Home Buses Sen. Lanza’s six-minute anti-SBS rant highlights Albany circus

Sen. Lanza’s six-minute anti-SBS rant highlights Albany circus

by Benjamin Kabak

Last Thursday, as the legislative session in Albany stumbled to a close, the august State Senate finally got around to considering Tom Prendergast as the next MTA CEO and Chair. Eventually, he sailed through the confirmation hearing, but not before a bunch of state senators had the chance to grab the microphone. None were as jaw-droppingly amazing as Senator Andrew Lanza, the Staten Island representative who has made Select Bus Service and its flashing blue lights his Moby Dick.

For ten minutes on Thursday, Lanza railed about transit options on Staten Island, and an eagle-eyed reader found the uncut video on YouTube. You can fast forward to the 1:26 mark if you’d like to watch the Senator in all his glory. The sound quality, with someone coughing in the background, isn’t all that great, and the first five minutes are all about Verrazano Bridge tolls. He really gets rolling at the 1:31:30 mark when buses take center stage. When he’s done — five minutes later after defending car lanes, worrying about desensitizing Staten Islanders to flashing blue lights, and showing little sympathy or understanding for the SBS fare payment process — he allows Prendergast a whopping 30 seconds to respond before interrupting him. The hearing isn’t about the qualifications of the person nominated to the MTA Chair spot; it’s about giving Senators a chance to complain.

As an exercise in something — pain, perhaps — I transcribed Lanza’s five-minute bus rant and offer it to you here with my own commentary. It’s a thing to read as, on the one hand, he complains that Staten Island has few transit options while, on the other, he spends the entire time slamming bus improvements. It’s hard to see how he can have it both ways, but that’s the beauty of Albany. We keep voting for these guys, and they keep failing to understand the way transit should. Let’s dive in. The indented text are Lanza’s words as I could catch them from the video.

The select bus service on SI. So we don’t have many routes to begin with. The vast majority of the population of Staten Island doesn’t really have access to public transit on Staten Island to begin with. So this is a corridor where we did have local service, and there’s also express service into Manhattan. So one day the people of Staten Island woke up…and we found that 50 of the 70 stops were going to eliminated to have … express service. I’m all for augmenting local service with express service where it makes sense…but this was for a savings of seven minutes…

The city came in and painted. We had so few lanes for traffic…so few roads for the number of cars. So in order to facilitate this new service, we took one lane out of service, we painted it red (by the way a year later, the quality of the painted started chipping and fading). So we told people who need to be in cars because they don’t have service that a third of the road space on the major roads is not available. By the way, the buses are often in the second lane. It’s not the driver’s fault; people are making turns in front of them. So cars cannot travel in those lanes and yet buses are still traveling in those other lanes anyway.

We spent millions of dollars painting the roads to save some people seven minutes. We don’t talk about the thousands of people in their cars who know how 10, 20, 30 minutes added to their shuffle because now they’re at choke points because where there was once a lane for them it is no longer there….It’s just a parking lot now and it’s because there’s a red lane. There’s hardly ever a bus there. Hardly ever. I’d like to revisit it that with you…

You can’t just talk to the people on the bus. You can find that one person who now has an express stop in front of their house who now saves seven minutes, they’re going to like it. Old people who have lost access because they’re too far from any stop, they’re not going to like it…For the people stuck in cars, it’s really creating a horrific situation.

In this section, Lanza creates a new reality for the people of Staten Island. It’s true that the MTA took a series of S79 bus stops along Hylan Boulevard and eliminated them. The new S79 SBS routes stop every half mile and connect Staten Islanders to the R train in Brooklyn. Bus the S78 still runs local. Bus servie has been augmented. Some riders can take the faster buses to improve their commutes, and many of those can give up their cars. Others — the aged and infirm — still have local service. Lanza simply overlooks that because the cars have lost some space.

Meanwhile, Lanza smirks at the improvement. He finds seven minutes of average travel time barely worth it because in his worldview, without the studies to back it up, everyone else is sitting in mind-numbing traffic. Furthermore, the buses can’t move faster because cars are turning into the bus lane. Yet, Lanza says they can’t use a third of the road. That’s some logic.

After this rant, he shifts to the issue of, as he puts it, “blue flashing strobe lights,” and his voice grows higher and higher:

It’s the law that blue lights…we hand out thousands of summonses to young people who soup up their cars with blue flashing lights. Those are reserved, as you know, by law to emergency vehicles. I happen to think it’s a great law. People are conditioned when they even sense a flashing blue light that you got to get out of the way, and that’s how we save lives…So it’s not only a law but it’s a good law, and I believe that by having flashing blue lights on buses, we are desensitizing people to the notion that this is an emergency vehicle.

I’ve heard from so many people who have said initially they got out of the way, and I don’t want a generation of drivers and pedestrians to now believe that they’re going to see a blue flashing light and not get out of the way. So finally we walk away from that policy, and I must say that I was a little disappointed that you claimed the people of Manhattan liked them.

[Recently,] I was approached by the people in the MTA to support purple lights. You know, I think it’s ridiculous. I asked where or not they’re going to be darker or light purple. It’s kind of ridiculous…it’s public safety policy that’s worked for so long in this state. If you see flashing blue lights…lights that are close to blue, you get out of the way. Do we really need flashing purple lights on buses now?

At this point, Lanza rested and allowed Prendergast a few sentences. “In other boroughs where we used them customers were able to differentiate an SBS bus vs a regular bus. I am looking to some other means of doing it but a flashing light is one they can see from a long distance away.”

After this explanation, Lanza continued, citing his own experiences riding an express bus to NYU years and years ago. “On that part, people are smarter than you give them credit for,” he said. “If I saw a bus that had an X on it, they can figure it out. People can figure it out. Done. Listen. I knew a bus that came with an X on it, that [it cost more]. People can figure it out. Period.”

What he failed to understand here, as Prendergast pointed out, is that the SBS buses require, in other boroughs, a different type of payment. In Staten Island, this is less of an issue, but elsewhere, SBS riders need to pre-pay. Without the flashing blue lights, many scramble to receive their proof of payment receipts as they cannot identify the bus until it is a block away. This is a key element of a successful bus rapid transit network, and if New York can’t even get that right, what will SBS bring?

In the end, this is a mess. Staten Island has developed such a car-dependent mentality that it cannot live with improved bus service for many people who need it the most, and such a development comes after the MTA seemingly failed to read the state’s motor vehicles law before adding flashing blue lights to their buses. Right now, the bill to allow for purple lights instead is stuck in committee where it will languish all summer, but it clearly has no ally in Senator Lanza. He represents the people of New York but not the transit network that allows for better travel. He wants more transit for Staten Island until it actually arrives, and then he doesn’t want it at all. That’s Albany for you.

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Larry Littlefield June 26, 2013 - 7:34 am

Right. And what does anybody ever do about it? After years of increasing disgust, I somehow got on the ballot and ran against the incumbent at some personal cost. I thought it my duty.

The question, particularly for those in younger generations, is are you getting what you deserve? Votes on election day don’t matter. It is already too late.


Berk32 June 26, 2013 - 9:17 am

Just stop the confusion and call the S79 Limited bus…

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 9:31 am

The whole SelectBus concept pretty well misses the point. Every bus should have every SBS “feature” it possibly can, particularly POP.

And the exceptions to these features should be situational. Some routes maybe can’t support articulated buses, for instance.

tacony palmyra June 26, 2013 - 9:31 am

The vast majority of the population of Staten Island doesn’t really have access to public transit on Staten Island to begin with.

This is not even true. Most people on Staten Island live within walking distance of a bus stop. Considering the population density of the island, SI has pretty good bus coverage. Most people in similar types of neighborhoods in New Jersey and Long Island don’t have such coverage.

Benjamin Kabak June 26, 2013 - 9:32 am

I wasn’t even going to bother with that inane contention by Lanza. A quick look at the bus map reveals he’s full of it.

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 9:49 am

How is frequency though? A big network with hardly any actual buses running isn’t so great either.

llqbtt June 26, 2013 - 10:00 am


They at least have Bus Time, so you don’t have to stand at a bus stop for 1/2 hour. But then the question becomes about riders having smart phones and others having the tech savvy enough or attention to text message on their dumb phones to get the next bus.

Many long timers who are familiar with a route know the schedule anyway, like on the half hour or on the quarter hour, whatever.

Howard June 26, 2013 - 9:43 am

I really don’t understand where the whole “blue lights are confusing” thing comes from. In NY, what emergency vehicles have only blue lights? Every single emergency vehicle I’ve ever seen in the US has red flashing lights. The only ones with blue flashing lights are police cars, which always have red flashing lights as well.

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 9:57 am

It’s a vastly different kind of flashing, too. No reasonable person should be able to confuse them. They should have kept the blue lights and not wasted further time on the matter.

But the point here wasn’t to help emergency services. The point here was to harm transit users. This is so important to conservatives that it doesn’t even matter if they waste money doing it.

llqbtt June 26, 2013 - 10:15 am

Whenever I’m on 2nd Ave, I can never tell whether it’s an M15 +SBS+, volunteer ambulance or space ship from another planet (they do have flashing blue lights, don’t they?) until it’s right in front of me!

Roxie June 26, 2013 - 9:53 am

The whole blue lights debacle would be solved if we had some kind of announcement speaker at each SBS stop that would say how far away the next local and SBS bus for that route are. That way if you’re not in the biggest of rushes, you can go ahead and get on the local if you know it’s closer.

It’s not like they don’t have data sources for this kind of thing. It would just be a matter of having an announcement system wired up for it. Of course, that costs money, but maybe less money than lawyering up to fight whiny senators over fuckin’ *light bulbs*. Plus, announcing bus distance would make it a little more convenient for people who use BusTime a lot, and especially convenient for people who don’t have smartphones to use BusTime with (surprisingly common, especially in the neighborhoods that, say, the SBS Bx12/Bx41 run/will run through).

Theorem Ox June 26, 2013 - 5:37 pm

That would be a welcome development if the MTA pursued that route.

But the equipment probably won’t hold up for long on public streets in certain neighborhoods.

tacony palmyra June 27, 2013 - 8:57 am

Don’t need a speaker making noise. A sign will do.

llqbtt June 26, 2013 - 10:03 am

Lanza’s wrong about the express buses. Many people are still bewildered when a big, odd looking bus pulls up to their stop. The discussion with the driver can get quite lengthy and usually culminates with the driver then simply stating the express bus fare, once, twice, thrice. The bewildered prospective rider clearly understands that one, always!

JMP June 26, 2013 - 10:07 am

If Staten Island wants to elect politicians who oppose SBS, can the MTA re-allocate the resources and bring SBS to places where it’s wanted and appreciated?

The M86 is a prime candidate for SBS, and is profoundly broken without it. Going west in the mornings, each bus has to stand at 86th and York, loading from the long line of waiting passengers until the next bus shows up. A similar pattern plays out at Lexington in both directions. Having curbside fare collection and allowing boarding through multiple doors at those two stops alone would cut 10 minutes from the westbound travel time during the busiest times.

If every single bus running that route saved 10 minutes during rush hour, The MTA could achieve the same frequency of service with one or two fewer busses running on that route. I wonder how those cost savings compare with the up front cost of implementing SBS? I would imagine that implementation would pay for itself over some reasonable interval of time. It would definitely be very popular with M86 riders.

Given that it would be popular with riders AND pay for itself, why hasn’t the MTA moved forward with getting SBS running on the M86?

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 10:24 am

I think it’s more the city DOT that has been pushing SBS, but maybe I am wrong about that.

The MTA usually doesn’t take much initiative.

JMP June 26, 2013 - 10:33 am

Ultimately, at least in theory, both the MTA and the DOT answer to the citizens who use transit. I cannot imagine anyone who rides the M86 at rush hour who would not be in favor of bringing SBS to the route.

That the M86 has not been mentioned by either the MTA or DOT in public as a candidate for expansion of SBS is a testament to their inability/unwillingness to be responsive to the needs of transit users.

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 10:51 am

They answer to the political class and union class. The former likes cars, and the latter wants to rent labor (and then drive home). The surface transit system is a testament to this; buses are slow and inefficient, and the slower and less efficient they are the more jobs for the TWU.

Lanza wants buses to remain humiliating for their users.

llqbtt June 26, 2013 - 10:08 am

Lanza is correct about 1 thing though…+SBS+ doesn’t seem use the dedicated lanes too often. At least that is my experience with the M15 +SBS+. It is most often in mixed traffic effectively taking out a travel lane as Lanza discusses.

As for the S79 +SBS+ Limited, I can’t directly comment on what lane(s) the new route uses, but it does indeed eliminate a travel lane on Hylan Blvd that was heavily used from about Midland Ave to Guyon Ave.

Tower18 June 26, 2013 - 2:42 pm

If a bus is traveling in a regular lane while a bus lane is present, that probably means someone is double parking in the bus lane. You’re going after the wrong problem. New Yorkers who drive think it is their God-given right to stop their car wherever, whenever, and fuck you for saying otherwise. It’s always amazing to me those who “stand” in their car right in a travel lane, often right in front of a hydrant spot. Respect for the fire hydrant, but causing traffic jams behind them. But I digress.

llqbtt June 26, 2013 - 4:09 pm

You’re correct in your analysis as well. I append my comment and add that the bus lane is usually vacant and available when the +SBS+ M15 is cruising along in a different travel lane. Thus the lane becomes completely useless for any purpose where as before, it could have served a purpose, parking, deliveries, a separated bike line, additional CitiBike stations, more pedestrian space.

Tower18, like you, I’ve seen all manner of obstruction in the bus lanes: delivery trucks, police cars, utility trucks and work zones, bums with shopping carts, CitiBikes, pedestrians on cell phones and the list goes on and on.

So it seems the whole point of NYC DOT not separating a bus a bus travel lane was to further screw things up. Wait, that sounds like the gov’t solution to many things!

normative June 26, 2013 - 10:11 am

Well said Ben. I go to SI from Brooklyn and Manhattan via public transit to visit family. First, I think the last 5 ACS in the US survey had SI households who don’t own a car at about 20% (off the top of my head, not confirmed). Second, SI people always complain about traffic AND lack of transit options compared to other boroughs. Whenever I read an article in the SI advance, I sit nonplussed when no one seems to realize you can’t have both: you want to ease traffic, then yah gotta promote transit.

Larry Littlefield June 26, 2013 - 10:35 am

I’m telling you if Lanza and the rest are reading this, they are laughing at you. It’s just a fun little game to them. There is no point talking about what is or what is not correct, because that is besides the point. Some people matter, and others do not. The issue is, whose fault is that?

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 11:33 am

Unfortunately, we’ve abandoned the traditional community values like banishment. It goes without saying that, in a democratic society, Lanza would not be around long.

Larry Littlefield June 26, 2013 - 12:11 pm

You kidding. He and the others up there would likely banish you and me.

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 2:09 pm

Banished by the 6%?

Epson45 June 26, 2013 - 1:32 pm

Yeah, there’s no need to cover this crap. Typical Albany hell ho’s having opportunity to scream at the official.

Benjamin Kabak June 26, 2013 - 1:39 pm

There is indeed a point in covering the absurdity of New York politics. Otherwise, the people making policy get a pass.

Bolwerk June 26, 2013 - 3:20 pm

A pass most of the press world seems content to give them. Keep up the good work!

Lady Feliz June 26, 2013 - 1:19 pm

Good God, what is it with Staten Island? How stupid is Lanza, and how the hell does Staten Island benefit at all from his ban on blue lights? This guy reminds me of ever dolt I met in Port Richmond HS who sat in the back and couldn’t name the current President of the US but thought he was God’s gift to Guidoville. No wonder everyone hates Staten Island…

Epson45 June 26, 2013 - 1:35 pm

There is a solution…. BusTime the SBS routes and put countdown clocks on the SBS bus stop. Flashing blue light crap.

Rob June 26, 2013 - 1:46 pm

“That’s Albany for you.” Right.

And you think their decrees abt non-transit issues are any better? No, they are not. And you think the decrees coming out of Washington are any better? No, they are not. The lesson is that we should not be voting for Big Government to do any more than necessary [and of course, transit may be one of those areas].

Anon June 26, 2013 - 2:36 pm

OT: They testing new sounds for train arrivals?
Sounds like a European Police Car…

SEAN June 26, 2013 - 7:56 pm

Watching this poor excuse for a hearing was almost as paneful as the reconstructive sergery I had on my jaw some years ago. There’s only one word to describe Lanza & others like him “mechigena.” I know I misspelled it, it’s yiddish for lunatick.

Andrew June 26, 2013 - 8:40 pm

You also misspelled lunatic. Not that I disagree. Poor guy is so out-of-touch that he thinks SBS is another name for an express bus.

Alex C June 26, 2013 - 11:31 pm

In his defense, he’s probably never been on a bus and thinks they’re yucky and for poor people only.

Chet June 27, 2013 - 8:42 am

The real solution to Hylan Boulevard traffic is a light rail system right down the middle…from the Conference House in Tottenville right up to the expressway (and maybe even over the VZ bridge).

SBS might help a bit, but only rail will actually get cars off the road.

And the stuff about the flashing blue lights…just dumb. I’m surprised at Sen. Lanza… he’s usually much better than this on most issues.

Lady Feliz June 27, 2013 - 9:29 pm

The Staten Island Railway parallels Hylan Blvd from Rosebank to Tottenville, which is to say the entire length of the boulevard. And it’s a free ride for the whole portion between Rosebank and Tottenville. And outside of rush hour, most Islanders never ride the FREE SI Railway.

Ian June 30, 2013 - 10:15 am

I wish I could have seen the look on Lanza’s face when Predergast mentioned that the MTA wanted to have a dedicated bus lane on the Verrazano (in the following segment, when Predergast was answering questions was answering questions about the fabrication of new orthotropic deck).


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