A Press special report

Hurry up and wait

MTA says buses are running on time Harried commuters tell a different story

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The mornings of many in the northwest Bronx might sound eerily similar: People wake up, brush their teeth, maybe take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast if they aren’t too late, and rush out the door. 

Then comes the waiting. Bronxites know all about waiting. 

In a borough where moving from east to west is nearly impossible by train, most commuters have to rely on buses — a word that is almost always discussed in the plural — to get to and from work, school, and countless other errands throughout the week. 

In the Bronx, riding the bus is nearly synonymous with waiting for the bus. Sometimes if enough time passes between buses, straphangers swap stories about their longest wait times, including one night when riders waited at the corner of West 259th Street and Riverdale Avenue for more than an hour. 

In Riverdale, two bus lines seem to stand out. The Bx7 and Bx10, which service those areas furthest from Broadway and the elevated No. 1 subway line. As a result, they have been the object of countless complaints to local elected officials. 

In June, for example, more than 1,000 riders of the Bx10 signed a petition, warranting a response from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who said it would try to increase Bx10 service. The official reason MTA shared in January was a five percent increase in Bx10 ridership since 2011. 

 

Testing testy buses

MTA officials have repeatedly said their bus service is up to par, but an informal survey by The Press which tracked the timing for Bx7 and Bx10 buses at various location along their routes this past week told a different story. 

The findings, while not a scientific sample size, showed both routes have significant issues regarding timeliness, often leaving riders waiting as long as 20 minutes during morning and afternoon rushes. 

During one session at West 231st Street on Friday morning, the sidewalk regularly filled up with would-be bus riders while they waited for both the Bx7 and Bx10 buses. At two different points within the hour, 30 people had piled onto the sidewalk waiting for a bus. 

MTA reports wait time statistics twice yearly, hoping to help riders rely on posted schedules and giving them an accurate idea of when the next bus is coming. Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, said buses were typically off-schedule by just three minutes during rush hour, and no more than five minutes the rest of the day. 

The data, Ortiz said, is compiled from 42 high-volume routes across all five boroughs.

Yet, those figures don’t appear to represent the reality many Bx10 and Bx7 riders experience during their morning commute. 

Stefany Almanzar typically plans for the delays when she takes the Bx7, saying she knows generally what times the bus will be more off-schedule than others.

“I just feel like there is certain times of day that it just takes too long,” Almanzar said. “After 7 (p.m.) during the week, I’ll say it’s 20 minutes.”

Wait times between buses from 9 to 10 a.m. on Friday, according to The Press investigation, averaged out to just under 14 minutes for the Bx10, and a little more than 10 minutes for the Bx7. 

The Bx7 during that period was closest to the mark, deviating just three or so minutes from the posted schedule. The Bx10, however, told a different story entirely. 

On average for all the Bx10s measured, buses arrived or departed a little more than 5 minutes off-schedule, and more than 3 minutes late. 

During the same measurement period on Friday morning, buses came as many as eight minutes late, and three minutes early.

While buses arriving early may not seem like a bad thing, it’s worth remembering riders rely heavily on posted schedules, typically planning to catch on a specific bus. If that bus comes early, commuters who planned to leave at a certain time wind up having to wait for the next bus.

 

Bus Bunching

Jeffrey Dinowitz, the state assemblyman who chairs the public authorities and commissions committee, said one major issue he has with local buses is something called “bus bunching.”

Bus bunching occurs when two or more buses on the same route catch up to one another, all arriving at one stop at the same time. It’s a sign, Dinowitz said, that one bus is so late, it’s caught up with the others. That particular bus becomes useless, because it either picking up too many passengers, or none. 

Nearly a third of the buses measured by The Press throughout the week were bunched. On Friday morning, for example, more than half of the Bx10 buses passing from 9 to 10 a.m. were bunched. At one point, three arrived at the same time, leaving some riders waiting at the stop for more than 20 minutes. 

The MTA monitors bunching using BusTrek, an application that provides real-time location services for straphangers waiting at any given stop. It’s also the primary source of data for the MTA Bus Time app on smartphones, which help show where buses are to riders, all in real time.

What remains unclear, though, is the exact number of people who know about or use the application, which doesn’t seem very popular based on online reviews. It’s also not clear how effective BusTrek has been at reducing bunching throughout the city.

 

Looking for answers

It is isn’t clear exactly how to fix chronic issues with buses, or how riders should react to them, but some riders and elected officials have a few ideas. 

Dinowitz, for example, has said the MTA should consider changing or rerouting some buses. He often has used the Bx10 as an example of a route that has gone unchanged since his childhood, running from the northernmost section of the Bronx in Riverdale, to Norwood, near the center of the borough. 

MTA regularly monitors routes and considers service changes, Ortiz said, but those rarely occur. 

 Some riders have said a lack of MetroCard kiosks or ticketing options have hindered them while trying to get on a bus. 

Maisha Williams, for example, lives in Yonkers and commutes in the city on the Bx7. She hops on the bus at West 263rd Street and Riverdale Avenue, where there are no nearby train stations for her to refill her card. Oftentimes she has to resort to carrying around change to pay her fare. 

“You have to go far and wide to get a card, or you have to make sure you get one before you come,” she said. “They need to have more Metro Card machines accessible like they have on the express bus.”

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