The NYC media’s coverage of the MTA is abhorrently incompetent: so often superficial, so often misleading, so often flat-out wrong. Last week, this was on full display again, and I’m really tired of it.
If you haven’t heard: the MTA is making some adjustments to its bus schedules – a reduction of service on 40 routes, and an increase of service on 24 routes. I would characterize most of the changes as extremely minor – typically spacing out buses by an extra minute or two.
The bigger cuts were somewhat more significant, and here’s how the biggest cut was reported by the NY Post:
The biggest loser in the city is the B36 — running from Sheepshead Bay to Coney Island in Brooklyn — where riders will have to wait an extra two to three minutes between buses.
That’s a 17 percent decrease in service, documents show.
There’s actually two things seriously flawed in this statement, and I’ll get back to the first one in a bit. Let’s hone in on that 17% reduction, since it’s a fairly damning statistic which was also reported by others, such as News 12 Brooklyn, the NYC news organization that I have the least amount of respect for.
B36 service is being reduced by 17%… on Saturdays. There are no changes to the Sunday schedule, no changes to the weekday schedule. Taking that into consideration, the actual cut is about 2%. A gross exaggeration of an MTA service change, but one that’s par for the course in news media coverage of the MTA.
For its part, CBS 2 correctly noted that the changes applied only to the weekend schedule. But play this video and listen to the first reaction interview: an angry quote from a school crossing guard complaining that the only time she sees buses are between 2:30 and 3:30, which happen to be the hours a crossing guard is on duty and might notice those things. And what do crossing guards and schoolkids have to do with weekend bus service, anyway?
So, we’ve got (1) a gross exaggeration of facts, and (2) reactions from people who aren’t impacted but are angry enough to fit the narrative. I repeat: par for the course in news media coverage of the MTA. American history textbooks call this yellow journalism. I call it lying.
I repeat: I’m really tired of it.
Incidentally, the other thing that was really messed up about the NY Post report is that B36 wait times are not going up 2 to 3 minutes, they’re going up 3 to 5 minutes – in particular, riders traveling in the evening will now have to wait up to 20 minutes for a bus. I think that’s terrible – speaking for myself, once my potential wait time goes over 15 minutes, I start thinking of another way to get to where I’m going. Or maybe I just decide to stay in and make it a Netflix night.
Hey, CBS 2, maybe instead of interviewing a crossing guard about the school day, the more useful interview would have been a shopper or barhopper or other weekend traveler who might decide their trip wasn’t really worth it after all?
Along those lines, Allan Rosen, the transit contributor at Sheepshead Bites, wrote an exceptional article about this. Yes, he did mistakenly repeat the NY Post’s 17% statistic, but he hit on several other important points, like the sacrifice of bus funds to pay for an increase in subway service on the J-train, the impact of long wait times and bus bunching on reliability, the impact of reliability on ridership, and more. (He also acknowledged the mistake on the stat, because that’s just the kind of guy he is.) If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend taking a look now, because it’s the kind of fact-based criticism that you hardly ever see anywhere else.
The bus cut details can be found on pages 128 and 129 of this PDF.
Update, Feb 4: The original story mistakenly stated that all of the 64 changes were to weekend service. That was incorrect. I read the MTA’s abbreviation “wkd” incorrectly. That’s how I abbreviate WeeKenD… but that’s how the MTA abbreviates WeeKDay. It also stated that the M22 was being cut on Saturday/Sunday, when in fact weekday service is changing and Saturday/Sunday service is staying the same.
Friggin’ glass houses.