Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The chickens come home to roost

I think that's a nice evocative metaphor, even though it seems like you'd want the chickens coming home to roost. Then you get eggs! And you can cut off their fingers and fry them up. But I'll just assume that these are Chickens of Evil, because it's a bad thing when they come home to roost. Any farmers that can clarify this?

What the fuck am I talking about, you ask? Well, it's the latest round of bus service cuts announced by the MTA this morning. Ben at Second Avenue Sagas has a good summary, and also makes the point that these kinds of service cuts can lead to a death spiral, where more and more people get fed up waiting for the bus and drive to work instead, until there's nobody left to take the bus and the MTA cancels the route.

This is kind of a far-fetched scenario, but if you're worried about your bus losing funding, you should fight for bigger cuts to driving so that driving remains a worse option. That means no BQE widening, no Gowanus tunnel, no hundreds of millions to replace (and widen) the Kosciuszko Bridge or the Pulaski Skyway, no billions to replace (and widen) the Tappan Zee and Goethals bridges.

Some of the information about these cuts is a bit misleading, though. In the announcement that Ben links from his post, New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast writes, "Forty of the 64 bus schedule changes represent reductions in service levels to more closely align service with customer demand and established guidelines for bus operation; and to concurrently improve reliability through running time modifications where needed."

Hm, more closely align service with established guidelines. That doesn't sound too bad. In comments on Ben's post, Alon Levy and BrooklynBus were very understanding of this. The problem is that these loading guidelines are not fixed. They were revised in 2004, to bring the goal up from 80% of seats full to 100%. The subway loading guidelines were increased during the last round of cuts a year ago, but the bus cuts used a different methodology. Since these guidelines aren't published anywhere, I have no idea what they're at now for buses, but they may be up over 100% of seats full.

The main problem with this dance is that it diffuses the target for opposition. If they cut the loading guidelines and cut bus service to match, then you'd be able to say, "Damn you, Marty Golden, you didn't support the Ravitch plan, and now my bus is being cut!" Instead you have to say, "Damn you, Hakeem Jeffries, you didn't support congestion pricing, and now they're raising the loading guidelines!" and then everyone gets this puzzled look and says, "so what"? And then when they cut the bus service, everyone says, "Well, they're just aligning it with established guidelines!"

The "established guidelines" are not fixed. They are a function of the transit system's funding levels, which is set by the budget. These cuts are the fault of the legislature just as much as any other cuts. The two-step dance obscures that information, and Jay Walder should end it as soon as possible. Publish the loading guidelines, and make it known when they are raised, and why. And for God's sake, find someone in the MTA headquarters who knows how to print a Word document to a PDF file!


Alon Levy said...

I don't think it's a one-two, what the MTA is doing. Back during the service cuts, the MTA immediately cut operating hours, partly to align off-peak service with the new loading guidelines. The cuts were large and affected both peak and off-peak service. The MTA has kept periodically revising off-peak service based on the guidelines, but since people are thinking of service cuts more, they follow the meetings and yell every time they think there's a cut.

Ben K. said...

And for God's sake, find someone in the MTA headquarters who knows how to print a Word document to a PDF file!

I have been saying to this to the MTA via Twitter and otherwise for months. I'm not sure why they can't figure out how to do that.

Cap'n Transit said...

Ben, maybe we can file a FOIL request? "Who is in charge of preparing documents for the committee meetings, and why the fuck don't they know how to print to a PDF file?"

Anonymous said...

And for God's sake, find someone in the MTA headquarters who knows how to print a Word document to a PDF file!

I've seen how they work internally. They print to paper and then, if somehow needed, the more tech "saavy" scan it in to PDF via the copier. It's a pretty poor way to archive, and a pretty poor way to handle information in the Information Age.

In all honesty the place needs some more young blood, too many people there started their careers before computers were common.

jazumah said...

I think that aggressive quarterly management is key to the health of the system. Airlines manage their networks the same way.

Alon Levy said...

Can you explain what you mean by "Aggressive quarterly management" to those of us without backgrounds in business?