BREAKING: MTA Cuts Back on Bus Service Amid Ongoing Ridership Crisis

Eleven routes will see reductions this summer "to more closely align with customer demand."

The MTA's bus and transit committee, pictured in May. Photo: David Meyer
The MTA's bus and transit committee, pictured in May. Photo: David Meyer

The MTA’s bus service “death spiral” inches ever closer.

Thirteen months after the launch of Andy Byford’s “Bus Action Plan,” New York City Transit will reduce service on specific routes this summer “to more closely align with customer demand” and reflect congestion-induced speed reductions, according to a memo distributed to MTA board members on Monday [PDF, page 205].

The summertime changes foretell potentially devastating cuts next year, when the MTA faces a $510-million operating deficit. There is talk of $31 million in bus service cuts.

Bus ridership has been cratering for more than a decade due to snail-like speeds in Manhattan’s Central Business District and other busy sections of the city. As ridership dropped, the agency cut back service — a vicious and recurrent cycle that Byford has previously called a “death spiral.”

The summer cuts — which will save the multi-billion-dollar agency $2.8 million — affect various portions of the schedule on 13 lines.

Each bus lines has three headway-time schedules throughout the day, during the morning and evening commute times, plus non-rush hours. Of the 13 key routes in question — the B3, B4, B24, B63, B74, M1, M2, M3, M4, M7, M55, B11, S51 — 26 schedules will get worse for riders in terms of longer times between buses, while three will get better (on the B63 and B4).

This summer’s cuts will dramatically affect some lines. On the M55, for instance, where buses are running at a 24 percent capacity, buses that once left the terminus every 15 minutes will leave every 20, increasing which will pack more people into buses that the MTA says are running under capacity. Three more minutes of wait times on the M1 in the evening hours will bring that line perilously close to being considered overcrowded. [Chart, page 207]

One route, the B63, will have additional trips added for shorter headways, finally bring morning rush buses below 100 percent capacity, the MTA claims. The B4 line will also get shorter wait times on Saturday mornings.

Ultimately, however, the agency will only be saving $81,000, as it must add service on routes where congestion has negatively impacted headways.

“Schedules are tweaked throughout the year to reflect actual traffic and ridership realities, to put extra buses where there’s a demand, and to make sure resources aren’t wasted due to running empty buses,” said MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek. “We’re working to attract more people to buses by making bus schedules more dependable, and reducing crowding where that’s a problem.”

The MTA is currently overhauling its Bronx and Queens bus networks as part of Byford’s “Bus Action Plan,” which was released last April to significant fanfare from transit advocates. Since then, the MTA has rolled out one new Select Bus Service line and a redesign of the Staten Island express bus network. City police also launched a concerted bus lane and bus stop enforcement effort to prevent private cars from getting in the way of transit.

But many of the plan’s proposed improvements — citywide all-door bus boarding, rapid bus lane expansion, and the implementation of new dispatching technology — remain works in progress, and relief from congestion pricing is at least 19 months away. Two key metrics — additional travel time and additional bus stop time, which measure the amount of extra time riders spend at stops and on buses compared to the MTA’s schedule — are increasing on local and Select Bus Service routes.

Overall trip times, however, improved in April for the second month in a row. Bus speeds have remained stagnant — a potential sign that the collapse in bus service has been reversed.

Advocates said the service reductions were not necessarily welcome, but made sense given the agency’s limited financial resources.

“Many of the schedule changes indicate that more needs to be done to clear street space for buses and speed up boarding. Given a fixed budget, it’s good practice to review how service is allocated and make adjustments in response to changing conditions,” said Ben Fried, the spokesman for TransitCenter. “These are marginal changes. If you look at the route by route breakdown, it’s just a handful of routes that are seeing any significant change in frequency one way or the other.”

In a related — or unrelated — piece of news, Darryl Irick, the MTA bus chief who helped create Byford’s bus strategy, will retire next month.

  • This is what they’re saying during a booming economy. Imagine another recession when tax revenue falls?

  • AMH

    Whatever happened to the Bus Action Plan? I’m still waiting to hear that signal priority has been switched on, or that bus lanes are going in anywhere besides 14 St.

  • Sassojr

    “The summer cuts — which will save the multi-billion-dollar agency a mere $81,000 — affect various portions of the schedule on 13 lines.”

    I hate the MTA as much as the next guy, but you’re either being intentionally misleading, or you aren’t actually reading the memo. It saves $2.8 million, then reinvests $2.7 million to improve route reliability and meet running time deficiencies.

  • Twofooted

    I know the Governor controls the MTA, but this is the mayor’s fault. He controls the streets and could improve bus service by building real bus lanes and cleaning up placard abuse. He is terrible.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Yup. And elsewhere public pension funding levels are falling, and the federal deficit is soaring, despite that long running economic boom.

    Here’s a little bit of transitese: “Let us not speak ill of the dead.”

    If you can get to retirement before SHTF, your role in it will never be the subject of discussion.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Some of it is the Mayor’s fault. Some if it is the fault of decades of deals and decisions.

    But some of it is the result of social trends that state and local government are not responsible for, some of which are favorable from a Streetsblog point of view. (Bicycles, now e-bikes).

    And some of which are not (Uber, Lyft).

  • Andrew

    I’m sorry, but “BREAKING”? The MTA adjusts bus and subway service levels up and down, based on ridership, several times per year, and has been doing so for decades.

    Like it or not, that’s all this is.

    This information is always included in the MTA board materials on the MTA its website. I knew about this “BREAKING” news on Friday, when I came across the board materials.

  • Seereous

    Its a vicious circle. M55, for example, purports to run every 15 minutes (it does not) , but even that is a long wait..especially when there is no seating. So, making the wait longer is going to result in less ridership. So next time…..

  • 6SJ7

    Particularly in the summer when ridership traditionally declines.

  • Dan

    Bus ridership has been cratering for more than a decade due to snail-like speeds in Manhattan’s Central Business District and other busy sections of the city.

    Exactly. We need dedicated bus lanes and expanded SBS routes. No one wants to ride a bus if it takes longer than walking.

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