On a cold, rainy Thursday night last November, a half dozen commuters huddled inside a bus stop shelter, waiting for the Bx7 to arrive—and the wait stretched into an hour, even as other buses buzzed past.
Scores of Bx10 buses arrived and then left the stop on the corner of W. 259th Street and Riverdale Avenue. For commuters waiting for a Bx7 bus, the wait went on from 5:30 p.m. until nearly 6:30 p.m., interrupted only by the occasional outburst from one straphanger or another about how late their bus was.
This was far from a rare occurrence, as Sophia German Sass, a frequent commuter the No. 7 line, pointed out in an interview.
“There’ve been points where it is so bad that I’m on top of people and bus drivers, sometimes they’ll skip the bus stops… [but] one time, like a week ago, the driver kept saying ‘You have to keep moving back, otherwise I’m not moving this bus,’” she said of her experience on the No. 7 line. “It’s very dangerous because when the bus takes turns, you’re falling on top of people. I am hoping that the MTA would do something but I don’t think they really care to be obvious.”
German Sass said she rides the bus everyday to her job in Manhattan from Riverdale, but often encounters long waits for buses, as well as severe overcrowding.
“They don’t have enough buses, so what I have been doing is I take pictures of how crowded it’s been,” she said. “I have no choice but to ride the MTA… people who don’t have cars are stuck riding these busses that are just awful.”
Some straphangers were outraged when an official from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told members of Community Board 8 in mid-January that the city agency was hoping to increase service on the No. 10 line and would probably avoid changes on the No. 20 line—but made no mention of the No. 7. The bus, which runs from Riverdale to Washington Heights, has drawn as much criticism from local residents as the other lines.
The MTA said it would consider expanding Bx10 service because ridership on the line had grown in recent years, while ridership on the Bx20 line decreased.
On the Bx7 line, ridership dropped to 13,570 in 2015 from 14,771 in 2011, but the bus still receives about 8 percent more weekly riders than the Bx10, according to MTA figures.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who has recently been named chairman of the legislature’s committee that overseas the MTA, among other city agencies, has long been calling for improving service on the No. 10 line.
“We’ve had some complaints about the seven, many more about the 10,” he said. “Does there need to be more service? Yeah, we need more busses still. I think the need is greater on the 10, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a significant need on the seven.”
One of the most troublesome locations for the No. 7 line is on the corner of W. 231st Street and Broadway, where many commuters disembark the elevated subway and await a bus to take them the rest of the way home.
“No matter what data they come up with, I can see with my own eyes what’s going on and people can see with their own experiences,” Dinowitz said.
A major issue bus service in New York City faces, Dinowitz said, “bus bunching,” when several buses on the same route arrive at a stop at the same time.
In order to diagnose where bunching happens, the MTA is using a system called Bus Trek, which uses GPS to evaluate bus performance in real time.
“Bus Trek allows our dispatchers, route managers and schedulers to have the reports they need to monitor and adjust service in real time,” Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesperson said.
“Traffic congestion causes bunching and there is a collaborative effort between NYCT and NYCDOT to improve bus service and reliability.”
One option Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee that deals with the MTA, suggested to decrease bus bunching is to make bus routes shorter.
“Shorter routes means less of a chance of buses bunching, but what would have to go along with that is giving people more free transfers,” he said. “Some of the bus routes are exactly what they were 50 years ago and some of those bus routes need to be changed.”
For now, though, German Sass said she is resigned to waiting sometimes as often as 40 minutes in the cold for a bus on weekdays.
“It’s hard because it is wintertime,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll wait maybe 10, 15 minutes it’ll come but then other times I’ll wait 35 or 40 minutes.”