MORE RIDERS, LESS SERVICE

I. Summary of Findings

This report documents that MTA New York City Transit has actually been cutting service on many bus routes with growing ridership.

Based on a detailed computer analysis of official transit agency data, the Straphangers Campaign has found that 20% of local bus routes (41 of 201 routes operated by New York City Transit) have actually lost scheduled weekday service since September 1996-even though these routes gained ridership in the last year.

These include some of the city's most used-bus routes, such as the Broadway M104, the First/Second Avenue M15, the Third/Lexington Avenue M101/102/103, the Fifth/Madison Avenue M2 and M4, the Flatbush Avenue B41 and the Central Brooklyn-to-JFK B15 route.

Shockingly, many bus riders are being greeted with less service, even as hundreds of thousands flock back to the system attracted by new fare discounts! The result has been elbow-in-the-ribs crowding, long waits, frayed nerves and deteriorating service with both greater bus bunching and longer gaps between buses.

II. Background and Methodology

Since 1996, bus ridership has boomed-especially after the July 1997 start of free transfers between city buses and subways. As of January 1999, there were an astonishing 429,000 more riders on an average weekday than in January 1997. That represents a staggering 27% increase in bus ridership in just two years, from 1.6 million daily weekday riders in January 1997 compared to a little over two million in January 1999.

The Straphangers Campaign has criticized MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) for not providing enough service to meet this tidal wave of new riders. While bus ridership is projected to increase a total of 36% between 1997 and the end of 1999, service is slated to increase only 9% between 1997 and the end of 1999.*

In our most recent report on bus service, we found that bus bunching and gaps in service had increased because "too few buses are moving too many people" (Slow Going, April 1999). In an earlier report, the campaign also found that service had been cut dramatically between 1986 and 1997 (Best of Times, Worst of Times: New York City Transit Bus Service, January 1998).**

Our analyses have been challenged by transit officials, who disputed our use of "scheduled bus trips" as a measure of service levels. They said that it was not a standard measure in the transit industry and did not fully reflect changes in the way routes are structured.

Officials also said that much of the ridership growth has been in the off-hours and weekends, where buses had excess capacity and crowding would not occur. Additionally, they argued that cuts in the late 1980's and early 1990's were commensurate with declines in ridership.

In the wake of these criticisms, we asked transit officials to give us data that they believed accurately reflected recent service and ridership gains. They provided us with a measure of service called "revenue seat miles" for each of the 201 local NYCT bus routes.

Revenue miles of service is a standard measure of service in the transit industry. Revenue seat miles "captures the increase in available seats when higher capacity articulated bus service is introduced.... This statistic should be used to compare levels of service" (letter from MTA NYCT to Straphangers Campaign, January 26, 1999). Transit officials also wrote to us that September 1996 "should serve as the baseline for all service comparisons." (See letter in appendices.)

We were also provided with ridership numbers on a route-by-route basis. This data only goes back to July 1997. Transit officials say that the changeover to MetroCard free transfers makes route-by-route comparisons prior to July 1997 impossible.

To account for month-to-month fluctuations, we chose to compare January 1998 ridership data to January 1999, the most recent month for which data is available. Transit officials, however, have published ridership numbers for the whole bus system back to January 1997.

Given the available data, we decided to compare two-and-one-half years of changes in service levels (September 1996 to January 1999) with one year of ridership changes (January 1998 to January 1999.)

If anything, our analysis understates the inadequacy of New York City Transit's response to ridership gains. That's because overall bus ridership grew 27% between January 1997 and January 1999, compared to a mere 6% gain in service since September 1996.

If route-by-route ridership data were available back to September 1996, the imbalance between the torrent of new riders and the trickle of new service would be even greater.

III. Findings

Our findings (See Table.) are that:

--41 of 201 New York City Transit local bus routes (20%) have actually lost scheduled weekday service since September 1996 even though these routes gained ridership in the last year-and even though overall ridership increased by 27% since September 1996. Take just two of 41 examples:

--Several of the city's most used bus routes have lost service since September 1996 while they gained ridership in just the last year. These include:

--Another 16 bus routes experienced ridership gains in the past year, but have had zero increase in service since September 1996. This means that a total of more than a quarter of all New York City Transit local bus routes-57 out of 201-have either lost service or gained none while ridership on these routes has increased.

--The borough of Manhattan had virtually no gain in weekday bus service since September 1996, despite a 10% increase in ridership in just the last year-and undoubtedly far more than that since the fall of 1996.

--There has been only a 6% increase in city-wide weekday bus service since September 1996, even though bus ridership has increased more than 27% since then.

--Ridership increased 8% in just the last year, compared to a systemwide service increase of only 6% since September 1996.

IV. Conclusion and Recommendations

The boom in bus ridership is a major success story. Transit officials deserve credit for their hard work in implementing improvements to attract more riders, including new fare discounts and massive capital repairs to an aging transit system.

But these same officials are shortchanging their old and new customers by cutting service on many lines and by adding too little service to meet ridership gains on others routes.

In April, the Straphangers Campaign issued a ten-point program for better bus service. We stressed the role the city needs to play in speeding buses through street traffic. But our number one recommendation remains key: The city transit system should "build on ridership gains by adding more bus service to reduce waits and crowding ... If not, transit officials risk losing their newly-won riders because of slow and poor service."

We have asked the independent office of MTA Inspector General to investigate the pattern we have uncovered of ridership gains met by service decreases on many routes. We have asked the Inspector General to determine why transit officials cut service on growing routes and what the impact of those cuts have been on the quality of service and the riding public.



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*1,500 daily weekday bus trips were added in the last year and a half. Another 2,400 bus trips are planned for 1999. That increases the total from 42,120 bus trips in 1997 to 46,020 in 1999.
**In 1997, the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign began work on a series of reports monitoring the quality of MTA New York City Transit bus service. Our Transit Performance Measurement Project is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which is a leader in assessing the quality of local government services. The computer analysis for this report was conducted by the campaign's staff analyst, Matthew Glomski and Steven Romalewski, director of NYPIRG's Community Mapping Assistance Project at the New York Public Interest Research Group. The report was written by staff attorney Gene Russianoff. Li Howard executed the expert graphics.

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