hang out indoors and not be subject to the weather (and possibly be productive!) until just before it shows up.

I agree that improved dispatching is more important, but I don’t think the public information angle should be discounted.

BrooklynBus July 26, 2010 - 11:22 am

I don’t think public information should be discounted either. I was just trying to put it in perspective.

Lennin Reyes July 21, 2010 - 1:42 pm

The B67/69 bunching on 7th Avenue isn’t the only case of bunching, so are the Bx1/2 on Grand Concourse, the Bx28/38 on Gun Hill Road, and the Bx40/42 on Tremont Avenue.

Al D July 21, 2010 - 2:35 pm

Will the MTA EVER solve bus bunching while improving service to be fast and efficient?

At the rate they are moving, fixing 1 bus line every year or 2, well you do the math…

BrooklynBus July 21, 2010 - 5:57 pm

I don’t even see how they are fixing one bus line a year. They are doing nothing to reduce bus bunching. They have always blamed it entirely on traffic and assured people since 1980 that the situation will be fixed when buses will be able to be tracked. Four studies and millions of dollars wasted ($14 million for the last study alone) and we still have nothing.

They have constantly been reducing bus dispatchers and field personnel. They used to turn buses short to minimize buses. Now without the dispatchers you have two nearly empty buses following each other to the end of the route, when two or three passengers could be asked to change buses and the late bus turned a half mile before the routes end. This is rarely if ever done anymore.

This inefficient providing of service is partially responsible for their budget situation. They pay for 10 minute service while the passenger receives 20 minute service. Longer than that and some people don’t make the trip at all or make other provisions like walking or getting into a cab.

John July 21, 2010 - 2:43 pm

I’m waiting to see how SBS on the M-15 affects the mother of all bunching problems on First and (for some reason, especially) Second Avenue. The all-time personal record I can remeber is 13 buses coming over the hill on Second Ave. at 26th Street at one time during rush hour (albeit back in the day where South Ferry, Park Row, Chatham Square and Houston Street were M-15 final destination options), though I’m sure some longtime Second Ave. bus users out there can probably top that number.

AK July 21, 2010 - 4:35 pm

13! Wow, I have stood at the 33rd/34th street stop (at 2nd Avenue)and seen express buses backed up past the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel as a result of local buses blocking access to the 33/34 stop. Not what ya want.

In the category of “what ya want”– 1st Avenue is not comlpetely repaved up to 34th Street, with vastly different traffic flow patterns being put in place. For instance, there is now NO parking between 33rd and 34th on 1st. Instead, left turning vehicles must enter the left lane at 33rd (similar to coming down 2nd ave and turning left onto 34th).

This change will open the rest of the avenue (including the new SMS lane) to northbound traffic only, although cars turning right to get to the FDR from the middle lane (to the left of the SBS lane) will still wreck some havoc…

BrooklynBus July 21, 2010 - 5:58 pm

The most I’ve ever seen was eight B46s in a row when I was a kid. Four buses at once was a common place occurrence back then.

Alon Levy July 22, 2010 - 4:02 pm

Wow. It makes me feel provincial for only seeing 3-4 buses in a row (line 5 in Tel Aviv, at the time so crowded it was a favorite terrorist target).

Ted K. July 23, 2010 - 5:42 am

This phenomenon was noted in the song “A Transport of Delight” (Flanders + Swann, 1960s). The relevant line is –

We like to travel in convoy, we’re most gregarious

. The song is about London’s omnibuses. As a kid in San Francisco (late 1960s) I saw a block of six #38’s + #38L’s (Geary / Geary Limited) heading West from Masonic and Geary. Lesser packs of three or four buses are routine on the frequent service lines like the #38 and #14 Mission. (NB – SFMuni seems to use a brace of standard diesels (non-articulated) as a capacity booster on some routes.) I suspect that similar bunching examples can be found wherever there are bus systems.

Sharon July 21, 2010 - 4:34 pm

Let’s remind everyone that union bus mechanics refused to service wheel monitors thar would have allowed automated bus management in the 1990’s. My line the b3 is called the b 3 in a row . Bus bunching caused by inflexible bus schedules that do not allow empty but early empty buses to pass full but late buses. 2/3 of all bus bunching problems could be solved

BrooklynBus July 21, 2010 - 5:49 pm

Also, when schedules are built, only traffic is taken into account. Delays are often incurred by high passenger loadings which slow down the buses and prevent them from keeping to schedule. Bus drivers some times skip stops and leave passengers waiting although there is room and no bus behind in an attempt to stick to their schedule. The unlucky people who are bypassed end up waiting twice as long for a bus. The MTA would like you to believe that all bus bunching is a result of traffic which is beyond their control. While this is only a partial reason, it is the line they have been using for over 50 years.

BrooklynBus July 21, 2010 - 6:07 pm

You can see from the article that at least one person thought that having two routes on Seventh Avenue would improve service, not realizing that B67 service would be cut in half. I predicted last March that B67 riders would not realize that the B69 proposal to move it to 7th Avenue would negatively impact them. The MTA was hoping people would use either bus route to Downtown Brooklyn but I doubt if many want the B69, having to walk or transfer at Sands Street.

It is more difficult to schedule two routes than it is one, and service deterioration would have had to result. During off-peak, B67 service was cut from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes, so realistically you can expect some buses at every 45 minutes as the article points out.

BrooklynBus July 21, 2010 - 6:13 pm

Ben, your headline “Bananas Not Buses Should Come in Bunches” is not original. I believe it was a NY Post headline back in the 1960s or 1970s. (I may even still have the article somewhere.) I’m sorry to say that someone in the 2050s will also think they are being original when they use it, but I won’t be around to see it.

bob July 22, 2010 - 10:20 am

Of course, bus bunching is nothing new. I was told, over 2 decades ago, by someone who used to drive a bus that drivers did it because it made their life easier. Except for the first bus, the rest aren’t really fighting traffic, just following along the path established by the leader.

BrooklynBus July 23, 2010 - 3:14 am

That’s true when it’s intentional. I don’t know though what percentage is intentional. I think it is rather small. It only makes the driver’s life easier if the first bus can pick up the entire load while the second one can run nearly empty. If there are enough passengers for both buses, and both are crowded, I don’t think it is much easier for the second guy,

John July 25, 2010 - 12:04 am

But aren’t they supposed to bypass each other like “skip-stop” service in the subway? If anything, if the first bus is directly in front, it is probably late and overcrowded and should skip the stops where nobody gets off.

Andrew July 25, 2010 - 11:24 pm

But if it’s overcrowded, people probably need to get off at most or all of the stops anyway, unless it’s a subway feeder route on its way to the subway.

BrooklynBus July 26, 2010 - 11:21 am

It doesn’t have to be a subway feeder route. I used to take the bus often to the beach as a kid, and I remember many times being on an overcrowded late bus and when the follower caught up, we would both leap frog until the end of the route sometimes passing each other a dozen times, with each bus making alternate stops approximately. All of a sudden we would be traveling twice as fast.

Bus August 1, 2010 - 3:50 am

I’m a Operator who drives the 67/69 . These 2 lines meet up at Sands St. and the run times are similar. Many times when leaving Cortelyou road the bus are evenly spaced. The 67 which runs through the downtown shopping area usually gets bogged down and on the return meets up with the 69 at 7th ave and Flatbush making bunching a serious problem. 67/69 are usually senior operators who know the route . Many factors ..wheel chairs, seniors , supplying information, traffic, passengers who aren’t prepared to board also play a major part in the slow down of service. Management “never” ask for feedback from the people who actually work the line. For instance , when the 67 ends at Sands St it makes a loop under the bridge and loops back to Concord St to start. This same turnaround point can be reroute to the 69 stand “endpoint” so it can accommodate passengers who transfer from the F (York St) and A train (High St) The last 69 from that point is 945 .This simple left instead of a right will allow passenger to use the 67 (which ends at 1am) without the long walk to concord For the up and coming Dumbo , seniors and wheelchairs when its late and dark outside. Just my 2 cents and remember most of use are on your side

BrooklynBus August 10, 2010 - 7:54 pm

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