As the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation gear up for a citywide rollout of Select Bus Service — SBS on 1st and 2nd Aves. is rumored to be coming on October 10 — the agencies are still facing some growing pains. In particular, the concept of pre-board fare payment has proved elusive for many riders along Fordham Road’s Bx12 SBS route.
From the get-go, the fare system faced some hurdles. New Yorkers have long paid their bus fares while boarding, and although some passengers skip the MetroCard swipe by hopping in through the back door, the driver has served as a generally adequate deterrent. There is, in any business, the risk of some shrinkage, but with SBS, the MTA has to lower the shrinkage rate to make it work. Because bus rapid transit service relies upon pre-board fare payment in order to cut bus dwell times, drivers aren’t watching people as they board. Rather, the riders are supposed to carry proof-of-payment with them in case of an inspection.
During the early days of the Bx12, the MTA and NYPD vowed increased enforcement of the fare-jumpers on Select Bus Service lines, but according to a Daily News report, that enforcement has failed to materialize. Mike Jaccarino traveled the Bx12 recently and found rampant fare-beating. He writes:
Recent stakeouts by The News at a number of stops along the route found dozens of riders still brazenly boarding the buses, distinctive for their flashing blue lights, without first buying the required tickets at kiosks at the stops. Over the course of an hour at each stop, 40 fare-beaters boarded the bus at Fordham Plaza sans tickets; 22 did so near the Pelham Bay IRT subway stop, and 27 at the stop on Pelham Parkway at Williamsbridge Road…
The Bx12 SBS began rolling June 30, 2008, as a way to speed up the ride across the congested Fordham Road corridor. The line now carries an average of 30,500 riders weekly. A squad of eagle-eyed cops and retired police officers were supposed to enforce the bus honor system with spot checks. The MTA said its has issued 6,532 summonses, each carrying a $100 fine, to date.
Unsurprisingly, those fare-beaters confronted by Jaccarino weren’t too pleased. A few cursed at the reporter, but another offered a half-hearted defense: “I don’t have enough money to feed my kids, and I’m going to pay for a ticket on a bus when no one checks whether I’ve bought one or not? Why should I?” I wonder if the same rationale would fly if he or she were caught stealing from the supermarket.
Those who pay are obviously upset at the free-riders, and it’s hard to understate how the need for enforcement is tied in with the future success of SBS. The MTA and DOT want to bring Select Bus Service to every borough along major arteries, and both the mayor and MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder see the need to speed up bus service. The MTA, though, has to capture revenue from this new service, and if the solution to this fare-beating problem is a massive week-long crackdown and guerrilla proof-of-payment inspection efforts, so be it. We need SBS; the MTA needs its money; and people should pay for the rides they take.