A Fascinating 3 Part Series On MTA Bus Planning

I was browsing for transit related news when I happened to stumble on a fascinating 3 part look into MTA bus route planning which was written by former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981) Allan Rosen.

The first part takes a look at the back story of the 1978 bus route changes in Southwest Brooklyn:

The date November 12, 1978 probably means nothing to you unless it was the day you were born or got married. For me it was a very special day. It was when the MTA implemented the southwest Brooklyn bus route changes I had been working on for four years at the Department of City Planning (DCP).

It was the day that the B21 was replaced by an extension of the B34 and the B1 was rerouted to Brighton Beach Avenue from the Sheepshead Bay Station it previously served. It was the day the B49 was rerouted to the Sheepshead Bay Station to replace the loss of the B1. It was the day the B4 was extended from Bay Ridge (not my idea) to replace the B21 on Emmons Avenue and the day the B36 was moved from Neptune Avenue to Avenue Z to provide a through route along Avenue Z also replacing the B21.

If you are having a difficult time following this, that is because it was the largest and most complex routing changes ever made in Brooklyn or the entire city on a single day until last year’s service cutbacks. Except in 1978, routing improvements were the focus, not service reductions.

Click here to read Part 1 in its entirety.

Part 2 takes a look at how their current bus planning ways are leading to a disaster:

Unlike DCP’s goal, to cultivate ridership by restructuring bus routes to improve connectivity between neighborhoods, the MTA’s mission is to reduce costs by cutting service even if those service cuts result in more inefficient services. They mix improvements with service cutbacks, necessitating the use of three buses to complete a trip where only two buses were required previously, or severing bus connections entirely, forcing former bus riders to rely on car services or make a longer more inconvenient subway trip. When that is the way you plan, there is no wonder why bus ridership keeps going down, but the MTA finds that a mystery.

The MTA is attempting to create a few “super routes” with its local bus system [some of them Select Bus Service (SBS) routes] spaced every mile with good headways compared to the current standard of half-mile spacing, eliminating all other routes except for routes necessary to feed the subway. Those routes, because they serve only one purpose — to get people to the subway — are only well-utilized during rush hours and inefficient at other times. Increased spacing between local bus routes and increasing distances between bus stops, which is what they are also doing, will increase walking distances to bus routes more than the quarter-mile walking standard used in the industry, making them less attractive. In some cases, increasing bus stop spacing does make sense, but sometimes it does not.

The MTA is taking these steps to force more passengers away from local buses and onto the subway because it is cheaper for them to operate the trains since they carry more people and use less direct labor. If those subway trips take longer, are more inconvenient, or are more indirect for the passenger, that is not the MTA’s concern.

Click here to read Part 2 in its entirety.

The 3rd & final installment takes a look at what steps the MTA must take in order to prevent destroying local bus service:

The MTA should be attempting to attract new bus passengers, not try to lose them to the subway or to car services. You cannot attract new passengers by constantly reducing service and increasing service gaps resulting in making travel more difficult. You must plan by considering latent demand, i.e. passengers who would use the system if the routes were improved, something the MTA has never done.

The MTA, however, would disagree with my entire hypothesis. They would claim that the entire purpose of Select Bus Service (SBS) is to make local buses more attractive to passengers. They would say that they have no intention of destroying the bus system and they want it to flourish but are limited by economic realities. Where are the additional Select Bus passengers coming from, which the MTA is bragging about [PDF]? Are they being siphoned from parallel bus and subway lines or are they really new passengers? Are any of them choosing to leave their cars at home in order to ride the Select Bus? I haven’t seen any of those questions answered in any of the data the MTA has provided.

You can make the argument that, in the current financial climate, the MTA cannot afford to provide new or improved service. However, even when there were budget surpluses about 10 years ago, the MTA still showed no interest in improving bus service, insisting that any service improvement must be accompanied by a service cut so that the net result is no total increase in operating costs or bus service.

The MTA refuses to project any revenue increases from service enhancements in making their proposals. By only considering operating costs, not new revenue that might be created toward offsetting those additional operating costs, new or additional service that might attract more revenue than it would cost to provide is never considered. Their assumption is that no bus service could ever make money, no matter how attractive.

Click here to read Part 3 in its entirety.

This happens to be one of the better transit reads I have come across in sometime. It was not only refreshing to learn the real story behind those changes in 1978, but get such an extensive look at a situation that has long been out of control. I find it hard to really disagree with any of the points that he made.

xoxo Transit Blogger

If you enjoyed this post, please consider to leave a comment or subscribe to the feed and get future articles delivered to your feed reader.


[…] Attention history buffs and transit geeks: a “fascinating” three-part study on MTA bus route planning from 1981. [Transit Blogger] […]

Leave a comment