Sheepshead Bites The Commute: Why We Need A Moratorium On Future SBS Routes – Part 1 Of 5 by Allan Rosen
THE COMMUTE: The B44 Nostrand Avenue Route was one-year-old in November 2014. Yet we still don’t have the first year assessment for that route. Its implementation was plagued with problems. There still has not been a single report that shows SBS has been beneficial. By that I mean that people have been more helped than hurt. The only way to show that is to prove — either through origin destination surveys, or by measuring, through computer modeling, trip times before and after SBS implementation — that average bus passenger trip times were reduced.
There is also the flip side of the coin. How much time was added to other trips, such as auto, trucks and taxis due to the removal of traffic lanes from general traffic? Finally, the two need to be weighed against each other to determine if SBS has resulted in a net benefit. For example, should SBS be considered a success if 10,000 bus passengers saved an average of three minutes each, but 5,000 car trips (each with one passenger, to keep things simple), had their average trip increased by seven minutes each? The answer would be no, since 30,000 bus passenger minutes were saved, but 35,000 car passenger minutes were lost.
Of course, you could argue that a bus passenger’s time is worth more than a car passenger’s time and that a reduction of parking spaces needed for the exclusive lanes doesn’t harm anyone or doesn’t matter. However, what logic would that be based on?
Success is not being measured in the manner I described. The only variables being considered are bus running time savings and increased ridership statistics. Negative impacts on automobile traffic, if any, are minimized or dismissed away as in the MTA’s report on the S79. The New York City Transit claims to have a transit forecasting model referred to here. However, not a single shred of data from that model has been presented in any of the reports. Why not? Is this model even usable at the micro-level?
The DOT and the MTA brag that SBS buses are traveling between 15 and 20 percent faster, based on schedule changes. However, in one of the more honest statements by the MTA Operations Planning Chief for New York City Transit, Peter Cafiero stated on February 10 at ahearing before the City Council: “There is the service we schedule and then there is the service actually provided.”
Also, reduced bus running times are not synonymous with reduced passenger travel times, which may have stayed the same or even increased. I have always stated that SBS definitely saves time for passengers near SBS stops who travel long distances. That is not in dispute. However, for those forced to walk further to reach SBS bus stops that are further apart or walk further to their destination after they get off the bus, travel times might even increase. Or, the difference in time could just be a wash. Six minutes saved on the bus traded for a six-minute increased walk.
Bottom line: If SBS has been a success, it needs to be proven and that has not been done.
Unsubstantiated Claims Made At February 10 City Council Hearing
These are the statements we have been hearing about SBS from its supporters:
MTA and/or DOT:
- “BRT offers tremendous features at an affordable price.”
- “Bus lanes can better organize traffic, help everyone and result in safer streets.”
- “SBS results in reduced fare evasion.”
- “We look at how much other traffic is there.”
If so why has no existing or projected traffic data been presented at workshops where proposed routes are presented? We only receive promises that traffic will not be negatively affected.
- “BRT Preserves Curbside Parking”
- “BRT will help bicycles by freeing up curbside space.”
(Directly contradicts previous statement.)
SBS will mean fewer cars because more people will shift to buses. Zero documentation has been provided to prove this. SBS does nothing to reduce the amount of transfers needed to make a trip, which is a major reason one chooses to drive in the first place.
MetroCard data tells us where people are making long trips. Eric Beaton, director of Transit Development for DOT, made that statement. MetroCard data provides much useful information, but cannot provide information regarding trip lengths or trip times since it contains no exit data. The MTA also stated here that they obtain origin/destination data from MetroCards, which is not possible.
Commissioner of the DOT, Polly Trottenberg, stated that SBS has resulted in “a 15 to 20 percent improvement in travel times for all SBS riders.” In order for this statement to be true, the following statements must also be true but they are not:
- All SBS buses operate on schedule
- All SBS passengers complete their entire trip by only using SBS. In fact, probably about half of the SBS passengers require a transfer to another bus or subway.
- No one has a longer walk to and from an SBS stop. These stops are spaced up to one mile apart and require longer walks.
Woodhaven Boulevard is 160 feet wide (see photo above). The actual curb-to-curb street width is only 125 feet where that photo was taken. It may be 160 feet at some other locations but it also narrows down to 70 or 75 feet at the two points where it crosses the LIRR tracks. We are left with the false impression that Woodhaven is a wide roadway with wide service roads of 160 feet, when in fact its width mostly varies between 125 and 130 feet, and is 35 feet narrower than portrayed.
Bus ridership has increased on the M15 with the introduction of SBS. This “fact” has been used to support every SBS route implemented since. Yet, actual M15 ridership including SBS wasdown 4.1 percent in 2013 from 2012, the last year for which ridership statistics are available. Average daily ridership is down 5.6 percent. In fact, 2013 M15 ridership was lower than it was in 2008 before SBS was initiated there. No separate ridership numbers are published specifically for SBS buses.
SBS supporters say M15 ridership would not have increased if passenger travel times were not reduced. If that were true, the corollary must also be true. That since ridership on the M15 was lower in 2013 than it was before SBS began, travel times must have increased with the introduction of SBS so it has not been successful. The logic cuts both ways.
The truth, according to the Straphangers Campaign, is that the M15 bus route with its SBS feature is the most unreliable route in the entire city. Local Councilman Ben Kallos stated that complaints regarding M15 service are among the heaviest grievances he receives.
Next week: Misrepresentation of facts and contradictions and how so many can be fooled.
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).
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