Thursday, February 18, 2010

MTA Bus outdoes NYC Transit

Yesterday I discussed the cost data for New York City Transit buses that Larry Littlefield so helpfully pointed us to. I wasn't able to find similar data for the subways, but I did find it for the MTA Bus Company (PDF).

For those who don't know, a little back history. Seven of the original trolley and omnibus companies that first introduced service to the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens over a century ago were still in existence in 2005, but they were pale shadows of their former selves, operating buses on specific routes under monopolies granted by the New York City Department of Transportation. Since the introduction of free subway-bus transfers in 1997 and unlimited-ride Metrocards in 1998, their revenues had decreased, but their capital costs were mostly covered by the DOT.

In 2005, these zombie companies transferred their lines, buses and depots to a new public-benefit corporation, MTA Bus. For whatever reason, this company was separate from New York City Transit and from MaBSTOA (the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority), the company created to take over the Fifth Avenue Coach lines in 1962.

The tables for the MTA Bus routes are actually a lot more informative, because they give per-trip ridership data. That allows us to guess at how full the buses are. The average fare for MTA Bus routes is $1.28. Six MTA Bus routes make an operating profit:
RouteNotesOverall direct operating cost per riderOverall farebox recovery ratio
Q33Jackson Heights/82nd Street/LGA$ 1.08118 %
Q23103rd St/108th St/69th Ave$ 1.16111 %
QBx1Co-Op City/Whitestone Bridge/Flushing$ 1.19107 %
Q72Queens Center Mall/Junction Blvd/LGA$ 1.20108 %
Q64Forest Hills/Jewel Avenue/Kew Gardens Hills (formerly Q65A)$ 1.21107 %
Q69Queens Plaza/21st Street/Ditmars Blvd (formerly Q19A)$ 1.25102 %

Here are some things I notice:
  • The Q33 connects La Guardia Airport with the subway, and the Q72 connects Kew Gardens Hills with the subway.
  • All other routes touch at least two subway lines.
  • It was probably a good idea to extend the Q72 to La Guardia in 2006.
  • No Brooklyn routes make an operating profit. The most profitable Brooklyn MTA Bus route is the B103 (Fourth Avenue/Prospect Expressway/Avenue H/Avenue M), with a 93% farebox recovery ratio.
  • The most profitable express bus route is the BxM7, which runs from Midtown to Co-Op City, with 68% farebox recovery.


CityLights said...

I guess a general observation I can make is that bus services as a product tends to follow market principles - something our politicians have ignored for a long time. People take the bus more (and make it profitable) if its cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives, and vice versa.

Our politicians and car companies believe that we always prefer cars because they are somehow "better." In reality, people are more pragmatic than that and choose whatever mode of transportation suits them best for a given trip.

BruceMcF said...

It seems highly unlikely that an operating surplus in the 2% to 18% range would be enough for an operating profit. Even if you exclude full cost for things like depreciation on roads that are generally cross-subsidized by someone else, there will still be capital costs to take into account before before being able to declare an operating profit.

I take it that you mean an operating surplus.

saosebastiao said...

Most government entities use cash basis accounting, which means that they aren't accounting for depreciation, and capital budgets are kept separate.

Even in the case of using accrual accounting, with an average useful life of 20 years for a bus, a 10% operating surplus is more than enough to result in an operating profit after depreciation.

George K said...

Like I said on the previous topic, certain routes have higher average fares paid than other routes. Routes that serve as feeders to the subway probably have a higher percentage of people paying with transfers, and therefore a lower fare paid than a route that is long enough to serve multiple destinations by itself.
Since many of these routes were previously owned by private companies, it makes sense that they would pick out the more profitable corridors, which would explain the higher fare recovery ratios than the NYC Transit routes.

Cap'n Transit said...

And I was serious in my answer to your question on the earlier post, George: Do you think that the use of an unlimited monthly Metrocard counts as a "fare paid"?

George K said...

Sorry for posting this so much later, but, do you want to do a post about Long Island Bus in Nassau County? The document is at:

That would be interesting to discuss how suburban living can have an adverse effect on the efficiency of bus routes. The average bus route costs $2.55 per person in Nassau County, with about a 54% farebox recovery ratio (the average fare paid is $1.38). That, and you can discuss how the more efficient routes tend to go towards Queens, connecting with the subway.

George K said...

Also, here is the bus map showing LI Bus Routes so you can see the kinds of areas they serve (low-density, high-density, transit hubs, etc):

George K said...

I just realized: The Q64 only touches one subway line, but it acts as a feeder to an express station on that line (the QBL)