Home Buses SI reps singing the blues over proposed purple SBS lights

SI reps singing the blues over proposed purple SBS lights

by Benjamin Kabak

Could the once-blue SBS lights soon turn purple? (Photo by flickr user Stephen Rees)

As Albany’s legislative session winds down for the summer, New York City’s transit advocates had hoped to see movement on an issue surrounding Select Bus Service. As Staten Island representatives objected to flashing blue lights on legally strong but practically dubious grounds, state representatives have struggled to find a suitable replacement color, but as of last week, they had settled on purple. Now, this effort’s future is in doubt.

Since we first heard of the purple light initiative, the bill has undergone some changes. Its current version is even more restrictive in that only bus rapid transit — or Select Bus Service — vehicles that use only pre-board fare payment may make use of the flashing purple lights. Astute readers may note that this would, of course, exempt the Staten Island S79 SBS service as this route still employs on-board fare payment.

Still, the concessions have not been enough to assuage Senator Andrew Lanza’s concerns. Matt Flegenheimer of The Times has the report:

“At first I thought they were joking,” said Senator Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island, who had pressured the authority, along with Councilman Vincent Ignizio of Staten Island, to do away with the blue lights. “This is the best you come back with? Flashing purple?”

Mr. Lanza raised the prospect of other colors, arguing that residents had become conditioned “in an almost Pavlovian way” to pull over at the site of bluish lights, sensing an emergency.

Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner, the bill’s sponsor in that chamber, said purple had been designated by the State Department of Motor Vehicles — which deemed it “the only option,” according to Mr. Kellner, given the existing functions of colors like green, yellow and red.

So not only does Lanza object to light blue flashing lights on a giant bus, but he too believes anything “bluish” is a concern. Perhaps Sen. Lanza needs to be reminded that this is blue and this is purple. Ultimately, it still seems as though this is a ploy by Staten Island representatives to make bus improvements as difficult as possible. The bill remains stuck in committee.

Postscript: Hilariously enough, Flegenheimer quotes Joe Lhota in his article. “Why do they need them?” he said of the flashing lights. “I can differentiate a bus.” SBS riders have been complaining to me, to the MTA and to anyone who will listen that it’s challenging to tell the difference from great distances between local and SBS service, especially at night. This point should be obvious to the former MTA Chair I would hope.

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32 comments

Kai B June 20, 2013 - 5:18 pm

If the lights are just there to aid in identification, as opposed to “chasing” cars out of bus lanes, then why can’t the SBS busses use static purple (or blue) lights.

I agree that this whole thing is ridiculous. Just a thought to try to reason with these politicians.

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Phillip Roncoroni June 20, 2013 - 5:22 pm

Because a static purple light won’t easily be seen 10-20 blocks away like the flashing blue SBS lights were. They help determine whether waiting for the SBS makes sense, time wise, as opposed to taking a local, or just walking further and getting on the subway (or outright walking).

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Kai B June 20, 2013 - 5:48 pm

I suppose the flashing helps somewhat, but we’re probably talking about being able to make it out 10 blocks versus 12 blocks.

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JJJJ June 21, 2013 - 12:17 am

Heres the thing…not everyone has 20/20 vision.

And you know whos more likely to NOT have good vision? The person who isnt driving a car

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al June 21, 2013 - 4:28 pm

Bingo. How about having a pair of ordinary headlights mounted high up flash on and off like a locomotive approaching a grade crossing? It simple enough.

Phillip Roncoroni June 20, 2013 - 5:19 pm

I don’t get it – if the SBS S79 still employs on-board fare payment, how is it even an SBS? Isn’t it just a Limited bus route then? Isn’t paying before boarding one of the cornerstones of the SBS program?

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Kai B June 20, 2013 - 5:51 pm

Probably cost savings by not having to install all those machines. My guess is they justify it using the argument that less passengers board at each stop versus the other boroughs?

But I agree, it’s kind of lame.

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BrooklynBus June 20, 2013 - 8:19 pm

It supposed to have priority signaling, but I don’t know if tat started yet.

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tacony palmyra June 21, 2013 - 9:45 am

I think the official line was that the S79’s sluggishness was not as primarily driven by the amount of time the bus is waiting while people are boarding as the other SBS routes are.

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Matthias June 21, 2013 - 1:25 pm

Onboard fare payment is not the problem. The current practice of waiting while everyone queues up to pay at a single farebox is. Add multiple fareboxes throughout the bus, allow boarding through all doors, and problem solved without wasting money and space on curbside machines.

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Phillip Roncoroni June 21, 2013 - 1:29 pm

Who would enforce that? While the bus operators aren’t supposed to engage people who refuse the pay the fare, it’s a bigger deal when you just blow past the operator without paying. If you can enter through any door (up to three, depending on the model) and are expected to pay without getting a proof of payment receipt, that’s an honor system that just wouldn’t work here.

If you are advocating for proof of payment receipts to be printed out somehow after you swipe on the bus itself, what happens when those break down and the Eagle Team comes on to spot check? It just seems messier than the current SBS implementation, as flawed as it may currently be.

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Jeff June 21, 2013 - 2:02 pm

If they break down then the driver can tell the inspectors about it and you won’t get in trouble…

This is how they do it in many European cities.

Clarke June 21, 2013 - 11:58 pm

It works elsewhere? No way it will work here. That’s absurd…….

Alon Levy June 22, 2013 - 4:47 am

What happens when the regular farebox on a bus breaks?

Bolwerk June 22, 2013 - 12:21 pm

Yes, this. Thank you!

It also centralizes TVM maintenance. Only busy stops should have curbside machines.

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Andrew June 23, 2013 - 10:28 am

And that’s exactly the plan when smartcards replace MetroCards. The MetroCard dip/swipe system is far too slow for what you propose to work, and there is no way for an inspector to read a physical card to verify that it’s been swiped (the portable hardware simply doesn’t exist for the proprietary MetroCard system).

Meanwhile, the system that’s out there, clunky as it is, is still a big improvement.

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Bolwerk June 23, 2013 - 1:35 pm

It’s a little ghetto, but an inspector could just test anyone who claims to have an unlimited on a bus-based TVM.

Alon Levy June 23, 2013 - 4:45 pm

Or on one of the swiping stations that exist at some subway stations that tell you how much money you have left on the card or when its expiry date is. Somehow that could be manufactured for the proprietary technology.

Bolwerk June 24, 2013 - 9:01 am

Heh, and somehow I suspect it might even fit on a bus, even if they don’t want to bother developing handheld versions.

For those 90-99% of rides where the rider has an unlimited and does not get inspected, you’d think they would prefer to skip the wear ‘n tear.

Alex C June 20, 2013 - 5:48 pm

Was hoping it was April 1 when I saw the deadline. This is insanity. But if the rest of Albany votes for it I’m hoping this clown can be ignored.

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Josh K. June 21, 2013 - 11:53 am

I’m a volunteer firefighter and legally use my “blue light” to respond to calls in my municipality in Northern Westchester, where nearly all fire departments are 100% volunteer.
Hardly ANYONE ever gets out of my way when I have my blue light on.
For that matter, no one gets out of the way when I’m driving a full-sized fire engine, with full lights, sirens and horns going full blast.
So this whole “conditioned to pull over for blue lights” is complete BS.

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BoerumBum June 21, 2013 - 12:58 pm

“Conditioned to hate on mass transit” is more accurate.

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Spendmore Wastemore June 21, 2013 - 1:23 pm

Neither I nor anyone else has seen a line of cars pull over in front of an SBS bus, as out has never happened.

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Lady Feliz June 21, 2013 - 2:27 pm

Lanza is an idiot. Staten Islanders don’t pull over for a huge fire truck or ambulance with beaming red lights and huge sirens, but somehow they will do so for an SBS bus with flashing blue/purple lights? Staten Islanders get all “USA, USA” at the drop of a hat and practically worship the FDNY drunkards, yet they never, EVER pull over for emergency vehicles on Hylan Blvd or anywhere else on the Island.

I swear, if there is a more backward, stupid, pathetic place in all of York City AND State than Staten Island, I never found it. So damn glad I got out of there.

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Lady Feliz June 21, 2013 - 2:28 pm

New York City and State =) Just thinking of Staten Island gets me all riled up LOL.

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Clarke June 22, 2013 - 12:00 am

Can NYC offload Staten? Let them become their own town with their own tax base and providing their own transit and other civil services? How long til the calf comes crawling back to the teat?

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Bolwerk June 23, 2013 - 1:37 pm

The last time this issue came up, I think the water supply was good enough to put it to bed.

Staten Island is staying in NYC, and if we had a remotely sane political system, there wouldn’t be a problem with that.

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Spendmore Wastemore June 21, 2013 - 10:11 pm

// test, posts are not showing up //

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Benjamin Kabak June 21, 2013 - 10:36 pm

My spam filter was catching your comments. I’ve cleared them. Not sure why, but let me know if it happens again.

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martindelaware June 22, 2013 - 6:42 am

I was recently traveling through Philadelphia and saw flashing purple lights on a hearse. Is that permitted in New York State as well? If so, purple may not be the right color for SBS after all.

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Andrew June 23, 2013 - 10:05 am

Maybe it was an S79 a bit off-course. Staten Island is practically in Philadelphia anyway.

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Bolwerk June 23, 2013 - 1:38 pm

I think the crow flight distance between the southern tip of SI and the closest point in Philly is actually less than 60 miles.

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