Friday, March 18, 2011

Roosevelt Island Red Bus Route and Scheduling Questions Raised - RIRA Planning Committee Chair Farance Has Some Answers

 Image Of Octagon Express and Local Red Bus Bunching During Morning Rush Hours

An update to this post on concerns by some Roosevelt Island residents on the Red Bus route and schedule. Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Planning Committee Chairperson Frank Farance commented on that thread with the following remarks. From Mr. Farance:
Just a handful of responses.

First, RIOC has been a poor listener on the red bus issues. Anonymous says "RIOC, It's not rocket science. It's a bus, one street, and passengers. It's not like were running a whole city.". This is SOOO TRUE. The residents (including RIRA reps Matt Katz, Aaron Hamburger, and myself) have explained many many times how to avoid these problems, but RIOC keeps getting it wrong. I'm not sure if it is Mr. Martinez or RIOC board members on the Operations Committee that is the cause.

RIRA has explained that the 20-minute schedule was the better choice because we wouldn't have the schedule variability that we have now ... it's not just rush hour, there are problems with non rush hour, too. We've known for many years that this 15-minute schedule is impossible because it implies a 30-minute loop, which the drivers cannot complete regularly.

RIRA did *not* ask for the stop at the kiosk, RIRA wants the bus stop at the tram. It was Mr. Martinez who said that we need a stop at the kiosk because Southpoint Park will be built (in several years) and at time there will be a new route for the southern end. Sure, that makes no sense for today (and probably won't when the park is completed).

Given the available choices, RIRA preferred the west service road to be two-way for buses only (bus pickup/dropoff at subway station), which would allow red buses to line up on the east-west transverse road next to the tram. And this would allow for parking on both sides of Main Street in Southtown, it would be more convenient for Southtown residents (there aren't building entrances on the west side, so you're stuck walking around the block), and would have spent approximately $2000 (repaint yellow line and a couple street signs) rather than the $100K+ for the high-tech parking system (that really doesn't save any fuel). Are we the only New York State agency brimming with cash and money to blow on a $100K+ parking system?

I point these out because several related decisions continue to further box RIOC into even worse decisions.

Second, in response to Trevre, although it is counter-intuitive, running the red bus continuously provably produces poorer service (try a running a queuing model) because the result is that the buses will always bunch together and service will be less predictable. Years ago, RIOC President Steve Shane believed continuous buses made for better service, but both model simulation and real-world data proved him wrong. Thus, red buses need to wait a few minutes at the start of their route, just like subways and MTA buses.

Third, the Octagon Express bus doesn't make "local" stops, just like subways/MTA-buses don't make local stops, even if they aren't full. The Octagon Express bus has its own schedule and staffing load (cost) and changing the route would affect them.

Fourth, the problems with pick up and drop off at the tram and the subway are a combination of bad overall planning (present west service road routing) and bad direction by RIOC managers (Martinez, bus managers) and not necessarily the drivers fault.

Fifth, there are some problems with the drivers, but these are much easier to fix. Overall, the drivers are *not* the cause of the present schedule problems.

Sixth, having the Octagon Local and Octagon Express take off at the same time makes no sense from a scheduling and queuing perspective. The drivers could help by making sure the side LED sign says "Octagon Local" or "Octagon Express".

Matt, Aaron, and I will be meeting with RIOC staff next week. Will keep you posted.
 Mr. Farance later responded to several subsequent comments from other readers:
A couple more responses ...

Treve wants to see why continuous buses is less optimal. Here's a simple demo. Draw a circle with two dots: one at 12 o'clock and the other at 6 o'clock -- these are the two stops on a counterclockwise bus route. Start with a bus at each stop and start the buses running. When they reach the next stop, assume that the same number of passengers arrive at each stop to board the bus. The two buses would stay synchronized and the same distance apart. Because the two buses are equal distance apart, they are each picking up 50% of the passengers.

Now, give the first bus at 12 o'clock passengers more than the second bus at the 6 o'clock stop. The first bus (at 12 o'clock) has a longer wait because more passengers are boarding, meanwhile the second bus (at 6 o'clock) has already departed. The second bus continues, but picks up less of than 50% of the passengers (because it is closer behind the first bus) meanwhile the first bus picks up more than 50% of the passengers the next time around, which causes a snowballing effect: eventually the first bus picks up all the passengers while the second bus trails behind picking up no passengers.

When buses trail like this, the average passenger waiting to goes up to double the time and the bus utilization goes to 50% (the second bus becomes a wasted effort). When there are more buses in the route, average waiting time can triple or quadruple.

Because Roosevelt Island has uneven passengers in its route (more southbound passengers in the morning, more northbound passengers in the evening), this kind of *twice-daily imbalance* creates the bus-bunching and schedule variability on continuously running buses.

Both bus bunching and longer waits were observed directly and daily when the red buses ran continuously.

By establishing route synchronization points (a waiting period at start and end), the buses serve the residents more consistently and more regularly.

Anonymous 7:37 said "The bus is only $.25 cents and I'm told RIOC loses money on this venture...". Mass transit systems are not profitable merely by user fees. For example, the subways, railroads, etc. get some of their money from user fees, some of their money from a regional tax (whether you use the system or not), and other sources. The 25-cent fare is a nominal fare, with the remaining costs paid for by building ground leases (i.e., our rents/maintenance). Probably, a better solution would be a free bus rather than a more expensive bus. With a free bus, passengers could enter through both doors and decrease loading time (as they did years ago when the red bus was free).

For Anonymous 9:23, raising the bus fare doesn't necessarily help. For example, a $1 fare might decrease riders and might make the buses even LESS profitable. Less riders, means less flow of people between buildings, which diminishes the value of the buildings because there is less cohesiveness among building complexes, which translates into lower rents/etc., which has a serious impact on Island finances.

For Anonymous 3:25, Metrocards are not practical for the red bus because of the transaction fees and the installation/operations cost.

For Anonymous 8:26, running larger buses makes more sense than smaller buses. Each bus has a capacity of 60 people, so with 5 buses in rush hour (1 Octagon Express, 2 Octagon Local, 2 Firehouse Local) that's 600 people per hour or 1,800 people during the morning rush hours. With the Island population of about 14,000, 1,800 is about 13% of the population. I'm sure more than 13% of the residents are commuters, so decreasing bus capacity would affect commuters.

Also, larger buses are more efficient than smaller buses for this kind of operation. Staffing is a major operating cost, so more smaller buses makes for large staffing costs, i.e., smaller buses carry the same load but do it less efficiently with more cost.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I say since the folks in RIRA are experts in everything, we let them run the RIOC and have the folks at RIOC sit in a 3 hour meeting once a month thinking of things to complain about.

Gregor said...

I think there should be a RI residents open forum with Mr. Martinez making a presentation on exactly how the red buses are run, especially with regard to meeting the tram and picking up tram passengers. Then Frank and any other interested party can make a counter-presentation on what is the matter with the current bus service and how the bus service could be improved including the reasoning behind the improvement. Afterwards, questions could be taken from the audience. To ensure that answers are recorded the event could be videotaped - as well as live-streamed on the RIOC website, with perhaps a call-in line established for those residents with questions who may be unable to attend the forum. Depending on what residents think -- do they feel bus service is lacking or is OK, would they want to try a new way of running buses etc -- their wishes, as collected on a petition, could be communicated to the RIOC resident Board members who could then make sure the changes are carried out by RIOC. As evidenced in the number and intensity of bus comments in this blog, which must represent the tip of the iceberg of public opinion on the topic on RI, it is clear that there are many bus issues and complaints which are not being acted on or corrected by RIOC. The comment at 10:34pm above is an example of why residents are repelled by RIOC defensiveness and obliviousness to resident complaints: Roosevelt Islander is undoubtedly monitored by RIOC and most likely assigns a RIOC employee to answer back usually unconstructively and snidely to resident critiques of RIOC. This bashing of constructive criticism of RIOC is counter to the principals of good government - which is supposed to be responsive to the feedback of residents. Residents of RI do have a majority voice on the RIOC Board and we should exercise it to enact changes, to the red bus, to have Motorgate escalator either fixed or removed, etc etc, as the RI residents may wish, via a petition for example. This is the essence of democracy - citizens complain, if enough citizens complain either by writing letters, signing a petition, protesting etc., then government enacts changes.

Frank Farance said...

To Gregor: We could have a town meeting or something like you describe, but I doubt a debate like this would be of interest to the residents. Much of the discussion isn't about who wins the debating rhetoric, but more of a collaborative setting. We've had collaborative meetings with Mr. Martinez and the bus managers, we've successfully made our points to RIOC staff, but the problem is we walk away and RIOC does differently than what we all agreed to do in the meeting. Matt Katz, Aaron Hamburger, and I will be meeting with them this week.

This problem with the red bus has been going on since 2005 when Herb Berman was RIOC President and before Mr. Martinez' arrival.

The 15-minute schedule existed for about 30 years because it was always synchronized with the tram. Once Octagon was added to the route, the schedule was always off (because RIOC continues to believe that 30 minutes is enough time for the Octagon loop) and their (non) reactions to schedule have not helped.

I can't read their minds, but I think they just don't know how to manage buses. Look at the red bus schedule that RIOC put out when this was announced: it was a colorful spreadsheet, but you can see that their schedule projects the bus takes the same time around the Island, whether rush hour or midnight, and that doesn't reflect reality <-- this should tell you RIOC really doesn't understand bus scheduling.

I'm also concerned about the operational management, too. If the LIRR or the airlines are late, they don't need the customers' reporting, they know there is something wrong, they self-assess, and they are proactive about managing their own schedules. As you and others have pointed out, there are lots of complaints about the red bus, but one gets the impression that if the residents weren't complaining, there would be no proactive management of the buses. For example, does RIOC (like other transportation systems) publish a monthly self-assessment of bus scheduling? No, because they aren't even doing this internally. If they were doing it internally, you'd know it because there would be a lot more talking between the dispatchers and drivers.

With the new tram operation, we had the opportunity to revisit some 30-year-old assumptions, like the 15-minute schedule (maybe 20 minutes works better) and the tram schedule drives the Island (the bus schedule should drive the Island schedule since many people use the subway).

Matt, Aaron, and I discussed all this with RIOC, both Matt and I had written articles for the WIRE to explain the new 20-minute schedule, and the night before the WIRE publication Mr. Martinez announced his new 15-minute schedule with the tram driving the Island schedule. We had no advanced notice that Mr. Martinez had changed his mind, and Mr. Martinez was doing different than what we had all agreed to, including the placement of red bus stops.

Matt and Aaron said we should give RIOC a chance with the new schedule, but the problems are the same problems we've had for 6 years. The experiment is over and it has failed. Maybe RIOC should try what RIRA wanted.

Frank Farance
RIRA Planning Committee Chair

Anonymous said...

Hey Gregor, I'm the poster from 10:34PM, and I don't work for RIOC.

I'm just not a fan of RIRA, a group run by old fogies with nothing to do but complain about everything including RIOC.

Anytime I've gone to the RIOC office, I was served with courteousness and professionalism. I'm sure they're not perfect, but who is?

I do respect Frank Farance because he's smart and also fair. But, he is not a RIOC employee and should not be telling them how to run their show. If he wants to do that, he should apply for a job there.

As for you Gregor, I wonder if you'd even show up to a town meeting.

Frank Farance said...

To Anonymous 10:34 and 10:03: You're right, I am merely a resident who has volunteered time in RIRA for the past 15 years to help make this Island better. As every RIRA President will tell you, including me, RIRA has no actual power to change anything, but we have been recognized over the years as being the elected representative body for Roosevelt Island. RIOC, doesn't have direct elections of their board members (as, say, villages do in New York State), so we don't get to elect/unelect them. With the present arrangement, RIOC board members are more beholden to the Governor, than the residents.

So RIRA is *this community's forum* for us volunteers to collaborate and do collective good for our community, which comes from voicing our opinions and doing work. If you were a resident in any other town, would you say to your neighbor: You aren't a village/town/city employee, so why do you think you have the right to tell them how to do their job better? Of course not, just read any newspaper and you'll see suggestions.

As for "old fogies", I was a 21-year-old "young fogy" when I started volunteering at the Roosevelt Island Youth Program when Tony Capobianco was running it. 30 years later, I'm still doing volunteer work, including several youth organizations.

We have no choice in becoming "old fogies", but we do have a choice in choosing to volunteer for our community and hoping to spur others to volunteer, too.


Gregor said...

To 10:34: Shall I call you Anonymous or Pangloss since according to you we are living in the best of all possible worlds. I too have contacted RIOC on occasion both in person and via telephone but I would say my calls are handled 50/50 on a professional basis. Sometimes calls/questions are not fielded correctly/appropriately or in an entirely customer-friendly manner. Other times, the staff is very forthcoming and cooperative. Actually, whether or not RIOC answers questions professionally or courteously is not what is under discussion in this thread - RIOC's current bus scheduling (or lack thereof) is the topic. Let me give you an example of what happens when buses are not coordinated with the tram. I got on a red bus the other day for a ride to the tram and as the bus approached the tram, just as I and the other bus passengers who had rushed to catch the tram swiped through the turnstile, the tram doors shut and the tram took off. In prior years, missing the tram in this way would not have happened because there would have been coordination between the red bus and the tram. I think this is all people are asking for the expectation that if you catch the red bus at say 11:05am or so on Main St you *will* make it to the tram by 11:15am (assuming the tram is running on the quarter-hour during non-rush hours). This used to be the system originally (and very logically) but somehow for the past few years RIOC has had a problem with running buses so riders can catch the tram. I agree with Frank that the bus would have to start about 20 minutes before the quarter hour from Octagon in order to make it to the tram in time but I also think a simple phonecall from the bus driver to the tram operator to wait a minute or two if the bus is almost at the tram station but running a minute or two late could also be implemented (direct bus driver to tram operator communication via even simply a cellphone). Likewise, the tram operator has a view of the departing bus stop at the kiosk as the tram is approaching RI. If he or she does not see a bus there waiting for the arriving tram passengers, he could pick up the phone and call the red bus driver closest to the tram to advise him/her of the tram's approach - this way the red bus drivers are also kept in the loop that passengers are about to deboard. There's no reason tram operators can't be in touch with red bus drivers if need be to keep passengers moving and minimize waiting times. It's such a small system it could easily be optimized this way.

Matt said...

Did anyone notice that Gregor or Farance have been writing 90 percent of the comments on this blog. Most people spend their weekends with family and friends. These guys argue about who knows better. If they were actually important they would be making the decisions, but it is pretty obvious that their life didn't work out that way. Loooosers. Enjoy your forum.

Anonymous said...

If you miss the tram you can wait for the next one. It'll be 15 minutes at most. I used to live on Staten Island for a while and took the ferry exclusively. If you miss the boat may be in for a very long wait - sometimes an hour. It's all relative, people. It is not going to kill you to wait for the next tram because - get this - it will arrive sooner than you think.

I've been living on this island for quite a while now and I was amazed how spoiled we had it. Bus drivers that would open the door for you even though they pulled away from the curb already, tram drivers opening the door for the other riders trickling in, etc. The only change I really notice is that the RIOC hired a ton of new employees who never experienced the "old way" of RI. The ones that shut the door in front of you are mostly recently hired operators. I hate to say this but I think it is up to us, the residents, to realize that the spoiled times are over and we crossed into territory where government is just that: government as we know it. This island has become too big for individualized attention.

Frank Farance said...

To Anonymous 10:05, it's not just missing the tram, it's also missing the bus, too. Here's an actual example: a couple months ago I was waiting at Octagon for a red bus (7:00 on a weeknight). Given the frequency of the schedule, you might expect a bus within 7.5 minutes, but no bus arrived for 45 minutes. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the tram and then, oops, a missed tram so you wait for the next one.

So instead of taking 30 minutes door-to-door (from apartment to 60th Street and 2nd Avenue), it takes 1 hour and 30 minutes. Not many of us would accept a frequent hour delay in our transportation, nor would we reschedule our lives to leave an hour earlier and arrive home an hour later, two wasted hours a day, especially living so close to Manhattan. Or said differently, what's the point of paying higher price rents when your commute is as long as Kew Gardens?

This isn't just a problem for Octagon, it is a problem for all the residential buildings, including Southtown. The red bus service gives the Island its cohesiveness, which is a Good Thing for the community, and an important service for residents.

These red bus delays are not caused by construction or congestion, they are caused by poor bus management and can be easily solved to provide a regular, reliable schedule with no additional cost to RIOC.

Frank Farance
RIRA Planning Committee Chair


Has anyone noticed that people with nothing of substance to add to a conversation often resort to name calling, put-downs and insults instead of participating in a constructive dialogue. I wonder why that is?

Anonymous said...

You "wonder", but you also love it. That's why you leave the nonsense up - instead of deleting the obnoxious posts.

Gregor said...

Matt, I have to agree with Roosevelt Islander's characterization of your comments - they add nothing to the discussion. I also think Roosevelt Islander is right in nevertheless keeping as many comments as possible up since it's instructive albeit occasionally frightening to see from these clearly ill-informed nonconstructive ones how many know-nothing knuckleheads (like Matt) we are dealing with here on RI. Matt, if you prefer to have to wait for transit connections on RI because RIOC cannot coordinate or run the buses properly, then you must believe that in so doing your precious time is not being wasted; and that perhaps is the truest indication of your particular type of shall we say deliberate intellectual self-delusion or self-limitation, or put more simply, stupidity. As for me and many other residents, time *is* valuable to us so we would rather have a RI transit system that is reliable and predictable - something which currently unfortunately seems beyond the capacity of RIOC to accomplish.

Trevre said...

I love the blog which narrates part of the city we live in, the people that make it (even anons and Matt), the drama, success, and sometimes failure of this place. People come here for this, because so many people are forced to live in such close proximity, fight over resources, interesting stuff is bound to happen all the time.

This isn't why I moved here, but I figured its why I'm staying. I have found New York and this very island one of the best places to study the human condition. It would be a shame if we didn't read and write about it. The blog is a great place for everyone to participate in that. And while a good editor will moderate a discussion, the best editors will let the community drive the discussion without removal of posts, however insensitive it is sometimes.

It says a lot about you if you can't handle Jose or homeless people or the "ghetto mindset". Why don't you just pack your bags, move to the burbs, and drive to and from work so you never have to live life.

Matt, its ok if it takes you all weekend to read the blog, not everyone is a fast reader.

Anonymous said...

This blog, and especially the comments, do not represent Roosevelt Island in its entirety at all. It's just a selected few who voice out here. So, your experiment to study human condition will fail if you only use this blog as resource.

Side note: my captcha to publish this response is "calkin". How timely :)