The MTA and Articulated Buses

NovaBUS Articulated Bus

(c) 2013 C. Walton

The articulated bus.  60-62 feet long, bends in the middle, and is used on a number of bus routes in 4 out of 5 boroughs.  Why do we have them, and why aren’t more used?

There’s probably a rhyme and reason why the MTA uses articulated buses where they use them.

The main reason that New York City Transit and even MTA Bus uses articulated buses is because one 60-foot bus can do the work of a standard bus plus half of another standard bus.  So, in other words, for every 5 standard 40-foot buses, 4 articulated 60-foot buses can be used.  Which means instead of 5 drivers, they can use 4 drivers to do the same work.  At the same pay.  Well, the TWU didn’t allow that to happen.  25 cents more per hour.  Well, not the best, but it will have to do, for doing the same job but with a larger bus.

Nevertheless, the MTA uses articulated buses on its heaviest bus routes and routes where many trips are heavy and exceeds their loading guidelines.  Currently, articulated buses are used on:

  • The Bronx: Bx1, Bx2, Bx4, Bx4A, Bx5, Bx9, Bx12, Bx12 SBS, Bx15, Bx19, Bx22, Bx39, Bx40, Bx41, Bx41 SBS, Bx42,  some trips on Bx26, Bx28, Bx30, Bx36
  • Manhattan: M14A, M14D, M15, M15 SBS, M23, M34 SBS, M34A SBS, M60, M79, M86, M101, M102, M103, some trips on M5, M31, M35, M100, M116
  • Queens: Q10, Q44, some trips on Q7, Q52
  • Brooklyn: B44 SBS

Many of the routes with 100% articulated bus operations have more than 10,000 riders per day on average.  A number of these routes have 20,000 or more.  All of the routes with less than 100% articulated bus coverage (such as the M35 and Q52) have heavy trips at certain times of the day which might warrant the use of articulated buses at those times.  Then, there are times when articulated buses aren’t needed on the routes with more than 15,000 riders a day, but to make it easier on bus operations, the line is 100% articulated (such as the Bx5 and the M86).  On a route like the M100, it appears that drivers out of Kingsbridge Depot primarily use the Orion VII hybrid 40-footers, but during a shortage, any free articulated buses not being used for the Bx1/2, Bx9 or Bx41 are pulled out to make service.  Which is coincidental, since there are many heavy trips on the M100 during the weekdays, especially when school is in session.

So the question is, with a route like the M100 that uses articulated buses sparingly even though it really needs them, why aren’t other routes using articulated buses as well?  Such as the B6, Q53, B46, M66, or S93?  Do they not have enough riders per day to justify the use of larger buses?  Do they get clogged in enough traffic that running less buses on larger headways with buses that carry more people defeats the purpose of better service on the route?  If that’s the case, why even bother with articulated buses?  Especially two-door buses?  Especially in non-BRT applications?  Cost savings appears to be the main answer, although NYCT learned their lesson hard with the M15 and Bx12.   Running 4 artics for 5 standards is assinine, with the ridership per day exceeding 50,000.

If that was the case, there would be quite a number of routes that should be running articulated buses, and maybe a few routes that should be converted back to 40-foot buses.

NYCT Articulated Bus

New Flyer D60HF two-door articulated bus
(c) 2012 C. Walton

Here’s my list of articulated bus routes:

  • Bronx: Bx1, Bx2, Bx4, Bx4A, Bx9, Bx12, Bx12 SBS, Bx15, Bx19, Bx22, Bx28, Bx39, Bx40, Bx41, Bx41 SBS, Bx42.  Rush-hour trips on Bx5, Bx6, Bx30, Bx36
  • Manhattan: M14A, M14D, M15, M15 SBS, M23, M34 SBS, M34A SBS, M42, M60, M79, M86, M100, M101, M102, M103, some trips on M31, M35, M66, M96, M104
  • Queens: Q4, Q5, Q6, Q9, Q10, Q12, Q25/34, Q43, Q44, Q46, Q52, Q53, Q65, Q66, Q111, Q113.  Rush hour trips on the Q11, Q17, Q27, Q60, Q69, Q85, Q110
  • Brooklyn: B1, B6, B38, B41, B44, B44 SBS, B46, B82, some trips on B9, B11, B35, B54, B62
  • Staten Island: S44, S48, S78, S79 SBS, S93, S94, S98

I do realize that some of these bus garages housing some of these lines are rather tight our outdated to a point where articulated buses will not exactly fit unless rehabbed or modified somehow.  However, this is an ideal situation based on boardings per day, crush load probability during rush hour and midday hours, and the profile of the main streets of operation for a number of these lines.  Church Avenue (B35) in Brooklyn might be a bit too narrow for articulated buses to comfortably maneuver around parked cars and obstructions, but at the same token, so is Lefferts Blvd (Q10) and it runs articulated buses.

I am not saying that there should be articulated buses everywhere in the city, but I would say that there are places where articulated buses should run, in places where adding 40-foot buses simply does not solve the overall route capacity issue.  Such routes would include the B6 and B82, where buses are leaving the Brooklyn College and Canarsie areas with standing loads all day.  However, as much as I would rather see articulated buses on the Q58 between Ridgewood and Flushing, the problem of traffic congestion on Grand Avenue and Corona Avenue is severe enough that articulated buses on the line would create more problems.  It would be an issue of less larger buses bunched up and crawling past choke points rather than more smaller buses.  Which means that headways on the route would be stretched even farther than they are now.  Such other examples include the B63 along Fifth Avenue Brooklyn, the Q27 along Springfield Blvd, and the B1 along 86th Street Brooklyn.  Among those lines, the Q27 offers Limited-Stop service.

Articulated buses on standard bus routes almost doesn’t make sense, especially since a standard bus route required all riders to pay at the front of the bus.  A larger bus in most cases means longer dwell times, time spent sitting at a bus stop waiting to load up passengers.  New York City Transit, for the longest time, was using two-door articulated buses for all its heavy lines, but not without making a prior argument that articulated buses “wouldn’t work in New York City.”  Once they started to operate these  larger buses, the argument was made that three-door buses “wouldn’t work” or “couldn’t structurally withstand New York streets.”  After more than a decade of using two-door articulated buses, we are now seeing the use of three-door articulated buses, much like a number of cities around the world.  It first started with Select Bus Service, and it ballooned from there.  Never mind the first SBS route, the Bx12 SBS, launched with older two-door articulateds, but the first three-door buses debuted on the line about two years after the SBS launch.  After many deployments of these NovaBUS LFS Artics, the three-door bus became almost standard procurement practice as they see dwell times decrease, even on non-SBS routes, simply because riders have a third door to exit from.

Never mind the original intention of purchasing three-door buses was for current SBS usage but also allows for flexibility when it comes to impromptu assigning buses to SBS routes.

What would this city look like if the only reason we bought articulated buses was for Select Bus Service?  I can imagine it being such a novelty, out of a 5,900-bus fleet, roughly 125 buses would be articulateds for SBS (current implementation), and a handful of garages would have a small amount of these buses for a special purpose.  That is, unless NYCT and the NYC DOT want to ramp up SBS deployment or at least some of its feature (look at the S79 SBS).


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2 Responses to The MTA and Articulated Buses

  1. ajedrez says:

    The MTA also has standards as to how frequent a route has to be before they add articulated buses. The bus route has to be running every 5 minutes before they’ll use articulated buses. Also, the ratio during rush hour is 3:2, not 5:4. So that means that a route (like the S93) running every 10 minutes ends up running every 15 minutes. A route like the S44 would end up running every 20 minutes instead of every 15 (which is why they would never add them to those routes). They would have to increase service first using 40 foot buses, and then once ridership reaches the point where they’re running 40 foot buses that frequently, they can use articulated buses.

    • C. Walton says:

      Yes, that seems just about right…if you don’t count routes such as the B41 and B46 in Brooklyn. Also, if you look at the lengths of standard vs articulated buses, in terms of of vehicle length, 3:2 is the same as 5:4. 3:2 might be referenced in TA documents, but 5:4 is essentially the same thing.

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