The Jackie Gleason Bus Depot. Photo by Erica Sherman

THE COMMUTE: Governor Andrew Cuomo, who I once said was “not a friend of public transit“ after he cut MTA funding, now has increased MTA funding by $358 million in the 2013/14 fiscal year budget. The question is what will the MTA do with this money? There are several alternatives. The MTA could:

  1. Return subway service crowding guidelines to what they were prior to the 2010 service cuts, thereby increasing subway service and reducing overcrowding.
  2. Restore all the 2010 bus service cuts. Some cuts may have been justified, but the MTA data presented at the time never conclusively proved that was the case. Routes with low ridership were eliminated, such as the B71 in Park Slope, when there were no suitable alternatives.
  3. Finally restructure the bus system to reflect land use changes made during the past 70 years. In many areas, needed bus route changes were never made because the MTA claimed they could not afford the added operational costs. Changes — such as the ones I mentioned here. I say “claimed,” because the MTA never considered increased revenue that would result from improved services, always assuming that additional service would not result in additional ridership or revenue.
  4. Provide new bus routes or extensions at minimal 30-minute service levels, attracting very new few riders.
  5. Provide managerial increases to managers who have not received a raise in five years and also not insist on a zero wage increase contract for the TWU.

Number one is a slight possibility. I have little hope for either numbers two or three. The MTA has just not demonstrated that it cares enough about bus riders to do either. Bus Time will not show estimated arrival times, as the subway countdown clocks do, but only the distance a bus is from the bus stop, providing limited value. How well Bus Trek will work remains to be seen. The MTA’s prime interest regarding bus service is to promote Select Bus Service. They have little interest to make major improvements to local bus routes, provide needed express service between major commercial areas where demand exists and highways would allow for speedy travel, or build bus terminals where they are needed such as in Flushing or Downtown Brooklyn.

A small portion of this new money will most probably be spent on number four. My guess is that the rest will be used to provide wage increases to MTA managers, while the MTA will still insist that there is no money for the rank and file, and will attempt to negotiate the cheapest contract possible.

Number 4: New Bus Routes

A public hearing will be held later this month for a new Williamsburg bus route and for an extension of the B67 to the Navy Yard. Last month, a public hearing was held for the B84, a new bus route in East New York. All three bus routes will provide service levels of every 30 minutes at all times they will operate. That is the new MTA standard for new bus service.

If that were the standard in 1978 when I suggested my Southwest Brooklyn bus route changes, they never would have been successful. Most bus riders will not use a bus route with a scheduled service of every 30 minutes, especially with the MTA’s history of service reliability, where it is not unusual for buses even scheduled at 20-minute intervals to bunch. Only those with absolutely no other choice will use these new routes.

Are these the best routes the MTA could have developed? Not according to the experts at New York City Transit Forums (NYCTF), who have thought of better alternatives, which they discuss here. I’m calling them experts because I believe some of them have a greater knowledge of the bus system than the so-called experts at NYCT’s Operations Planning (OP). The members of NYCTF live, breathe, and ride buses. They know what passengers want and need.

Those at OP — many of whom don’t even ride a bus — plan by numbers. Anyone who does planning for a living knows that numbers alone do not provide you with answers. They are only a guide. You need theories, and the numbers help you test those theories. In 1981, when I headed the NYCT’s Brooklyn Transit Sufficiency Study, the head of the Manhattan Transit Sufficiency Study asked me to “give him” some route changes to propose — in effect, to do his job for him. He had all the numbers in front of him and didn’t have the slightest idea what changes to propose because he had no theories to test. I politely refused.

Long ago, I proposed rerouting the B69 (Vanderbilt Avenue route) to Williamsburg in order to revitalize it and build ridership for the route. Some at NYTF made the same proposal. Instead, OP is proposing to extend the B67, definitely an inferior option. Of course, there will be a pro-forma public hearing where the so-called experts will pretend to listen to alternate suggestions and then will find reasons to dismiss them, implementing their original proposals because of their arrogance.

Wage Increases

I will not speculate as to what a fair union contract should be, but only say that there needs to be some give and take on both sides. The unions need to allow part-time bus drivers, which would allow the MTA to provide more efficient service. Currently the MTA has to pay “swing time,” the time drivers sit in the depot when they are not scheduled to drive a bus. Part-time drivers would eliminate that. If the union concedes, they should be fairly rewarded with the MTA splitting the savings. That way everyone wins. If the unions are treated with respect, negotiations will be easier.

Regarding non-unionized employees, how good could morale be when you haven’t received a wage increase in five years? Not very. Managers also need to be rewarded, but not the way the MTA does it. First, the MTA needs to assure that all managers do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay and that good work gets rewarded. That is often not the case.

Yes, there are some managers who put in 11-hour days and are well worth their salary. However, there are some that make over $100,000 a year just because they have been with the MTA for more than 20 years. They do the minimal amount of work required, with little supervision, merely regarding their job as delegating all their own assignments, harassing employees to compete their assigned tasks on time, and then passing the results back upstream to their bosses. Such managerial paper pushers add little or nothing to the process. Further, if their employees are conscientious, those managers are the ones who are rewarded, not the employees who actually do the work. Such levels of bureaucracy are not needed. Streamlining the agency would improve efficiency.

When managers do receive wage increases, employees earning $150,000 per year receive three times the amount of those earning $50,000. Is that really fair? Perhaps, everyone should receive a flat amount rather than a percentage of their salary, with those performing exceptionally, receiving more. More funds would be available to improve service levels instead of being eaten up in salaries.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA / NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • sonicboy678

    Oh boy, that B69. Back in 2010, I felt that the smarter thing to do when it came to weekend service was to cut it back to Grand Army Plaza (to maintain some connectivity for people along Vanderbilt Avenue) rather than completely eliminate it. Well, that’s in the past, thanks to someone waking up and realizing that was a huge mistake. Even though I don’t know too much about B69 ridership, seeing that I never have reason to use it, it sounds like it really does need that boost. I don’t see how changing the B67′s route would work out. For one, it’s already using Flatbush Avenue, which currently has even more traffic problems than it did prior to construction of the Barclays Center. Then there’s the fact that Jay Street has traffic problems around the Manhattan Bridge (good thing I was reminded of this). With such a high chance of delays, why bother assigning the route to the B67? I hope they hear the B69 suggestion and actually listen. Of course, as you basically said, they probably won’t do that.

  • Allan Rosen

    They are looking for extensions that will cost the least in operating costs. They do not consider anticipated revenue. If they did, they would know that more people would ride the 69 extension than a 67 extension, first of all because it is more direct, not requiring you to first travel to Downtown Brooklyn. They would also know that running a bus every 15 minutes instead of every 30 minutes would yield twice as many riders.

  • Subway Stinker

    I would spend the money to find out why the B36 service is so chaotic and B44 service runs every 2 minutes in the a.m. I see the B44 standard size, the B44 articulated bus, the B44 Avenue X thug special, the B44 Limited. Can’t someone do something about this ripoff of transit funds?

    • Allan Rosen

      You don’t need $300 million to study the B36. Also, the B44 does not run every 2 minutes in the AM. And don’t worry about the B44 Limited. Its days are numbered. And would you prefer that he “thug special” not operate? I don’t think so. I know you are frustrated, but complaining here, not to the people who can do something doesn’t help matters.