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MTA Spinning Wheels on Bus Schedule Calculations, Audit Finds

Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The MTA’s bus schedules are out of whack with riders’ needs, thanks to data that’s “full of holes,” according to a new state audit.

In a report shared with THE CITY, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s staff flags New York City Transit’s use of an advanced computer model that employs MetroCard data to determine when and where passengers need rides the most on hundreds of routes.

But the system doesn’t accurately log where passengers get on — or when and where they exit, DiNapoli’s audit found.

“The technology the MTA uses to decide how many buses to put on the street is only as good as the data it puts into it and that data is full of holes and shaky assumptions,” DiNapoli said.

The MTA said it stands by its numbers. Still, the audit notes that in-person checks to validate the data were performed on fewer than 40% of city bus routes during the three-plus years covered by DiNapoli’s study.

“Transit deserves credit for trying to find new ways to meet a difficult challenge, but combining questionable data with a lack of transparency is a recipe for the uneven service that riders experience every day,” DiNapoli said.

Audrey Jackson, 70, said she frequently encounters erratic service while riding buses in The Bronx.

“I don’t take trains because I don’t want to be underground,” Jackson said Tuesday while waiting a Bx4A at Bergen Avenue and East 149th Street. “But there’s not enough good service on the buses – they come in two at a time, then you have to wait 20 minutes for the next one.”

Transit Officials Point to Improvements

The audit extended from January 2015 to July 2018, when New York City Transit was just months into an ongoing citywide overhaul of bus service.

“This audit predates and doesn’t account for some of the more recent improvements aimed at the complete modernization of bus service in New York City,” said Shams Tarek, an MTA spokesperson.

Among the planned improvements are more advanced methods to measure service.

“[New York City Transit President Andy] Byford has pledged to transform bus service to reflect today’s travel patterns and the MTA is hard at work fulfilling that pledge,” Tarek added.

A Bx19 bus heads down E. 149th Street in the Bronx.
A Bx19 bus heads down E. 149th Street in the Bronx. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The plan unveiled in April 2018 by has been touted by MTA officials as the most comprehensive effort in the agency’s history to improve bus service. It comes as New York City Transit’s bus ridership continues to slide — it’s fallen 12.5% since 2015.

“You can’t count on the bus,” said Bronx bus rider Santiago Manola, 59.

But transit advocates praised the MTA’s recent efforts to boost bus performance.

“We could really use an audit that digs into why MTA construction projects cost five times as much as similar projects in other cities,” said Ben Fried of TransitCenter. “That would be a better use of the comptroller’s resources.”

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