The morning commute is always tough, but if you ride the B61 bus you can expect your mode of transportation to be late or so crowded that it will not stop.
On Monday, at Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street’s B61 bus stop, Councilman Brad Lander, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and one of Councilwoman Sara González’s representatives, unveiled a new study which examines the bus’s gross inefficiencies named: “Next Bus Please: Improving the B61 Bus.”
The study found that the B61 bus only arrived on schedule 43 percent of the time (meaning the bus arrived either three minutes before or after the intended time), that it was more than three minutes late 27 percent of the time and 30 percent of the time “bus bunching” occurs, which means multiple buses come to a single station at once.
“The weather today is cloudy, but the results of the study are clear: The B61 is not meeting the needs of Brooklyn riders. It is really that simple,” said Councilman Brad Lander during the press conference on Monday. “The results are dramatic, more than half the buses at rush hour are not coming on time.”
According to the study, the sluggish bus arrives late more than 50 percent of the time. That percentage is more than two times the rate that determines a bus is failing its riders according to the Straphanger’s report by NYPRIG.
Compared to a November 23, 2010 study, the bus arrived on time 64 percent of the time.
“Out of the four buses in my district, the B61 is the worst,” Lander said.
Even worse, 42 percent of the time the B61 is so overcrowded by the time it arrives at the Columbia/Union bus stop that it cannot board any more passengers. The maximum capacity for any city bus is 54 passengers.
From July 5 to September 15, 2011, volunteers rode 701 different B61 buses on 64 different shifts in order to track arrival times and passenger count along the bus’s entire route, finding that the bus was consistently tardy and overcrowded.
The main bus stops monitored in the study were (but not limited to) Fourth and Ninth Street, Atlantic Avenue/Hicks, Columbia/Union and Ikea bus stops during peak hours of 6:15 to 9:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 7 p.m.
Volunteers also conducted passenger surveys, interviewing 134 commuters who boarded in both directions along the route.
“I have been waiting to get to work for 20 minutes,” Frank Rondon said. “I think the B61’s bus drivers must take really long lunch breaks.”
The B61 bus route services Park Slope to Downtown Brooklyn via Red Hook and it is the only mode of transportation for Red hook residents.
According to the study, bus speeds in New York City are the slowest in the country. In the past decade, with a 60 percent increase in ridership citywide, the average bus speed decreased from 9.1 to 8.1 miles per hour.
Making matters worse, the median commute times of outer-borough buses, including Brooklyn, have the longest median commute times in the city and ridership has increased 60 percent.
This particular bus route has also been affected by MTA budget cuts, which included the June 20, 2011 closure of the Smith-Ninth Street F and G train station for construction. To accommodate straphangers, New York City Transit increased overnight B61 service to every 20 minutes, but did not increase any other services.
After the elimination of the B75 and B77 buses on June 27, 2010, the B61 route was elongated to help ease the burden of commuters who relied on the now defunct buses. On top of that, the B71, which ran on Union Street between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, was eliminated without a replacement.
The NYCT anticipated that the service cuts, which eliminated 570 bus stops citywide and three dozen bus route changes, saved the debt-ridden agency $3 million annually, but left riders without punctual and reliable public transportation.
The elimination of buses and MTA service cuts resulted in a severe spike in overcrowding, especially at the Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street B61 bus stop and northbound on Van Brunt and Columbia streets during rush hour, between 7 and 9 a.m and 4:30 to 7 p.m.
The Park Slope section of the B61 bus route is the most populated neighborhood in the route and is also a major transfer point of the bus’s riders, especially in light of the Smith-Ninth Street subway station closure.
Without a subway of their own, the B61 bus is the only mode of transportation for Red Hook residents to get in and out of their neighborhood (expect the Ikea water taxi).
The message is clear, this is totally unacceptable, people do not have transportation options. They are failing our consituients. For not a fault of their own they are late to work everyday. This is not right. They are tax payers and they deserve to be treated like every citizen in New York City,” Valesques
The B61 bus is crucial for bus riders for it goes to Downtown Brooklyn, a major transporation point for the riders to catch subways at Jay Street-MetroTech and borough Hall-Court Street.
The report outlined nine recommendations to improve the bus’s service, all of which can be achieved at low to no cost.
The report recommends:
- Add more peak hour buses on the B61 line to accommodate the higher ridership observed by the study.
- Introduce additional buses with limited-stop service along the route as part of the peak service increase to help riders get to subway transfer points quicker during rush hours.
- Extend the recently reconfigured B57 bus line into Red Hook along Lorraine Street to better link residents to downtown Brooklyn train transfers.
- Equip B61 buses with the MTA BusTime system, which would use GPS on buses to alert riders when the bus is coming through a smartphone app or countdown clocks installed at each stop and
- Enable the preconditions for “transit signal priority”— where green lights are held a few extra seconds when buses are approaching to keep it on schedule.
- Work with DOT to provide a more straightforward route for the B61 to cross the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
- Add bus shelters, benches and lights to the Smith-Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue-Ninth Street bus stops.
- Provide a transfer point from the B61 to the B103 at Third Avenue and Ninth Street.
Lander said the improvement recommendations can mostly be achieved through NYCT and DOT’s policies, within existing programs and through partnership with elected officials.
“We have been having this press conference for 15 minutes and we haven’t seen a B61 bus go by,” Lander said near the end of the press conference with transit advocates NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives; local civic leaders from the Red Hook Initiative and Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association; and bus riders who helped compile the report. “It is rush hour and folks need to get to work. Where’s the bus? It’s already ten minutes late.”