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NYC Transit’s New Operations Planning Chief Wants To Fight ‘Ghost Buses’

One-time transit advocate and current MTA Paratransit VP Chris Pangilinan will oversee bus and subway operations for the whole city.

Photos: Josh Katz (main); MTA (inset)|

Chris Pangilinan is the MTA’s new chief of operations planning, which means bus lines are something he’ll keep an eye on.

The MTA will promote its Vice President of Paratransit Chris Pangilinan to oversee bus and subway operations at New York City Transit — where he hopes to use his experience as a rider, advocate and planner to end the scourge of rushing to catch a scheduled bus only for it to never show up.

"I've seen vendors out there that have different approaches to the way they tackle transit data in real time, and make adjustments so that you minimize the occurrence of these so-called 'ghost buses,'" Pangilinan told Streetsblog on Thursday.

"I really want to dive into this and learn the number of reasons that are causing most of the problems here with our data and understanding how can we fix this."

Pangilinan assumes his new role as the chief planner for New York City's buses and subways after a lengthy career that has included stops at the MTA as well as San Francisco's transportation and transit agency, the New York-based advocacy think tank TransitCenter and Uber, where he oversaw public transit-related projects and operation.

The job of Chief of Operations Planning at NYC is big on data analysis, which Pangilinan said means elevating the importance real-time geographic information on where trains and buses are located at any given moment.

"Transit agencies across the country produce data. Our vehicles are pinging with GPS. But I don't know if we've taken a strong ownership of that data lifecycle, or the way that the the ... data is ingested by [transit apps] and ensuring that it is as accurate as it can be," he said.

"I really do want us to take more ownership of that and to see the data feeds, as important as steel and concrete and vehicles when it comes to infrastructure."

Pangilinan is on his second go-round with the MTA, having previously worked in operations planning at NYCT. He's spent the last two years overseeing paratransit at the MTA. Paratransit customer satisfaction rose to 80 percent under his leadership, while rider complaints dropped 22 percent between March 2022 and March 2024, according to MTA figures.

Pangilinan's priorities as takes over operations planning include balancing weekend subway service with much-needed maintenance work, capitalizing on congestion pricing's expected reduction in traffic to push more bus lanes and busways through city government and, crucially, getting the Queens and Brooklyn bus redesigns finished and done right.

The MTA first announced the borough bus redesign projects in the halcyon days of then-NYCT President Andy Byford in 2018. Byford envisioned the network redesigns as a way to revise old bus routes which hadn't been updated in decades — and often based literally on old fixed-track trolly routes. So far though, the MTA has only finished the Bronx piece of that vision.

Pangilinan's new role involved getting the Brooklyn and Queens bus redesigns over the line — and in a way that manages to piss everyone off less than the agency's first, scrapped attempted redesign in Queens. Bus routes and bus stops are always on the chopping block in those conversations, and Pangilinan said the objective is to make sure people at least understand why the MTA makes the decisions it makes.

"I think the worst thing that people can encounter when when they see this process, is not knowing about it, or feeling like it's running, running roughshod over them. I want to make sure that when we do this outreach, when we do community involvement, that folks understand that, absolutely, we're listening," he said.

"I think these these changes will create a lot of winners, and a lot of great changes for the community."

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