David Stone
Octagon Turnaround: No, it wasn't even rush hour, but RIOC accidentally proved it has enough drivers and buses to do a better job, one day last fall.
Octagon Turnaround: No, it wasn't even rush hour, but RIOC accidentally proved it has enough drivers and buses to do a better job, one day last fall.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Continuing to make the Octagon Express anything but, RIOC's most recent screw ups continue a downward trend. "We're going to make two quick stops," an Octagon Express driver announced, one morning last week. Another bus had broken down, he told passengers. "We have to pick up the slack." It was baloney.

The "two quick stops" he told passengers  trying to get to work on time, would be the Deli and the Church.

What he said had the scent of truthiness in it.

The driver did stop at both the Deli and the Church.

The other part - you know, the "slack" that had to be picked up? - that was nonsense.

Total slack picked up:

At the deli: 0

At the church: 4

So, dozens of passengers with longer than average commutes who pay extra for bus service were forced to extend travel times because, 40 years down the road, RIOC still can't figure out how to fairly manage a two mile bus loop.

Perspective

Not so long ago, a decade roughly, the original Roosevelt Island Tram ran on a regular, seldom interrupted schedule, and it set the clock for RIOC's red buses. Based on a pulley system requiring both cabins to travel at the same time, the original system carried passengers at 15 minute intervals, speeded up to 7 1/2 minutes for rush hours.

It was never perfect, of course. Breakdowns and traffic jams happen, but nearly all the time, morning, noon and especially at night in the days before Southtown or Cornell Tech, an empty bus waited for passengers arriving on the Island side.

When that didn't happen, rage lit up the phones at 591 Main Street.

You could time the anchor bus for all the other stops.

I remember hustling up the subway escalators to get to street level in time to catch a Red Bus at 1:17, 3:32, 9:02, etc. You always knew when it was coming.

You wouldn't think that opening the Octagon and building a Tramway where single cabins run independently would create much of an issue, but the combination threw RIOC for a loop.

Maybe someone was just too clever for their own good. All they needed to do was maintain the 15 minute schedule at the Tram Plaza. There was time enough to add the Octagon pick up, one quick hit up from the legacy FDNY turnaround, without messing up the timing.

RIOC just couldn't handle it.

We went through a couple of years of never knowing when to expect the next bus until a six figure executive was hired to wrestle that mighty two mile, two intersection loop into submission.

And RIOC was conscientious enough to add the Octagon Express to morning commutes, although it was mismanaged politically, leaving our northernmost residents to look like snobbish elites too important to stop for others along the way, regardless of weather and other conditions, when they played no role in the decision.

Island pioneers didn't need more incentive to resent newcomers, but RIOC mindlessly gave them a daily dose.

A Question of Fairness

Now, RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal declares that, in the interest of fairness after ten years, she's ending the Octagon Express as a favor to residents who live much closer to mass transit, most of whom could easily walk.

It's as if no other option was even considered.

As suggested earlier, RIOC could have addressed the problem simply by rerouting an occasional morning rush hour bus, executing a turn around at the FDNY station, just north of Manhattan Park, as was the practice before The Octagon opened. That would speed up service and open seats while still leaving Octagon riders with optimal express service.

Or, if fairness, not appeasement, really was the objective, why not balance the new routing out and easing tensions by adding express service to evening rush? First stop after the subway - 40 River Road. Many times, Northtown residents are left behind at the subway stop because buses are jammed full with passengers on far shorter commutes.

So, fair's fair, isn't it, Susan?

But no, RIOC's opted for unfairness and unpredictability. It may get worse. It may get better. One thing for sure, it should be simple. We don't have a complicated grid of street patterns.

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Making it fair and reliable shouldn't be that hard. But this is RIOC, and few things are as easy as they ought to be. If they were, what would all those well-paid State employees to to occupy themselves, Monday through Friday, roughly 10:00 to around 4:00?