Home Asides The trouble with assessing bus satisfaction

The trouble with assessing bus satisfaction

by Benjamin Kabak

When the MTA released its subway satisfaction survey last week, it also published a similar one concerning the buses, and I didn’t pay it much attention. As with the subway survey, the bus examination used a similarly flawed scale and still found 70 percent of riders satisfied with local bus service. In one sense, that’s a shockingly high number considering how unreliable and slow local bus service can be.

This week, Allan Rosen at Sheepshead Bites drilled down on both the results of and the process behind the MTA’s bus service, and he too is less than impressed. As bus service varies wildly across routes and boroughs, Rosen, a former bus planner with the MTA, is critical of the sample size, the rankings and the way the survey ignores customer feedback on proper bus routing. His conclusion on the survey: “They first draw their conclusions, then pick and choose the data they want to show to back up those conclusions. In this case the MTA wanted to show that a majority of riders are content with the service they provide.”

That, in a nutshell, is why the bus surveys don’t tell us much. But there’s a bigger issue at work here: The bus surveys targeted only those who ride the bus. If the MTA wanted to find out why people aren’t satisfied with bus service, the agency needs to find people who don’t or no longer ride the bus and ask them why. In such a survey, one would find routing issues, speed (or lack thereof) and an unreliable schedule to be the prime disincentives and a clear reason why bus ridership is on the decline. That’s a survey worth doing.

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Matt November 2, 2011 - 12:22 pm

Eh, worth doing? Depends. It’ll cost you $50 a respondent. If you want to know why anyone riding any particular bus in a particular place then you need about 300 respondents for each route. That’s tough. On top of that, I have found that, anecdotally, people are not riding the bus, because it is confusing more than route and speed. The subway doesn’t run on a schedule, and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. What the subway DOES do is follow a clear path with easily delineated stations. People who don’t ride the bus have no idea where it will stop, are scared they won’t be able to get off, don’t know how to pay for it (does the bus give change? This is almost NEVER described in bus systems), and many times, cannot identify where on the street they actually are to know they should get off the bus.

All of this could be remedied in a few ways, including: a clearer map, instructions for using a bus, clear and consistent announcements on the bus, and as a two-fer, increasing stop spacing to speed the buses up and fix the station problem by allowing them to be “named.”

Christopher November 2, 2011 - 2:00 pm

We really, really, really need LED read-outs of streets INSIDE the buses. I just don’t understand why NYC doesn’t. This is not advanced technology and I would think it’s an ADA compliance issue too. I’m Deaf so I don’t know. But do they even read out what streets are coming up? Does the bus driver call out information at all?

The Cobalt Devil November 2, 2011 - 2:13 pm

The “announcements” made by bus drivers in NYC are pathetic. Some drivers do, some don’t, and most of the ones that do make some kind of announcement that sounds like heavily-accented gibberish. Add to that the fact that half the buses on many crosstown routes are mislabeled (ex: Westbound M42 buses that read “East Side-United Nations”) and you have a woefully sad fleet of buses as far as directions/announcements are concerned. Natives don’t seem to mind because most of us know by trial-and-error which way we’re going, but tourists are often confused and have are nonplussed as far as how to use a MetroCard, which slows down buses in Manhattan.

New subway cars have somewhat alleviated announcement problems underground, but buses are another story.

BrooklynBus November 2, 2011 - 4:04 pm

The driver supposed to announce major stops. Sometimes they do and other times they do not. They also forget to change the directional sign I would say about 20% of the time. The percentage is higher for short routes and lower for long routes.

ajedrez November 3, 2011 - 10:39 am

When I went to Miami, they had recorded announcements on the routes. To be honest, it was kind of annoying to hear every 30 seconds what the next stop is (I knew the system despite being a tourist), but I can see how it would be useful.

BrooklynBus November 2, 2011 - 4:01 pm

Manhattan buses do have digital read outs of the upcoming stops. The outer boroughs do not.

Benjamin Kabak November 2, 2011 - 4:02 pm

Which lines? Granted, the only Manhattan buses I’ve ridden lately are the M104, but I don’t remember hearing of any digital readouts of upcoming stops.

The Cobalt Devil November 2, 2011 - 4:12 pm

I’ve seen a handful of buses (like one or two) over the past year that do this, but they must be experimental or the MTA just ditched the pilot program. To say that all buses in Manhattan have this feature is a huge exaggeration. No buses in any boro do this.

Matt November 2, 2011 - 4:32 pm

They have been piloting this for some time on the M16/M34 along with electronic announcements of the next stop. I did the surveys of the pilot test. It was well received, but that doesn’t appear to have translated into implementation.

The Cobalt Devil November 2, 2011 - 4:40 pm

Of course not. If it works well, why would the MTA make use of it? =)

BrooklynBus November 2, 2011 - 5:12 pm

Sorry if I made an erroneous statement. I have only ridden the bus in Manhattan about a dozen times in the past two years. I think I used the M31, M79, M34, and one or two other routes, and every single bus had a digital display of the next stop, so I guess made the erroneous assumption that it was true of all Manhattan buses.

BrooklynBus November 2, 2011 - 3:59 pm

Worth doing? Yes, if you intend to try to solve the problems. Not worth doing–if you intend to make excuses for the results and choose not to make improvements because you have a whole list of reasons why they can’t be done.

Yes, the stops would be a problem in using a Limited or SBS if you don’t know the stops before you board. On locals it shouldn’t be an issue. I don’t think there’s much you could do with the borough maps to improve them. You would need more neighborhood maps for that. Be nice if we could get local business groups to pay for them.

The announcements on the new buses are extremely clear. The problem is that everyone blocks them out because man times they are non-sensical and ignored. For example you are told at every single stop to use the rear door to exit. Many times that doesn’t make sense. If the bus is a mile from a terminal and no one is boarding, it really doesn’t matter. Other times, the bus may be too crowded to get o the rear door. The message should ask you to use the rear door if possible. There also should be an override feature so the bus driver can turn it off when not necessary. I find them annoying when they don’t make sense.

As far as increasing stop spacing. Sometimes it makes sense and other times it doesn’t. Also, some places there are large numbers of elderly people who rely on the buses who this would inconvenience as well as anyone with packages. It really needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Also, all the bus stops with the new signs are named. However in many instances the names are too high on the sign to be read by standees in the bus. I suggested lowering them and received a stupid reason why it could not be done.


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