Lappin: SBS good, over-enforcement bad


A November report showed how popular the M15 Select Bus Service had become.

City Council Member Jessica Lappin and her East Side constituents like what they see out of the Select Bus Service along First and Second Ave., but they all wish the MTA and NYPD weren’t so heavy handed with fine enforcement. In her second annual report card for the city’s latest efforts at speeding up buses, Lappin gave the service a solid B, up for a B- last year, but she urged the MTA to better fix its fare payment machines and ease up on enforcement in the meantime.

“More East Siders are onboard with Select Bus Service, and want to see it expanded to other locations,” Lappin said. “But the MTA still needs to do a better job with fixing broken ticket machines and other inconveniences.”

Lappin’s report card breaks down the service into four categories based on responses from her constituents. Overall, 98.3 percent of the 1155 respondents who took the survey said they have used the Select Bus Service. This number may be skewed a bit as a transportation survey will attract those who use transportation, but these are the folks who are most attuned to the good and bad of it all.

By and large, Upper East Siders seemed content with the speed of service. Most wait times are between five and ten minutes, and nearly 70 percent of respondents said speeds were good or excellent. Lappin rated speed an A, and while fare payment was problematic, according to MTA studies, the time saved by eliminating the painfully slow MetroCard dip is the driving factor there.

The biggest issue arose with ease of use of those fare payment machines though. While 55 percent of respondents rated the pre-board machines as good or excellent, nearly 45 thought them to be fair or poor. The Council Member offered up her take: “Council Member Lappin’s office frequently receives complaints about broken Select Bus Service ticket machines. When the machines are broken or out of paper, it is impossible to buy a ticket. Without a ticket, riders risk being issued a $100 summons. Constituents have also complained that ticket machines are dangerously close to the street.”

Hand in hand with this concern are complaints over enforcement. Twenty respondents were ticketed when SBS payment machines failed to produce receipts, and riders complained that buses were stopped during fare inspections, thus defeating the purpose of a faster commute. One East Sider’s tale highlights these concerns. “Last September I received a $100 summons even though the SBS ticket machine wasn’t working,” an Upper East Side resident who declined to be named said. “When I called the MTA & Transit Adjudication Bureau to explain what happened, they made it impossible to get answers. It wasn’t just the ticket machine that was broken—the entire SBS fare collection system is broken and it needs to be fixed.”

DNA Info offered up more tales of fare-payment woes and the subsequent summonses that so plague the new system. We’ve heard these complaints for years, but the stakeholders in the Select Bus Service system have yet to respond to them. Machines are repaired often enough, and enforcement is often overzealous. It’s what works though to keep the buses moving.

So Lappin gives the buses a better grade in 2012 than she did in 2011. It’s an incremental step up, but as Select Bus Service becomes more pervasive, and the MTA and NYC DOT more adept at respond to complaints, those marks should only rise. If they don’t, something has gone wrong.

Categories : Buses, Manhattan

26 Responses to “Lappin: SBS good, over-enforcement bad”

  1. Phillip Roncoroni says:

    If all the machines are out of service you’re supposed to tell the bus operator when you board, who then waits for everyone who didn’t get a ticket to get one at the next stop. It’s not that complicated, I’ve had to do this on three occasions.

    Though the frequency of out of service machines is too high and there should be three per stop.

    • AK says:

      In my experience, bus drivers frequently will not let you on the bus if you affirmatively tell them that you don’t have a ticket. This is strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the system is designed so the driver need not concern himself with whether riders have tickets. If a rider wants to roll the proverbial dice, so be it. As build-out of BRT continues, I trust they will improve training and maintenance for the card readers (as we wait for the next-gen Oyster-type card to solve these problems…)

    • Geoff says:

      This is the first time I’ve heard that you’re supposed to inform the bus driver if the ticket machines are not working.

      I’ve been taking the M15 SBS quite frequently lately and on a regular basis the ticket machines are out of order or do not print a receipt after charging me. I’d say this has been the case about 20% of the time I ride. When this happens I’ve taken a photo of the malfunctioning machines in case a fare inspector comes on board (which has yet to happen in the evening).

    • Alon Levy says:

      Though the frequency of out of service machines is too high and there should be three per stop.

      And that’s why doing POP right is so valuable. As a reminder, the best industry practice in cities without smartcards is that people with valid transfer tickets and season passes can board freely, and people without have to board at the front and pay at a farebox, and the bus starts moving even before everyone has paid. Season passes have very large discounts – they cost on the order of 30-36 times as much as a pay-per-ride, rather than 46 times as in New York – and this incentivizes getting them rather than clogging the front door.

    • Andrew says:

      If the machines at a stop aren’t working, everybody at that stop should be allowed to ride for free. The bus certainly shouldn’t be delayed at the next stop as everybody gets off to pay.

      If the inspectors aren’t willing to trust people, the driver can give them paper transfers as substitutes for receipts.

  2. SEAN says:

    If the ticket machine doesn’t work & that results in a$100 fine, that legally is entrapment. Therefore the fine can not stand.

    That is a good enough reason to transform the payment system on to tap cards like in DC & other city transit systems did over the past few years.

  3. Ed says:

    Is there any truth to the reports of the inspectors consistently showing up on busses right after they leave a stop where the machines are not working?

  4. Bolwerk says:

    The SBS seems to be a pretty bungled POP implementation. Fare collection should be on the buses, not on the platforms.

  5. UESider says:

    So, we’ll talk about putting walls and doors on 2,000 subway platforms but we can’t rotate the SBS fare collection machines so you don’t have to stand in a travel lane on 2nd Avenue to wait in line and buy a bus ticket? Unbelievable…

    Why can’t these fare machines sit back-to-back so lines form along the sidewalk?

    On the issue of enforcement, the MTA needs to track when machines break and concede the fine. I agree that this is illegal entrapment and a serious flaw in the whole system. If the MTA can’t keep the machines running 99.99% of the time, that’s their problem. You don’t just tell people they’re out of luck. That would be like closing a subway station if the turnstiles weren’t working.

    And making people get off at the next station, buy a ticket and get back on while the whole bus sits waiting? Why bother? Such nonsense…

    Also, can someone explain why the regular, on-board bus fare collection isn’t a swipe? Why do we need this 15 second in’n’out card eater? We are a technologically advanced people – this is a simple problem to solve!

    Lastly, I have an idea for the fare collection system. It’s not perfect – or Entirely fair, in my estimation – but it is a practical remedy. The MTA should sell single ride coupons, say a book of 10 for $22.50. You keep them in your wallet with your metrocard and they never expire – they’re essentially tokens.

    If the fare collection system is broken and enforcement boards the bus – rather than deal with the ticket, writing appeals and letters to our electeds, you just hand in a ride coupon. If you have a pay-per-ride card, it’s a wash – costs no more, no less. If you have a monthly, you end up paying extra for the ride – not 100% fair (no pun), but I’d gladly pay $2.25 to not deal with the headache. It’s a rare occurrence and a (reasonably fair) compromise.

    • BrooklynBus says:

      “Also, can someone explain why the regular, on-board bus fare collection isn’t a swipe?”

      If you remember before Metrocard was instituted, that was the plan to swipe on the buses as well as the subway. I don’t remember the reason, but at the last minute, the MTA changed to a dip. That meant that every swipe reader already installed in the entire fleet of buses had to be changed out to accept a dip before MetroCsrd started. Another reason how the MTA wastes money.

      • Andrew says:

        The GFI fareboxes with the card slots were purchased in the 80’s. I don’t know how much extra the slots added to the cost, but the MetroCard system that was ultimately developed couldn’t use them, and the GFI fareboxes had to be replaced with the current Cubic fareboxes.

    • Andrew says:

      Bad idea – there’d be no reason for anybody to pay before boarding. Carry around your book of coupons just in case. Most of the time you’ll ride free. Once in a while you’ll pay $2.25.

  6. UESider says:

    Or, better yet, make the enforcement agents carry a portable card swipe machine. If a machine is broken And you don’t have your receipt, they swipe your card. Visa can do this, why not the MTA?

    • Alex C says:

      Because the machines would be built by some scam artist company that would design a “special” version of the machine for the MTA and then not support it when they all start breaking. We all know how technology works with the MTA; it doesn’t.

    • Bolwerk says:

      This is yet another reason to have the readers on the bus. Agents could actually use them too, and they could be by swipe rather than by that nonsensical TVM.

      Holding an unlimited should be by default sufficient to use the system. There should be no reason to swipe an unlimited unless it’s so an agent can check it.

    • Andrew says:

      Because there are currently no portable MetroCard swipe machines. Since the MetroCard system is proprietary, the MTA would have to pay Cubic to design and manufacture them – and they’d probably show up just in time for MetroCard to be retired.

      Not a worthwhile investment.

  7. Phantom says:

    At South Ferry, there should be at least four machines, since so many people disembark from the ferry at one time. There are two.

    Last week, one of the two was not working. Do the math. Poor planning.

  8. Matt says:

    I’m all for the SBS concept, but adopting an ink-and-paper ticket-based system in the 21st century is kind of ridiculous. Both for the reasons cited (broken machines or out-of-paper) and because the system generates tons of unnecessary paper waste. Shouldn’t we be moving to paperless ticketing methods in this day and age?

    Also, what needs better enforcement isn’t the ticketing, but the bus lanes themselves. If they’re not clear of all other traffic (including bicycles, ConEd trucks, etc.) it defeats the whole purpose.

    • Alon Levy says:

      If New York gets its transit use up to the levels of such paper ticket-using cities as Berlin and Zurich, transit activists should consider their work a smashing success.

      But yes, better enforcement is exactly what’s needed. Physically separate the lanes at the biggest problem spots, put in bus cams (the kind that Albany dislikes because they violate drivers’ right to break the law), move the bus lanes to the median so that trucks don’t need to interfere with them, put the bike lanes somewhere other than on the bus lane. And FFS, establish signal priority. It’s ridiculous that a bus with 50 people has to wait at a red light for a few taxis with 1 passenger each.

    • Bolwerk says:

      You could be right, but a few things:

      • paper is significantly cheaper to produce and probably faster to check than electronic media. At least in a POP scenario.

      • Maybe there is some environmental concern, but much of it can be reduced or eliminated by recycling the paper. (It’s still preferable to more fossil fuel and less productive transit.)

      • Also, re the environment, electronic media are harder to recycle and more expensive to dispose of.

      The trouble in NYC with paper tickets is they aren’t transferable to the subway, at least not cheaply. EU cities that use POP tend to use it across all modes. And, for political reasons alone, I don’t see the subway going POP.

      Also, what needs better enforcement isn’t the ticketing, but the bus lanes themselves. If they’re not clear of all other traffic (including bicycles, ConEd trucks, etc.) it defeats the whole purpose.

      I think they both need to be enforced. POP depends on enforcement, and letting drivers disrupt buses is just nonsense.

  9. UESider says:

    I dont see the big deal with using a piece of paper now and then…

    one ticker tape parade discards more paper than metronorth conductors use up in a year just marking seats

    if we can fix the machine problem with some paper tickets, it would be worth it

    we create more inefficiencies trying to avoid paper… just do what makes sense.

    people are talking about paper money going away – so, everyone will have to buy a $300 smartphone every two years so they can use google wallet. most ridiculous idea ever…

  10. Andrew says:

    I can understand that Rubin Rivera might not have been aware that he was supposed to use his transfer at the machine on the street. But wouldn’t he have realized that something was up when he got on the bus and he couldn’t insert his transfer into the turnstile?

    If Francine Phillips had trouble finding a machine, did she ask somebody to help her, perhaps even the bus driver? Or did she think that anybody who has trouble finding a machine gets to ride for free?

    These sound like typical fare evaders. They rode the bus a few times without getting inspected and decided to take their chances.

  11. UESider says:

    good point on the coupons – they would have to prove the machine was broken at the stop where they got on…

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