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Staten Island’s Buses are the Most-Canceled in New York City

Not reliably appearing at a bus stop near you: The S40 on Staten Island. Photo: Noah Martz

They're not rolling on the Rock.

Staten Island buses are canceled more frequently than those in any other borough, even as bus service gets closer to pre-pandemic norms in the other boroughs around the city.

According to the MTA's own Bus Performance Dashboard, Staten Island has the city's lowest rate of "Service Delivered," a metric measuring how many peak-hour buses actually run. The other four boroughs combined for a 97 percent on the metric in April, the wheels on the buses on Staten Island only went round and round 92 percent of the time. It's something that bus riders have absolutely noticed when trying to get around the city.

"Oh, they get canceled all the time," Kayla, a Staten Island resident waiting for the S40 at the ferry terminal told Streetsblog. "Google Maps will suddenly change three times on my phone."

In addition to the MTA losing bus drivers to death or retirement during the pandemic, service delivery has taken a hit as employees have gotten sick during the various coronavirus variant waves since the original virus swept through the city. The Delta wave of 2021 meant that as hot vax summer turned to the vibes being off, the percentage of scheduled buses on the shores of Shaolin dropped from 93 percent in March to just 88 percent in September. Bus service got back to 90 percent in November, but hit just 87 percent in January 2022.

In the other boroughs, service delivery dropped from 96 percent in March 2021 to a low of 93 percent in September, before bottoming out at 92 percent in January.

Employees getting sick is a larger a problem on Staten Island than other boroughs, with the MTA saying that the the agency is dealing with higher than pre-Covid levels of unscheduled absences among the borough's bus drivers.

Like many transit agencies, the MTA has had to deal with labor shortages during the pandemic, some self-inflicted and some not. The agency has lost 174 employees to Covid, and many other employees retired during the pandemic. A hiring freeze kept the agency from immediately replacing the employees it had lost, to the point where last May the agency had a shortfall of almost 400 drivers.

When the driver shortage was identified last spring, the service delivered metric across the city was 95.1 percent in April 2021, compared to 97 percent in April 2019. But breaking the citywide number out by borough, last year's driver shortage hit bus service on Staten Island hardest. In the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, service delivery came in at 95 percent, while in Staten Island it hit just 92 percent.

Before the pandemic, Staten Island buses showed up on their scheduled arrival times at the same rates that buses in the rest of the city roughly 97-98 percent from January 202o to March 2020.

The MTA is still digging out from its bus operator shortage, and has worked to fix it by increasing the number of trainers and doubling the number of class sizes of potential drivers, according to agency spokesperson Sean Butler. It's an effort that agency Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said will have the workforce back to pre-Covid levels by the end of the summer.

"We're confident that the bus operator hiring that we've been doing is paying off, and we think it by the end of the summer, we're going to be in good shape," Lieber said on Tuesday.

Service delivery can be impacted by more than just driver shortages, with outside factors like traffic conditions or weather events wiping scheduled buses off the map. But the MTA also has told frustrated riders that the driver shortage was wrecking their commutes.

"Three S40 trips did not run due to crew shortages affected by Covid-19," an MTA customer service representative tweeted to a rider in January who said he he missed work after waiting for an hour for an S40 or S90 that never came. The agency had to tell an angry rider the same thing in another instance in January.

The canceled buses are the talk of the Rock, with would-be passengers complaining about getting in trouble for being late to college classes while others said they've been giving up on public transit altogether.

"The bus schedule at night is all over the place," said Brandon Grada, while he waited for a S46 on Thursday. "I try to take an Uber home now after work."

— Additional reporting by Noah Martz

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