I. Summary of Findings

II. Interruptions in Service

    Chart One and Table One: Mean Distance Between Service Interruptions

III. On-Time Performance and Regularity of Service on 40 Key Selected Bus Routes

    Table Two: On-Time Performance and Regularity of Service by Borough
    Table Three: On-Time Performance and Regularity, Best and Worst Routes
    Table Four: On-Time Performance and Regularity for 40 Routes

IV. Passenger Environment: Best and Worst Bus Depots and Routes

    Maps One to Four: Passenger Environment by Borough for New York City Transit Bus Routes for Cleanliness; Adequate Announcements; Legible Maps and for Scratched or Clouded Windows

VI. Ten-Point Program for Improving New York City Transit Bus Service

Appendix: Methodology


A key measure for bus service is how many miles a bus travels before experiencing a mechanical problem that interrupts service and inconveniences passengers. This measure is known as the "mean distance between service interruptions" or "MDBSI."

In our last report, we found a significant improvement in all five boroughs in the number of miles traveled before service interruptions caused by mechanical problems. When we compared 1997 to 1996, we found that the number of miles buses traveled before experiencing a service interruption improved 10% or more in each of the five boroughs. This continued a trend begun in 1995 for the entire bus system, one that had begun to reverse a declining performance between 1992 and 1995.

But the trend in improvement has ground to a halt. Where 1997 saw a 17% improvement in the miles traveled by buses before experiencing a mechanical problem that interrupted service, the increase in the first nine months of 1998 was just a 2% gain. In the first nine months of 1998, MDBSI remained virtually unchanged citywide--with a service interruption caused by a mechanical breakdown every 2,321 miles. In 1997, interruptions came every 2,278 miles. Comparing 1997 to 1998, performance actually declined in the Bronx (minus 4%) and in Staten Island (minus 16%), while improving in Manhattan (4%), Brooklyn (7%) and Queens (15%).

These data reflect that transit officials are scrambling to add more service. To do so, officials have brought hundreds of older buses back into service, as they wait for the delivery of recently ordered new buses.

The bottom line is far fewer miles traveled by buses before experiencing service interruptions than was the case six years ago: Despite gains between 1995 and 1997, buses traveled 40% fewer miles before mechanical problems interrupted service in the first nine months of 1998 than they did in 1992. During the first nine months of 1998, NYCT buses traveled just 2,321 miles before a mechanical problem caused an interruption in service. That's a far worse performance than 1992, when the rate was every 3,859 miles--although it's better than the rock bottom year of 1995, when service was interrupted due to mechanical problems every 1,840 miles.

Manhattan riders suffered the most--buses there traveled 49% fewer miles between service interruptions compared to 1992. That's a drop from an interruption every 3,032 miles in 1992 to every 1,560 miles in the first three quarters of 1998. Even in the borough with the least decline in performance, the Bronx, buses traveled 38% fewer miles between service interruptions, comparing the first nine months of 1998 to 1992. See Chart 1 and Table 1.


MTA New York City Transit maintains detailed information on 42 routes it has selected as typical of the system's 203 local bus routes. About half of these are the most used bus routes in the city. The other half are either the most used bus routes in each borough or routes that have travel and commuter patterns that reflect other lines around the system. (The Straphangers Campaign reviewed the performance of 40 of these key routes. Two routes--the Bx12 and Q85--were eliminated from consideration because changes in routes and operations made comparison inappropriate.)

Comparing October 1996-September 1997 to the same period in 1997-1998, we found:

The overall quality of service remained poor in 1997-1998: Four out of ten buses on key routes arrived irregularly and off-schedule.

Bus service has grown more irregular in the last year, with 36 of 40 key routes worsening on what bus riders dread the most--bus bunching and gaps in service. The average daily "regularity" of service--how evenly spaced buses arrive--on these key routes was an awful 60% in 1997-1998. That's down from 62% in 1996-1997. That means that four out of ten buses on these routes arrived either bunched together or with major gaps in service.

Service grew more irregular in all the boroughs except the Bronx; Brooklyn buses experienced the biggest drop in regularity, from 61% to 57%--a 6% decline.

In 1997-1998, on-time performance declined on 23 key routes and improved on 17. Overall, the rate of on-time performance for all 40 key routes remained the same--a dismal 62%, with nearly four out of ten buses off schedule.

There was a wide disparity in regularity and on-time performance on the 40 bus routes: City Hall's need to give more priority to moving buses caught in traffic congestion plays a major role in these differences. This report documents that service is worst where traffic is the worst, with Manhattan buses posting far and away the poorest regularity and on-time performance:

See Table 2. See Table 3. See Table 4.


MTA New York City Transit collects information on several aspects of the quality of the bus environment for the 203 local bus routes that operate out of its depots. These include cleanliness, announcements, bus maps, and scratched or clouded windows.* We reviewed this information for the period between October 1996 through September 1997 and the period from October 1997 through September 1998.

New York City Transit made modest improvements in the last year in the passenger environment for bus riders. Comparing 1996-1997 to 1997-1998:

There was a range of performance in the bus passenger environment among the boroughs:**

* See the appendix for Methodology for a more detailed explanation of these performance measures and why the Straphangers Campaign selected them for this report.
** Our report last year--The Best of Times, the Worst of Times--compared passenger environment survey findings on a depot-by-depot basis. This allowed for a more detailed analysis that revealed significant disparities among the depots. Unfortunately, this analysis was not possible in Slow Going because bus assignments changed in the spring of 1998. Two depots closed (the Walnut and 100th Street Depot ) and a new depot opened (Westside).

See Maps #1, #2, #3, #4.


As ridership booms, there's an historic opportunity to strengthen the role buses play in the life of New York City. How can transit officials build on the recent success in winning hundreds of thousands of new bus riders? Here's a blueprint worth following:

1. Build on ridership gains by adding more bus service to reduce waits and crowding. Bus ridership is exploding, fueled by attractive fare discounts and a good local economy. But service additions are not keeping pace. Weekday bus ridership is predicted to increase 36% between 1997 and 1999. But transit officials plan to add only 10% more weekday bus service during this period. As a result, service has deteriorated as too few buses move too many people. Much more service needs to be added. If not, transit officials risk losing their newly-won riders because of slow and poor service. Fortunately, New York City Transit can afford to add service because of its budget surplus, generated in large part by the greater ridership.

2. Increase enforcement of traffic laws to speed buses. City Hall needs to do more to make sure that buses run reliably and at decent speeds. Bus stops should be kept clear of parked cars and should be marked with durable thermo-plastic in problem areas. It's worth testing new designs that might require less enforcement, like the double bus lane with built-out curb proposed by New York City Transit. The city should press for increases in fines for illegal parking in bus stops. In congested areas, police should tow vehicles stopped in bus stops. The MTA and New York Police Department should release monthly statistics on their enforcement efforts. The NYPD should target specific "hot spots" where buses are held up in traffic tie-ups and find ways to give buses priority.

3. Give buses more priority on city streets. The city should do a much better job of keeping existing lanes clear. The New York Police Department should assign traffic units equipped with tow trucks to keep lanes clear and moving. The NYPD should respect these lanes themselves and not routinely park and block them. In addition, the city should move on New York City Transit's requests to expand the existing network of exclusive bus lanes. The city also should run a pilot project that allows for traffic signals to give buses traffic signal priority through intersections.

4. Build on the new fare discounts. NYC Transit deserves great credit for implementing free transfers between subways and buses and unlimited-ride passes in the last two years. The discounts have made many New Yorkers take another look at bus service. Transit officials need to build on this progress by: promoting TransitChek, which allows employers to provide tax-free transit benefits to employees; fixing the software glitch that prevents passengers with unlimited-ride MetroCards from re-boarding the same bus route within 18 minutes; exploring ways for all riders, not just seniors, to purchase MetroCards by mail; installing vending machines in heavily trafficked locations other than subway stations; and putting the $4 unlimited-ride MetroCard on sale at subway stations. Officials should also consider adding new discounts in the future, including lower fares on weekends and off-hours as well as discounts for families traveling together, like those offered to suburban commuters.

5. Commit to converting the entire bus fleet to clean-fuels like natural gas and electric power. Riders and pedestrians hate being caught in clouds of toxic diesel fumes. While the MTA has agreed to purchase hundreds of alternative-fuel buses, it is not doing enough to protect the lungs of both its riders and those most affected by diesel exhaust--the city's children, asthmatics and seniors. It makes no sense that the MTA buys only natural gas buses for its fleet on Long Island, while it still plans to rely on diesel buses in New York City. Instead, it should join Los Angeles, Houston, Cleveland and other cities that have made fleet-wide commitments to switching to clean-fuel buses.

6. Attack bus bunching. Nothing outrages riders more than waiting a long time for a bus, only to see a pack of buses arrive in a bunch. New York City Transit has hired more dispatchers and is experimenting with an "automated vehicle locator system" to foster more regular service. The agency needs to redouble these efforts, as well as provide more service to reduce delays while crowds board.

7. Give riders more information. NYC Transit needs to do a much better job of making announcements on buses. We hope that on-bus announcements will increase as transit managers press the issue and through the use of new hands-free microphones. There's also much promise in Transit's pilot project for "smart bus shelters," which use satellite technology to give its customers real time information on the arrival time of buses. The City Transportation Department should better maintain its bus stop schedules and route maps.

8. Keep buses cleaner. The agency should explore new ways of attacking dirt and litter, including negotiating with its unions on whether bus drivers can help clean buses during stopovers enroute.

9. Test imaginative approaches to bus service. The success story with free transfers shows that public transportation can be more competitive. This fare discount has won back many riders that had been lost to private van services. Additional steps worth exploring include: experimenting with the use of smaller vehicles during off-peak hours; better promoting New York City Transit's "request-a-stop" program where riders can ask bus drivers to stop nearer to their destinations; and working with the city to encourage private vans to better feed into the existing bus network. New York City Transit is also rightly looking into new technology buses, including low-floor buses, which would be an attractive convenience for many of its customers.

10. Make transit managers more accountable. New York City Transit should post the names and phone numbers of route managers at bus shelters, on Guide-A-Rides and in buses. It also should regularly post statistics at these sites on how bus routes are performing.


This report serves as a follow up to the Straphangers Campaign first-ever study of New York City bus service, The Best of Times, the Worst of Times, released in January 1998. In preparing that report, we identified four key measures of the quality and quantity of bus service for which MTA New York City Transit compiles data: interruptions in service; amount of scheduled bus service; service reliability; and quality of "passenger environment." These four areas--described in detail below--were included in our initial report for their importance to riders, as well as the availability, reliability and comparability of the data.

In this report, we update our analysis of three of these measures--service interruptions, reliability and passenger environment. However, due to delays in receiving MTA New York City Transit scheduling and ridership data for individual bus routes, we could not review "amount of scheduled service" in this report. A separate review of service and ridership levels will be released in the future.

1. Selection of Data
The Straphangers Campaign reviewed extensive MTA New York City Transit data measuring the quality and quantity of bus service at the system, division, depot and route levels. The three monitored areas of performance break down as follows:

We could not include several service quality measures of concern to riders. Crime statistics, for example, are not kept at the route or depot level. Also, we could not include data on crowding, as the degree of detail in the data measured by MTA New York City Transit is not uniform. We also decided that NYC Transit data on bus speeds were not usable. In addition, certain passenger environment indicators, such as absence of exterior graffiti, were not included in the analysis because nearly universal high compliance limits the usefulness of any comparisons among bus divisions or routes.

2. Description of Service Indicators

Mean Distance Between Service Interruptions (MDBSI) is one of several performance indicators compiled by MTA New York City to measure dependability of buses. It is defined as the number of miles traveled by buses of any depot, divided by the total number of chargeable "road calls"--including mechanical swaps--that interrupt service. In our analysis, we focused on a historical trend of annual MDBSI division (or borough) and system averages, for the period January 1992 through September 1998.

MTA New York City Transit compiles reliability data for 42 routes it has selected as typical of the system's 203 bus routes. Roughly half of these routes are the most used in the city. Other routes included are either the most used in each borough, or routes that have travel and commuter patterns that reflect other routes throughout the system. Our review of service reliability focuses on the performance of 40 of these 42 routes. Two others--the Bx12 and Q85--were eliminated from consideration as major changes in route scheduling made comparison inappropriate. Service reliability is generally tracked through two measures--enroute schedule adherence (often referred to as on-time performance) and service regularity. Our analysis includes a comparison of average service reliability data for the periods from October 1, 1996 through September 30, 1997, and October 1, 1997 through September 30, 1998.

1. Enroute Schedule Adherence: MTA New York City Transit defines enroute schedule adherence as the percentage of trips departing from all scheduled timepoints, such as bus stops but not including terminals, between 0 and 5 minutes after their scheduled departing time.

2. Service Regularity: Service regularity is defined as the percentage of actual intervals between bus trips which are within plus or minus 50% of the scheduled interval (for intervals of less than 10 minutes), or within plus or minus 5 minutes of the scheduled interval for intervals of 10 minutes or more. For example, if a bus is scheduled to arrive every 8 minutes but in fact there are 14 minutes between buses, this would be graded as an irregular interval.

New York City Transit conducts a quarterly "passenger environment survey" (PES) to measure the quality of the transit rider's environment. The PES is performed by "surveyors who are specifically trained for this function and who have no direct association with the departments affected by the survey evaluations. The surveying [of buses] is conducted throughout each quarterly recording period to the extent necessary to depict a årepresentative' sample of NYC Transit's vehicles" (source: MTA New York City Transit Passenger Environment Survey, Second Quarter, 1997 p.1). PES data included in this report is an average of ratings from October 1, 1997 through September 30, 1998. For each PES indicator, we first calculated a "quarterly percentage" for each bus division by averaging the scores of its component depots. The four quarterly percentages were then averaged to create a one-year division percentage for each measure. This methodology is slightly different than that used by MTA New York City Transit in compiling system and division averages.

In their analysis, the system average of each PES indicator is calculated under a weighting function to reflect the contributions of any under-sampled depots. In the second quarter of 1998, MTA New York City Transit substantially changed its depot structure: the Walnut and 100th Street depots closed, the Westside depot opened, and authority over the Amsterdam depot transferred from the Manhattan to the Bronx division. These changes were taken into account in division averages for each PES indicator.

1. Cleanliness of bus interiors: The PES includes a rating of the cleanliness of the floors and seats of buses--each bus surveyed is rated as having "no interior dirt," "light dirt," "moderate dirt," or "heavy dirt." A car with a light degree of dirtiness is defined as one with occasional åground-in' spots, but generally clean. In this report, depot cleanliness rates are cited as the sum of the averages of buses rating no- or light dirt.

2. Adequacy of announcements: On-board announcements are also monitored in the PES. New York City Transit requires bus operators to announce upcoming transfer points and major intersections. For an announcement to be rated as adequate, it must be made accurately and understandably.

3. Presence of correct and legible bus system maps: Each bus system map produced by MTA New York City Transit is labeled with a "commodity number" which corresponds to the date of its release. If a minor change has been instituted since the release of any version of the maps, there is a grace period extending to the end of the current quarter of the calendar year. During this period, otherwise adequate bus maps are rated as correct; after this period, maps with non-current commodity numbers fail the rating. In the case of major route changes, there is no grace period, and outdated maps are rated as not correct.

4. Absence of scratched or clouded windows: PES surveyors offer a passing score to only those buses which have no scratched or clouded windows.

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