Home Buses M15 SBS Day 1: The dichotomy of press coverage

M15 SBS Day 1: The dichotomy of press coverage

by Benjamin Kabak

Whether they like it or not, the city’s major newspapers are a loud voice working either for or against transit in New York City. The overwhelmingly vast majority of New Yorkers don’t receive their transportation missives from me or Streetsblog. Rather, they turn to the pages of their favorite newspapers to find out the latest goings-on above and below ground.

Yesterday, the MTA and NYC DOT’s Select Bus Service debuted along the route of the M15. With longer buses, pre-board fare payment, dedicated lanes and fewer stops, the First and Second Ave. SBS, while a far cry from true bus rapid transit, should drastically speed up bus service along the underserved East Side. As with any new service, implementation won’t be easy, and those operating the buses will have to work out the kinks as travelers adjust to the changes. The media coverage could either focus on Day 1 growing pains or the promises of speed. Let’s see what the papers chose.

The Daily News’ coverage was, by and large, the most positive. Erin Durkin wrote about the improvements Select Bus Service will bring to the East Side. She writes about how buses should be 20 percent faster, how dedicated lanes will improve reliability and how signal prioritizing will make for a smoother ride. It’s a bare-bones article, but it gets the news out there. The free daily amNew York had a similarly brief item.

The article in The Times though seems to strive for a balance of news and reaction, but the reaction is only from the negative side. From the headline — which focuses on “Glitches and Grumbles” — to the analysis, Michael Grynbaum’s look at Day One of the Select Bus Service sounds skeptical. “Progress,” the article says, “particularly in the transportation realm, can have its fits and starts.” As Aaron Naparstek noted on Twitter, these fits and starts are “unlike, say, manned space flight or healthcare reform where major new initiatives are rolled out with immediate success.”

On the first day, as regular commuters were greeted by pre-boarding fare payment requirements and receipts serving as proof of payment, DOT workers and MTA bus drivers took the time to explain the new system, but those riding viewed that not as a public service but as an inconvenience. “It’s going to wreak havoc now with people not knowing,” Laurie Barnett said. “This is definitely slowing things down.”

Metro’s Carly Baldwin similarly highlighted those who dislike change to their commutes. “There’s no way this is going to work,” Nina Zoota said. “The way you get on is just a mess. You have to get an extra little piece of paper, it will go much less smoothly.” Joan Krieg added, “This is needlessly complicated! Thanks, MTA!”

In Grynbaum’s article, the second paragraph levies the strangest criticism toward whoever instituted this crazy new bus service. “When the system made its Manhattan debut on Sunday along First and Second Avenues, one of the city’s most congested corridors,” it says, “riders up and down the route displayed the telltale frowns of New Yorkers convinced that their government had wronged them yet again.” Considering the government is trying to right the wrongs of a painfully and often uselessly slow bus service, that’s an odd conclusion to draw from just one day of a new service.

But of course, it’s all about change. It’s about change to routines, change to commuting patterns and change to an old system. As Aaron Naparstek said, “There is absolutely nothing newsworthy about NYers frowning over a major change to their routine.” Whether the papers say so or not, Select Bus Service will be better than the local service it is replacing, and one day soon, the people who use it will find that they like it.

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Nabe News: October 11 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle October 11, 2010 - 1:02 pm

[…] apart the press for the M15 Select Bus Service, which began over the weekend [Second Avenue […]

Scott E October 11, 2010 - 1:11 pm

“Whether the papers say so or not, Select Bus Service will be better than the local service it is replacing…”

Problem is, it replaces Limited service, not Local service. As a commenter (I forget who) pointed out in a previous post, there are riders who don’t care if they get the local or Select bus (particularly in bad weather). Unless the local bus accepts the validation receipts used on the Select, riders will peer down the avenue looking for the flashing blue lights as an indication to dip their Metrocard before the bus arrives. (I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but I do have my doubts).

This said, I think the new curbside Metrocard vending machines will get plenty of use, particularly for those on the UES who take the crosstown buses to transfer to a subway.

BrooklynBus October 11, 2010 - 8:49 pm

I was the one who said that.

Mark Lyon October 12, 2010 - 2:12 pm

Unfortunately, those curbside Metrocard vending machines don’t actually sell Metrocards. Or take cash.

ferryboi October 11, 2010 - 1:21 pm

One has to wonder why the MTA did not just create a new route with a different route number. It would be much less confusing if the old M15 Limited became say the M17 or some other number, to differentiate between SBS and regular, local service.

Limited bus routes on Staten Island employ this system. For example, the S62 Victory Blvd local has a Limited version during rush hours labelled S92. Most other limited buses on SI use a similar numbering system (ie: Limited buses are all in the S90 series).

And as Scott noted above, what if I buy my SBS ticket ahead of time and then 2 or 3 local buses pass by? Can I still get on (I paid my fare after all) or do I have to wait for an SBS bus?

ajedrez October 11, 2010 - 2:39 pm

I actually dislike the system used in Staten Island because it makes it appear as if they are 2 seperate routes. For example, I once saw people turn down a S94 bus because they were waiting for the S44, except that the S44 didn’t run west of Jewett Avenue at that time, so the S94 was their only option, as they were west of Jewett Avenue.

I think that on all local/limited-stop buses, you are allowed an additional transfer between the local and limited (you are Definitely allowed to transfer once between the local and limited, but I don’t know if you can get an additional transfer to an intersecting bus)

By the way, the buses in the S80 series are also limited-stop buses (S81, S84, S86, S89)

ferryboi October 11, 2010 - 2:44 pm

Yes, I know, that’s why is said “most other limited buses” not “all limited buses.”

BrooklynBus October 11, 2010 - 8:57 pm

It would make no sense not to allow another transfer to an intersecting bus. How many people need to get on and off at a limited stop? I would think most would need to transfer to a local on one end or walk huge distances at least at one end of the trip. And don’t forget that the SBS stops are further apart than the limited stops.

I still think that the prime purpose of SBS is to reduce costs, not to help the passenger. That would have been the case if it supplemented not replaced the limited service which was the MTA’s initial plan in 2003 when SBS was first announced and still called BRT.

Mark Lyon October 11, 2010 - 1:23 pm

I was actually on the bus with the Metro reporter. I listened to her interviews.

What shocked me is that – even though they were paying OT to people to stand near the machines and tell people what to do – none of those people actually communicated the message to the people waiting. At every stop, the driver would turn away a crowd of people and tell them to get the paper receipt and then catch the next bus. One clever family had a child stand in the doorway so that we could not leave while they swiped their metrocards.

I left from 96 (which has been moved to 101, requiring people to walk through all of the construction) and got off at 14. There was a guy there who hadn’t swiped and gotten his receipt. I was a nice guy and gave him mine. It was still within the one hour limit.

It seems like a better fare collection method should be possible. Why not RFID cards and touch pads at every door? That’s what they do in China, and it works well. You swipe in and out. The system beeps to let everyone know you’ve paid. The paper receipts are a waste of paper, contain BPA, and it’s frustrating that all of these new machines can’t sell metrocards or accept cash.

Red October 11, 2010 - 4:28 pm

Re: RFID, well I think that’s probably in the MTA’s long-term plans. Walder is all about the “smart card.”

This is more of a “quick and dirty” pilot project to get fast, noticeable improvements in place.

Alon Levy October 12, 2010 - 1:17 am

First, RFID technologies are completely off-the-shelf nowadays. Sony and ERG will sell you a package; so will Philips/NXP. The reason New York hasn’t gotten one of those yet is that Walder insists on reinventing the wheel with PayPass.

Second, POP does not require RFID cards. It’s worked for decades in Germany and Switzerland with just paper tickets. The way it works there is that there are large discounts encouraging people to buy unlimited cards, which account for more than 70% of transactions; people in possession of an unlimited card can board the bus from any door, as if the fare were free, and only have to produce the card if there’s a fare inspection. Furthermore, unlike in New York, the fare inspections do not require the bus to stop on the side and delay everyone.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:18 pm

PayPass is also completely off-the-shelf. What isn’t off-the-shelf is integrating whatever technology is chosen into the existing transit infrastructure.

Unlimited cards here look exactly the same as other cards, and that isn’t going to change for the sake of two bus lines, especially with the MetroCard system on the way out the door.

John October 11, 2010 - 3:02 pm

People generally are wary of change, but I expect the ones who both live near a SBS stop and are going to a destination with a Select Bus Service stop will figure out and appreciate the changes pretty quickly. But the MTA still has to fix the problem of bus bunching on First and Second Avenues, or they’ll manage to tick off the riders not near SBS stops even more than now (especially if they’ve been waiting for 10 minutes in bad weather only to watch an SBS artic zoom past them and then see no other bus show up for another 5-10 minutes).

Streetsblog New York City » Select Bus Service Debuts on Manhattan’s Busiest Bus Route October 11, 2010 - 3:31 pm

[…] Ben Kabak pointed out on Second Avenue Sagas this morning, the “media moment” of a new bus service’s debut happens at the same […]

Matt October 11, 2010 - 5:33 pm

So what does happen if one of the ticketing machines runs out of paper and doesn’t give a receipt, as happened to one of the commuters in the Times article? This seems concerning to me. I don’t want to put my MetroCard in the machine and have the fare deducted, only to get no receipt because the machine is out of paper.

I’m all for modernizing and streamlining the bus system in the city, but I think you are a bit to quick to dismiss concerns here. Adding a receipt-based system on top of the already-existing MetroCard-based system does complicate things. And adding throwaway paper receipts into the mix seems prodigiously wasteful. We already see enough used MetroCard litter around subway stations. Now I suppose we will also find millions of discarded bus receipts cluttering up buses and bus stops.

If we really wanted a modernized transit system, it seems to me that we would be moving away from a paper-based system, not towards such a system.

BrooklynBus October 11, 2010 - 9:01 pm

Paying your fare and having the machine run out of paper reminds me when the subways had soda machines. Most of the time you would get the soda without the cup, and then you would just yell and curse.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:19 pm

Shouldn’t the machine detect when it’s out of paper and shut down until it’s refilled? (Don’t the machines in the subway detect when they’re out of paper and throw up a “no receipts” sign? Same idea.)

JAR October 11, 2010 - 11:06 pm

Agree with Matt: this is needlessly complicated.
Why couldn’t the MTA go with a subway-like process: you pay for the subway BEFORE you get on, you pay for SBS before you board.
Rig turnstiles to print those (wasteful) receipts, and put two at each SBS stop, along with a MetroCard machine. Pay before you board, JUST LIKE THE SUBWAY –> there’s your tagline!

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:20 pm

What’s the point of turnstiles if you can just walk around them?

Kevin Walsh October 12, 2010 - 1:12 pm

Crowds? Check. Late buses? Check. Same old stuff…


ferryboi October 12, 2010 - 1:28 pm

First non-holiday rush hour since SBS service implemented? Check. Kevin, give it a week or so before you get all snarky. You’re better than that.

Seth R October 12, 2010 - 4:27 pm

I’ve been reading this blog to keep up, but I still had a bad experience with the first day of select bus service:

I walked to the bus stop at Grand street, where the MTA assistant was standing and instructing the occasional rider. He said that the Select Bus Service was replacing the m15 limited(unprompted), so I asked him if it stopped at 8th street. He said yes, so I went to the machine and bought my ticket, no problems there. As the m15 local pulled up I began to walk to it, but he stopped me, saying I had paid for the select bus, and couldn’t use my receipt on the local.

I noticed he was holding maps in his hand, so I asked him for one, and was browsing while I waited for the select bus. When I noticed that the bus didn’t stop at 8th street, but only Houston and 14th, he said that he forgot that some stops from the limited were removed. As a result, he said I should just use my free transfer on the next local bus.

First impressions:
1) The staff has no idea what’s going on (not really a big deal, people will figure it out eventually)
2) No more express stop at 8th st., in a neighborhood which is already terribly underserved by subway (medium problem)
3) I can’t use my payment on whichever bus I want (big problem, people always take the local when an express is taking a while)

I’m sure they’ll work out the kinks, but the Times is right to start out skeptical.

Edward October 13, 2010 - 9:37 am

Why not just have riders pre-pay for ALL M15 service (SBS and local)? Riders can board any bus they choose, and boarding will be faster for both SBS and local riders. Having two separate fare systems for what amounts to the same bus line is just silly.

Alon Levy October 13, 2010 - 1:49 pm

Because POP on local buses was invented elsewhere.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:22 pm

No, because POP on local buses only works if machines are installed at every local stop.

Dan October 13, 2010 - 2:36 pm

There are a litany of reasons that this SBS scheme is asinine: 1) The machines require you to swipe a metrocard and do not accept cash, 2) the paper receipt increases waste, 3) the potential for the machine to run out of paper means passengers will potentially be held responsible for the MTA’s mistake — and will suffer a $100 fine as a result, 4) someone running to catch a bus — something most NYers think of as a right by this point — can no longer board the bus and pay their way, instead they will need to pre-pay and wait another 20, 25 minutes for the next bus… Geez. I could go on and on. Basically this is incredibly ill-conceived and I wish Bloomberg and Kahn would be forced to roll-back their efforts to socially engineer the city.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:26 pm

The machines accept the same fare payment options as the bus: MetroCard or coins.

If the machine runs out of paper, it should shut down.

Someone running to catch a train also has to pay before boarding.

The M15 doesn’t normally run on a 20-minute or 25-minute headway.

But you’re right. It was better the old way. I just love waiting at each stop for people to rummage through their pockets for nickels.

Video of the Day: Prepping for Select Bus Service :: Second Ave. Sagas October 13, 2010 - 3:19 pm

[…] at the 126th St. Bus Depot. Say what you will about Select Bus Service — and plenty of people already are — but the wrapping the blue flashing lights certainly give these buses the look of something […]

SBS as a microcosm for the MTA :: Second Ave. Sagas October 14, 2010 - 1:48 am

[…] the get-go, press coverage of the Select Bus Service has been, as I explored earlier this week, highly critical. Instead of examining the benefits of the new bus service, the press has focused only on the […]

JK October 28, 2010 - 1:57 pm

I tried to pay with coins at 2 separate locations this afternoon (nickels & dimes only). Both times, the machines accepted $2.00 worth of coins and then the slot shut & wouldn’t accept any more (the fare being $2.25). Luckily, my change was given back to me and I did have a metro card which I then used. So long to getting rid of loose change on an express bus! Guess I’ll have to ride the local for that.

Four months in, SBS service earns its praise :: Second Ave. Sagas January 19, 2011 - 12:31 pm

[…] come to terms with the changes to their painfully slow local bus routes, and the media found faults with the new service from Day […]


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