Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Checking in with the Red Hook Tunnel Bus

Every once in a while I like to check in with our old friend, the Red Hook Tunnel Bus. Faithful readers will recall the many abortive proposals to bring decent transit to Red Hook in Brooklyn, a neighborhood cut off by the BQE where residents going to Manhattan have either a long walk or an unreliable local bus ride just to get to the subway. Even though the entire neighborhood is close to the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, none of the buses that currently go through the tunnel stop in Red Hook. A bus through the tunnel could get Red Hook residents to jobs and subway stations in Lower Manhattan in ten to fifteen minutes, while a similar trip could take 45 minutes by bus and subway.

There's still no word from the MTA about any possible tunnel bus; while the Ravitch plan calls for an expansion of the bus system, it does not recommend any specific routes. However, today the Daily News ran a story about a private bus company based in Red Hook, Trans Express, which has had to lay off about sixteen employees because of the current economic downturn. Trans Express's website shows that they not only have 55-passenger tour buses, but also a number of 32-passenger midsize buses and 22-passenger cutaway minibuses - very similar to those used by the private jitneys that go to New Jersey.

I'm not up to date with the current legal climate, but I'm guessing that Trans Express wouldn't be able to just start picking up passengers at bus stops in Red Hook. They'd have to either get some special kind of license, or else charter each run as a subscription service - requiring everyone to buy tickets in advance. They might not be willing to take such a chance.

However, other people might. A nonprofit organization (or, say, a multinational retail furniture outlet) that's interested in a pilot project might be willing to do the work to publicize the service and get commuters to subscribe. You can rent one of these minibuses, with driver, for about $700 a day (ten hours), maybe less in the current market.

In the best-case scenario the bus makes three one-way trips an hour, 30 trips per day, and it's full on every trip (20 passengers). That would bring the cost per passenger per one-way trip to $1.16, about the cost of a subway fare. If it's only half-full on average (ten people), the cost per trip per passenger is $4.67.

If our nonprofit didn't invest with Madoff and has some cash to subsidize the service, they could get it down to half that, which is under the cost of a monthly Metrocard, or even just accept a token payment of $10 per month.

Clearly, the $700 figure includes some markup by the charter company, but I don't know what that might be. The bottom line is that it wouldn't be impossible to make some money on this service. You're probably not going to get rich, but you might not have to subsidize it indefinitely.


byrd said...

$700 for a 10-hr. day is $70/hr., which is dirt-cheap compared to the $160 it cost the New York City MTA to run one of their buses for one hour back in '07, according to the National Transit Database.

byrd said...

correction...I meant

AlexB said...

When the MTA unveiled their handful of expansions after the last fare hike, extending the B71 to Manhattan via the tunnel was one of them. I live near Red Hook and the B71 comes very close to where I live. It would have made my life a lot easier and given that bus a reason to exist. One would think that extending the B71 and the B77 to the South Ferry would be relatively inexpensive, maybe a few hundred thousand dollars per year? Those extensions would have saved everyone in the neighborhood 10-20 minutes each way every day on a commute to Manhattan. It seems like such a no-brainer...

AlexB said...

If you want to turn Red Hook transit in to a business, it might be easier to start off with the dollar-van business model. Make a few stops in the "front" and the "back" and then head through the tunnel to Bowling Green, Fulton St, Chambers, and back again. Just yell out your window, "Two bucks to Manhattan," as you drive down Lorraine or Van Brunt.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks for the link, Soundon. However, that $70/hour figure is for a 22-seat cutaway minibus, not a full sized bus.

Alex, I'm not about to start a dollar van service. But I think we should figure out why nobody else has.