Home Buses SBS reaction as a microcosm for the MTA

SBS reaction as a microcosm for the MTA

by Benjamin Kabak

The Select Bus Service along 1st and 2nd Avenues has been in place for all four days, and already, East Siders are calling it a failure. Egged on by a media that seems to be rooting for failure, bus commuters along these two avenues have shown no patience for the new bus service. “This is awful,” Sarah Schneider said to Pete Donohue of the Daily News as she waited for the bus on Tuesday.

From 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 hiccups, and the public has picked up on the complaints as well. Someone had to wait a few extra minutes for a bus? They get a quote in the paper. Someone doesn’t understand how to pay before boarding? They get a quote in the paper. Someone thinks Select Bus Service is just too darn complicated? They get a quote in the paper.

Eventually, something has to give, and Mayor Bloomberg this week has lashed out at the media. “I’m sure there’s going to be confusion this morning,” he said to reporters. “I’m sure you’ll write a big exposé that it’s a total failure, and six months from now, you will never write the story that it’s the success that it’s going to be.”

The MTA, who went through similar growing pains before the Select Bus Service in the Bronx became a success, is going to wait out the storm. “There’s much room for improvement,” Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said on Tuesday. “This is our first full day of weekday service. We’re going to keep monitoring and adjusting this service every day until we bring it up to the level that we expect and our customers expect.”

There is but one problem though: The reaction to the Select Bus Service isn’t just your typical response to change from New Yorkers who like their routines. Rather, it is a reaction to the MTA today. The beleaguered authority has lost so much public credibility that it can’t just tell people it’s improving bus service; it has to show them instead. But when New Yorkers grow so apathetic toward transit, showing gets that much tougher.

The idea of Select Bus Service in New York City is not a new one. The plans for this bus network grew out of a series of meetings between transit advocates and local politicians in the early 2000s, and over a series of MTA heads and DOT commissioners, the current Select Bus Service plans were developed. This isn’t, as one critic on Second Ave. Sagas charged, something Jay Walder created.

Meanwhile, the East Side bus routes aren’t the first to enjoy the SBS upgrades. The Bx12 has been a part of the Select Bus Service pilot since mid-2008, and after lane enforcement issues and initial difficulties with the pre-boarding fare payment system, the SBS route has drastically improved bus service. Manhattanites should take a lesson, but they don’t. They didn’t attend the numerous planning meetings and community open houses; they didn’t absorb the news coverage of the bus changes; they didn’t listen to their elected politicians who openly championed improved bus service.

For the MTA, this is but another in a long line of public examples of distrust. When Jay Walder says he won’t cut service again before his term is out in 2015, no one believes him even though the MTA’s 2010 service cuts were the first in a generation. When the authority talks about bringing technology online or replacing the MetroCard, most people question the rationale for these decisions. If it isn’t broke, if the bus moves very slowly but still moves, why change a good thing?

The media of course is willing to pick up on it. It’s far more interesting to find the people who want to complain than those who noticed a ride to work on the M15 that was 20 minutes faster today than it was a week ago. Yet, the MTA hasn’t earned public trust, and the customers doubt this seemingly top-heavy authority can deliver the goods. Until the agency starts showing instead of telling, it will, for better or worse, be left with a credibility gap perpetuated by politicians looking for brownie points and reporters looking to move copies of the paper. That’s life in the age of MTA skepticism.

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Alon Levy October 14, 2010 - 2:40 am

The problem is not about the MTA’s credibility, negativity, or a painful transition. It’s about a bug in SBS that the MTA considers to be a feature: namely, it forces passengers to decide early whether to wait for the local or limited bus, reducing frequency. For a bus route, high frequency is critical, sometimes more so than speed.

Of course, that there would be serious problems was entirely predictable. If those Upper East Siders have a problem with the bus now, wait until they see the bus stop for a fare inspection. You don’t need to be familiar with how buses work in cities whose transit agencies are competent to be frustrated with lower frequencies or with 5-minute holdovers for fare inspections.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 10:53 pm

I finally got a chance to ride the bus today, and it looks like that bug has been undone. I overheard the MTA employee at my stop tell someone that SBS receipts are now being accepted on regular buses.

I also saw a fare inspection in action. I think it was at either 86th or 96th – a group of inspectors was waiting outside the bus. The checked the tickets of people getting off, and then they got on and checked everybody else’s ticket as the bus continued uptown. The total delay was probably about 15 seconds. You can’t believe everything you read on a blog!

Alon Levy October 15, 2010 - 1:58 pm

Stop it, I didn’t read it on a blog. I asked a friend who rides the Bx12, and she confirmed.

If you’re trying to sell the MTA as an organization run by people with a quarter of a brain, you probably shouldn’t say that they get the fare inspections right on the Upper East Side and wrong in the Bronx. Just sayin’.

Scott E October 14, 2010 - 8:22 am

I think you’re right about the media response. If the Second Ave Subway miraculously opened tomorrow, I’m sure we’d see articles in Saturday’s paper filled with complaints regarding the noise from the train as it rounds the curve to 63rd Street, about the long descent from the street to the 86th Street Station, or from the passenger who was instructed to “Swipe Card Again at this Turnstile.” It’s a no-win.

Bolwerk October 14, 2010 - 3:19 pm

At some level, it is. However, sending people several stories underground to access a local two-track island platform isn’t exactly excusable either.

I’m glad to see the SAS will at least be partly completed, but it’s kind of frustrating to think about the inevitable: it’s one day going to be very busy, especially if extended to an outer borough, and it won’t be easy to add an express track. I’m sure the Third Avenue Subway and First Avenue Subway will have similar limitations.

Things have gotten better in the past 15 years, but we’ve still not found our way back to being able to build enviable services. We’ve only managed slight improvements on top of what our ancestors did, and that’s on top of all the planning and transportation screw-ups we’ve mindlessly continued to make since the Moses era.

Scott E October 15, 2010 - 9:39 am

I wouldn’t call a deep station inexcusable. There are an number of factors at play. It has to do with the topography (86th St, at street level, sits much higher than 96th St), utilities (a giant steam-pipe runs down the center of 2nd Ave), required connections (63rd St/Lex, which is very deep), drainage (the tunnels are sloped to run water in a given direction to avoid ponding, track grade (steep ascents/descents are not good for train maintenance, schedule maintenance, or safety), obstacles (the 63rd St and East Side Access tunnels), TBM constructability (hard rock vs. soft soil), etc. The water-table is quite high as you get closer to the East River, so embedding the tunnel in bedrock makes the finished project less prone to leaks.

See the profile on the second page of this PDF.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines October 14, 2010 - 9:05 am

[…] Is the MTA Blame Game Rubbing Off on Select Bus Service? (SAS) […]

Edward October 14, 2010 - 9:14 am

I’m usually willing to give the MTA the benefit of the doubt when new service patterns emerge. After witnessing for three business days the absolute confusion and failure of this system, however, I must say it’s not being handled very well.

I’ve seen tons of people run for a bus at 42nd and Second only to be turned away because they don’t have the SBS receipt. Then the one guy they have posted at the bus stop explains to a crowd of a dozen riders what to do. They diligently dip their MetroCard and get their receipt just in time for a half-empty SBS bus to pull away. And then…nothing. No bus, local or SBS, for upwards of 15-20 mins. If a local bus does come, these riders are now told they can’t get on.

What exactly is the upside to this? Riders miss their bus even though they have a fully funcitoning MetroCard, then have to queue up to dip their card, only to wait another 15 mins for a bus that they can’t board because they already pre-paid, but not for a local bus? It’s confusing as all hell.

Why not just have ALL rider pre-pay for M15 service at major bus stops like 42nd or Houston Sts? Then the rider can have a choice of SBS or local, and boarding on local buses will be faster than the old system? Local riders at intermediate stops can dip the card as they always do. Makes much more sense then the current system.

JAzumah October 14, 2010 - 9:54 am

“Why not just have ALL rider pre-pay for M15 service at major bus stops like 42nd or Houston Sts?”

Exactly. You could also have the SBS folks hand the driver the receipt. You could also program the receipt on the paper card stocks that the Single Ride cards uses.

Chris G October 14, 2010 - 10:05 am

It may be just me, but isnt the “Oyster Card” coming to the MTA in time going to solve all these prepay or not prepay issues? Isn’t this a temporary problem?

Don’t get me wrong. Its stupid to be locked out of buses because you prepaid. Hand over the receipt to the driver or let him inspect it when you board a local and be done with it. But I don’t see this as a long term problem.

Alon Levy October 14, 2010 - 2:45 pm

No, it’s not a temporary problem. Smartcards make POP easier to implement, but they do not make it happen and are not necessary for it to happen. The MTA has no plans to implement systemwide POP on the local buses, or to equip local buses with card readers at every door to allow all-door boarding.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:49 pm

How on earth do you know? (And why do you think those decisions have even been made yet?)

Alon Levy October 15, 2010 - 1:59 pm

Because Walder has said nothing about it.

John October 14, 2010 - 9:21 am

The interesting thing about the early stories is that reading them, you’d never know the SBS service runs up First Avenue — all the focus has been on the bus running down Second Avenue, as if nobody takes the M15 uptown to go to work in the morning.

For whatever reason, bus bunching’s always been a bigger problem on the M15 going down Second Avenue than up First Avenue, which is something the MTA is going to have to deal with if they’re going to make the SBS program a success. But with all the construction on upper Second Avenue affecting the dedicated bus lanes and traffic in general, you’d think one story would focus on people getting on the bus between South Ferry and 14th Street and see how well the system works on First Avenue, headed to midtown and uptown.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 9:32 am

Another noticable problem. The SBS bus looks very much like regular, local buses, with only a wavy blue graphic wrapped on the side. On top of this, I’ve seen SBS buses in LOCAL service without the flashing blue lights on the destination sign.

MTA should take a cue from Los Angeles, where “Rapid” buses are a completely different color (fire engine red) than regualar local buses (orange). The Rapid also has a different bus stop, often right next to a local stop but with a big, red “Rapid” sign and schedule. The SBS 15 bus stop signs are almost the exact same height and color as regualar M15 signs, except the SBS has a little blue “wave” on it. That’s it.

I know NYers can be a bit obtuse about noticing changes in their routine, especially when it concerns buses and subways. But the MTA has shown absolutely no imagination or concern for the rider with this new system. It may work OK in the Bronx, where there are a lot less riders and those that are riding are the same passengers every day. No tourists, no business visitors, just the same regular commuters who can get used to the system quickly. There will ALWAYS be new riders on the M15 and these folks will be confused precisely because it’s a very confusing system.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:03 pm

I didn’t see a single SBS bus in local service today. Did you see that this week? Before this week, the SBS buses were already wrapped and were running in regular M15 service, both limited and local.

Kid Twist October 14, 2010 - 9:36 am

It’s not the media’s job to promote SBS.

Heoh October 14, 2010 - 9:46 am

Ditto. In fact, history has shown that change and improvements happen quicker when the media is there to point out the bad, especially in a public agency like the MTA. Better having the MTA people panicing from all the bad press than having them patting themselves in the back and sitting tight even if there are improvements to be made.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 9:56 am

Would be interesting to know if the media ever spoke to the MTA about how exactly they came up with this system.

Did the MTA speak to M15 riders? Did they think that, since it works OK in the Bronx, that it would work on the busiest bus line in the whole country? Did they ask riders if a big, blue and white bus with a wavy graphic (SBS) that looks similar to a big, blue and white bus WITHOUT a wave graphic (local) would be confusing? Did the media ask the MTA why they thought it was a good idea to keep the same route number (M15) for what amounts to two very different bus lines?

How about the MTA change the big, blue wavy graphic to a big, green wavy graphic and change the route number to M150-SELECT or M99-SELECT or some other name to differentiate it from regular M15 service? Absolutely no imagination at all, and they wonder why folks are confused.

Alon Levy October 14, 2010 - 2:47 pm

You’re right, but I have one nitpick: the B46 has recently overtaken the M15 as the busiest bus line. The M15 is now a close second.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 3:35 pm

And what the hell does “Select” mean exactly? Is this a first-class, high-end bus line with cushy seats and chandeliers? Or do they mean I have to “Select” between riding a slow, local bus or riding an even slower, limited bus?

What about “Rapid” service or “Comet” or “Zephyr” or something that says “speed.” Select sounds like the teller line at Chase Bank for those big-bucks customers. Another BS marketing idea that the MTA probably paid $200K for.

Alon Levy October 14, 2010 - 3:58 pm

If the MTA only paid $200k, I’ll be surprised.

I don’t have a problem with the name. Out of SBS’s problems, the branding is the least important. I’d much rather have bus lanes put where needed and POP done like in developed countries, rather than a nice brand with bus lanes bundled with unrelated improvements and POP that’s a joke.

JJ October 14, 2010 - 9:56 pm

Yes, in fact, because it works well for us in the Bronx, I would think it’d work well for you Manhattanites too. It took me a few trips on the Bx12 line to figure out the system, but hey, it also took me a few trips to figure out the subway system when I moved here as well. While I agree that there are lots of areas for improvement (as brought up by other commenters), in the meantime, you might have to resign yourself to actually learning something new (the horror, I know). The system works really darn well after learning the ins and outs in a trip or two.

Also — the M15, B46 and Bx12 all have nearly identical ridership, so arguing about ridership differences is a nonstarter.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 11:37 pm

Not really when you consider they run along completely different routes. No way you can compare traffic on Pelham Pkway with Second Ave, especially near subway construction and in midtown. The traffic in Manhattan is 5x worse than Pelham Pkway. On top of this, you have a completely different set of riders. No tourists asking tons of questions, no business people from out-of-town trying to pay their fare with dollar bills, etc. Just because the number of riders are similar does not mean they travel along similar routes. So much for nonstarter.

Benjamin Kabak October 14, 2010 - 11:38 pm

How many tourists and business people from out-of-town take the bus anyway? Not that many really. Plus, the buses aren’t catered toward out-of-towners. The upgrades and changes are for everyday riders, and I’d have to believe that if tourists and out-of-towners can figure out how to get to New York, they can figure out a pre-boarding fare payment system.

Bolwerk October 15, 2010 - 2:44 am

If you’re wrong, medium and even some large European cities must be meccas of confusion!

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:46 pm

It’s New Yorkers who are confused by a change in the New York routine. Tourists don’t know how any of the buses work, so why would they be confused if they happen to ride the one that works differently?

When somebody tries to use a dollar bill on a regular bus, everybody on the bus has to wait while the driver explains the fare payment system. When somebody tries to use a dollar bill on SBS, nobody’s delayed, and the errant tourist either figures out that dollar bills aren’t accepted or gives up in frustration.

Edward October 15, 2010 - 12:00 am

Ben/Andrew: have either of you been watching what’s going on along First/Second Aves this week. I’ve spent a lot of time each afternoon watching this whole process at 42/Second, and everything I’ve mentioned has occurred with alarming frequency.

Old folks are absolutely dumbfounded, tourists dragging luggage and 3 kids, and yes, even seasoned NYers are just not getting why they have to pre-pay to board one bus but not any other in all of Manhattan, especially when it’s the SAME BUS LINE.

My point is that the M15 local and M15 Select look almost like the same bus. In Midtown Manhattan there are tons of tourists and natives who can barely figure out how to dip their MetroCard. Now the MTA is telling them they can’t dip on this one particular bus, even though it looks like any other bus in the system (blinking blue light aside, which can’t even be seen when boarding from behind).

I’m willing to concede this is the first week, and many riders will reluctantly get used to it. But unless the MTA addresses the whole pre-pay system and marks the Select buses more clearly, the advantages of a dedicated bus lane will be limited (no pun intended) if even a few riders hold up service because they can’t tell which bus they need to get on.

Andrew October 15, 2010 - 7:12 am

I was out there yesterday. There’s lots of confusion – as one might expect the first week of a major change like this. Of course seasoned New Yorkers are confused – seasoned New Yorkers think they know how to pay the bus fare, and they’re suddenly being told that on one line they don’t.

The local and Select look a lot less alike than the old local and limited, and people didn’t get those mixed up (or if they did, they missed their stop). I really don’t see the problem. The front, side, and rear signs all indicate that the Select bus is a Select bus. And most people wait for the bus (while they pay their fare).

If there’s still massive confusion in a month or two, then there’s a problem.

Benjamin Kabak October 14, 2010 - 10:26 am

I’m not alleging that the media shouldn’t point out the problems, but would you say that the media is supposed to report on changes and that their reporting should inform and educate the public? That’s long been my understanding of the media’s role in American democracy (and coincidentally the topic on which I wrote my undergrad political science thesis).

BrooklynBus October 14, 2010 - 11:35 am

The media’s job is to tell the “news” (what’s new) and that is what they are doing. It is not their job to focus on what will be or what should be, but what IS. Of course, they also should report on what is intended and I believe they have also been doing that but to a lesser extent. Your focus has been more on what should be, and you have that right.

What bothers me is that no matter how this turns out, success or not, the MTA and DOT will manipulate the statistics to show that it is a success. If people will believe them or not will depend on their own experiences with SBS. I cite the turning of Broadway into a pedestrian plaza as an example. While it is great for the pedestrians and bikers and traffic doesn’t look bad between Herald Square and Times Square, look at Seventh Avenue between 57th Street and 46th Street. When I was there, it was a standstill as was all Crosstown traffic including 49th and 50th Streets (“thru streets). Also, I haven’t seen any statistics for what has happened to traffic outside of the immediate area, 9th, 10th and 11th Avenue. All DOT has focused on was the immediate area where the lanes have closed and declared it a success. It took the MTA to point out that bus speeds have slowed.

Back to SBS, I only have two comments in addition to the excellent ones already mentioned since I have not seen the system myself . Drivers on the regular route should accept the pre-paid receipts if the SBS is delayed. The MTA is probably trying to figure out a way to do this without messing up their statistics. Perhaps, if the drivers record it as a bypass, the MTA would know how many paid for SBS but did not use it.

Also, you state that the MTA has not cut service in a generation. Where did you get that from? The MTA has continually been cutting service since they were formed, except after MetroCard Gold was introduced which allowed free transfers between buses and trains and reversed the downward trend in bus usage. Routine adjustments are made every three months. While a few lines see increases in service, most see reductions. Of course, we have never seen before cutbacks on the scale made this year which equalled 10 years of cutbacks all at once. Not all the cuts are visible. The MTA has quietly eliminated most partial trips on their run ons and offs, making them “Not in Service” Where I live, in the mornings, there are usually 6 not in service buses to every one that is in service. Those trips previously carried passengers. It is understandable if another bus is scheduled in a minute or two, but not when a not in service bus passing results in waiting another 10 or 15 minutes for a bus.

Does it make sense to operate buses not in service at 4:30 in the morning from 132 Street to Greenwich Village on local streets? How much time is saved during that time of the night. Shouldn’t those buses stop to pick up the few riders that may be riding then when there are hourly headways? The problem as you’ve stated is that customer service is not a priority. The MTA is more concerned with the pennies they are saving with such practices.

Benjamin Kabak October 14, 2010 - 11:42 am

I can’t speak to the bus cuts with any reporting to back up this idea, but here’s my speculation: I’ve seen your numerous complaints about out-of-service buses running past stops where people are waiting. I’ve rarely seen this in practice outside of buses clearly labeled as training vehicles, but I don’t often wait for the bus. I usually take the bus if it’s there or visible, and otherwise, I’ll walk.

That said, have you asked if these out-of-service buses are related to work rules? A bus that makes stops and picks up passengers is considered a different kind of work than a bus that’s out of service and heading to the terminal. If the union’s work rules don’t allow for drivers who are taking buses out of service to make stops, then Transit can’t do much about it without cooperation from its drivers, right?

I’d think of it as akin to the empty R trains you’ll see being taken out of service at City Hall during the post-rush hour times. Sure, you’d want to see those trains making stops, but you have to take them out of service at some time, and the work rules vary. That’s just an idea though.

BrooklynBus October 14, 2010 - 12:03 pm

This has nothing to do with work rules. I’ve had numerous discussions with Howard Roberts on this subject through a series letters back and forth. He stated unequivocally that this is being done to purely to save money. He stated that the minutes saved allows them to provide more service where there is greater demand. He didn’t convince me.

One problem is that the MTA has no idea how, why and when people use buses. As you’ve stated, you only take a bus if you see one coming. I am the same way. I would also suggest that up to 25% of the passengers behave this way. (Of course this figure varies if you are in midtown or outer Queens). On the other hand, The MTA believes their ridership is fixed. That people will wait as long as necessary for a bus and additional service will not attract new riders. This is just wrong. Also, their decision to run buses without passengers is also based the when the next scheduled bus will arrive. They may feel another one is due in five minutes, so the people can wait. In actuality, people may have to wait another 15 minutes. That they do not consider.

I also want to add that you’ve made an interesting observation that many people just don’t want change (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) In 1981, as the head of Bus Planning any change I tried to make even to cut service was resisted by Surface Transportation. Those were their exact words. “If it ain’t broke why fix it.” The only changes they were willing to make were to eliminate conditions where safety was involved that people were complaining about.

BrooklynBus October 14, 2010 - 12:09 pm

I shouldn’t have said it has nothing to do with work rules. They just don’t apply in this case. Regarding work rules, MaBSTOA’s work rules were more liberal than TA work rules which permit drivers to carry passengers on their final trip as long as the bus is on the route it is operating on. MabSTOA allowed its drivers to carry the passengers all the way to the depot even if this involved the bus going off its route to access the depot.

ajedrez October 14, 2010 - 9:05 pm

Agreed completely. I see plenty of “Out of Service” buses making a trip halfway across Staten Island, bypassing stops full of people.
I also agree that there ridership depends on the frequency of the route (as well as how accessable it is). In Manhattan, frequency matters because of the low travel speeds, and in the outer boroughs, it matters because cars are faster, so there are plenty of people who make their decision to commute by car or public transportation based on how frequent the service is.
Of course, for some routes that run infrequently, adding more buses won’t make the route any more cost-efficient (it will attract additional passengers, but the increased revenue won‘t offset the increased cost), but if buses that are passing by are running along the same street as a bus route, there is no reason why they shouldn’t pick up passengers.
Also, they haven’t considered what can happen on overcrowded routes-the increased number of passengers boarding the bus will slow it down as the bus driver tells everybody to move back and make room, so, even if they aren’t interested in additional revenue, there are still cost savings to be realized as a result of having “”Out of Service”” buses make stops.

BrooklynBus October 15, 2010 - 10:42 am

You are so correct. Schedules only take traffic into consideration, not additional loading times when the buses are overcrowded.

This is the problem in a nutshell. The Budget people dictate the amount of service that should be provided by determining how much can be spent. Some of them never rode a bus in their life. They take out their calculators and compute a bus can save 5 minutes by not picking up passengers. They translate this into hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings per year. They look at the schedule and determine that another bus is due in 5 or 10 minutes, within the planning guidelines. Conclusion– The bus should operate not in service.

In actuality, the bus often arrives not in 5 or 10 minutes, but in 10 or 20 minutes. The 5 minutes that the bus saves by not stopping is lost by the next bus that must make more frequent stops to pick up the passengers bypassed by the not in service bus, so the “savings” really exist only on paper and people are often stuck in the cold and rain for no logical reason.

Similarly, often schedules are too lean because they look better on paper. This causes drivers to speed to save time and bypass people who are waiting for the bus although there is room on the bus, and service gets totally screwed up.

I’ve had several overcrowded buses pass me by only to be followed by a not in service bus going to where I want to go but not stopping, followed by more overcrowded buses not stopping. This would never happen if the Budget people knew what was actually happening in the real world. It totally makes no sense at all.

By being so concerned with saving pennies on paper, the MTA forgets why it exists at all, to serve the passenger. Operations and Planning need a greater say. Right now , Budget overrules them both. The prime reason for SBS is to reduce operating costs (because SBS has fewer stops than the Limited it replaced). Helping the passenger is only secondary.

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 7:20 pm

look at Seventh Avenue between 57th Street and 46th Street.

Based on my knowledge of traffic, I would guess this is due to the interruption in the street grid caused by Central Park.

The natural solution is to rearrange 59th St. from Columbus Circle to 7th Avenue to funnel traffic from the north into 7th Ave, along a street with no crosstown function west of that point. Has Columbus Circle been rearranged with “roundabout rules” (yield to traffic in circle) yet?

petey October 14, 2010 - 12:11 pm

my mother, an elderly east sider, doesn’t like it. she focused on: you have to pay ahead of time, and those who are hard of seeing (like the mother) or shaky of hand won’t be able to deal.

VLM October 14, 2010 - 12:13 pm

If she can figure out how to get her MetroCard into the slot on local buses, I think she’ll be able to figure out pre-board fare payment, no? I realize that sounds unsympathetic to the concerns of the elderly, but come on.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 12:24 pm

Not exactly VLM. The kiosks at street level are much higher up than fareboxes on buses.

If you’re a 75-yr-old woman who is 5’4″ tall, that could make a big difference. And how are most 75-yr-olds supposed to tell the difference between a SBS bus and a regualar bus from two blocks away? Then be quick enough to run to the kiosk, get on line, dip her card, and then catch the SBS before it leaves? Or, if she buys her SBS ride beforehand, is she supposed to let 2 or 3 local buses pass by in the middle of the winter waiting for the SBS?

Badly planned all the way around, no doubt about it.

VLM October 14, 2010 - 12:26 pm

I live and work in the Bronx. I ride the SBS Bx12 frequently, and I see numerous old ladies who have figured out the pre-boarding system. If it can work in the Bronx, it can work in Manhattan.

It might not be a perfect system, as Ben and numerous commenters have explored, but these doom-and-gloom statements about it are utterly overblown.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 1:28 pm

Have you been on the M15 this week? It’s a total clusterfuck, never mind doom-and-gloom.

You can’t compare ridership on the Bx12 with the M15, they are two totally different animals. And I say again, riders on the Bx12 (including old ladies) are the same riders every day. There are no tourists and other out-of-towners to clog up the system because they aren’t well-versed with the SBS’s very confusing system. On top of that, the Bx12 doesn’t have nearly as much bus-bunching as the M15, so it’s pretty clear to differentiate between local and SBS service; not so on the M15 when three buses show up at once, all similarly attired in blue and white, and two buses are at the curb and the other in a regular lane of traffic. What the hell bus should a rider get on? Do I need a receipt? What if all three are local, can I still get on? I paid for my ride, didn’t I? Way to confusing all the way around.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 10:58 pm

It’s pretty easy to tell them apart. The SBS bus has bright blue blinking lights. The regular bus doesn’t.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 11:44 pm

So tourists, riders unfamiliar with SBS, old folks, riders who don’t speak English, etc will automatically know that the M15 Select is a bus you have to pre-pay to board because there are exactly two blinking blue lights near the destination sign? You know that, I know that, but it’s not exactly intuitive to many, many riders that two lousy blinking lights means it’s an SBS-Limited bus that you have to pre-pay to board.

How about an entirely red or green colored bus with a unique route number that has big graphics on the side that read “MUST PRE-PAY TO BOARD” in English and Spanish? Not terribly absurd idea if you consider the MTA paid all that money to wrap buses with big “SBS-SELECT” signs on them. WTF does SBS-SELECT mean to anyone who doesn’t follow the MTA’s weird naming system, or is not a transit geek like most of us on this web blog?

petey October 14, 2010 - 5:43 pm

“If you’re a 75-yr-old woman who is 5’4? tall, that could make a big difference.”

indeed it could. and she’s more than 75 and less than 5’4″. people with poor vision work in part by feel, so finding your way around a new scheme is a considerable issue.

i like the concept, mind, but she raised valid points.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 10:58 pm

SBS is optional. The local is still running. Anybody who doesn’t want to use the SBS system can still use the local.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 11:48 pm

SBS is NOT optional if you already pre-paid to board. And if you hedge your bets and wait to see what comes first (SBS or local), then you get stuck on line with 10 other riders trying to get a receipt from the machine. I’ve seen tons of people do this, and end up getting a receipt just as a half-empty SBS bus pulls away, then having to wait 10-15 mins for another SBS (or two) to come along.

SBS = good idea, badly executed.

Andrew October 14, 2010 - 11:54 pm

I was responding to petey’s comment. He said that “those who are hard of seeing … or shaky of hand” would have difficulty dealing with the SBS payment system. So how would they end up prepaying if they can’t deal with the prepayment system?

Did you see my 10:53 pm comment? (Scroll up.) Was my MTA employee misinformed?

Edward October 15, 2010 - 12:09 am

Still don’t get your point. Are you saying old folks or any other rider who can’t figure out the SBS pre-pay system, or who are too rushed to purchase a receipt, should just hop on the local?

Andrew October 15, 2010 - 7:13 am

I’m saying that anybody who is not able or inclined to figure out the new system can still use the old system on the local. Nobody’s being stranded.

Hank October 15, 2010 - 12:05 pm

Not so much so. If you have a pass and are not paying per ride (like most NYCers), you just get the SBS receipt and, when the local comes first, hop on that one and put your card in like always. Not a real hassle, unless you are paying per ride

Alon Levy October 15, 2010 - 2:04 pm

The local has half the frequency of the combined system.

Hank October 14, 2010 - 3:02 pm

As a person who commutes daily on the M15, I love the SBS so far. Yes we need more lane enforcement (ban delivery trucks @ rush hour!) but it’s great. For the first time, it’s actually faster for me to catch the bus than it is to schlep all the way to Lex for a ride on the subway sausage-maker.

AlexB October 14, 2010 - 3:46 pm

I rode the new SBS twice so far. Both times, I was not particularly impressed, but I attributed it to a learning curve on behalf of riders and the MTA. The second time I rode it was at about 10:05 am. The lane stops being bus only at 10:00 am. The vans and trucks wasted no time taking over the lane. I was stuck in traffic from 57th to 29th. The bus waited forever at each stop for people on cell phones to get off the bus and get the receipt. I was also very surprised there was no huge sign anywhere on the bus stop and the bus itself explaining everything. You’d think a sign reading: “Do not board bus without getting receipt from kiosk” in huge letters would be the first thing they would put up. The instructions on the receipt kiosk itself were at the bottom, in smallish print, not exactly in your field of view.

I think better signage and a protected lane from 7 am to 8 pm would make this much better. Why shouldn’t I be able to move as fast at 1 pm as I can at 4 pm? It’s not like traffic let’s up during the middle of the day or people on buses stop having to be somewhere on time. If someone who can read English doesn’t immediately understand how the system works within 20 feet of the bus stop, the signage isn’t adequate.

Alon Levy October 14, 2010 - 4:01 pm

Can other people confirm that the bus lanes opens to cars at 10? If so, it’s major fail on the city’s part.

AlexB October 14, 2010 - 4:25 pm

It says very clearly on the sign hanging over the lane: bus only 7 am – 10 am, 2 pm – 7 pm.

Edward October 14, 2010 - 4:37 pm

My guess is, in a city with zero alleys and hardly any loading docks, the space is needed for stores and apt bldgs for loadiing and unloading of trucks. While transit is important, people also need groceries, foodstuffs, and to park moving vans. Not an ideal system, but there you have it.

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 7:23 pm

Here’s a radical idea: require all loading and unloading to be on cross streets, which are much more closely spaced.

ferryboi October 17, 2010 - 8:42 am

Cross streets are two lanes wide, compared to avenues which are usually four or five lines wide. If you’ve ever driven/walked on cross streets, you know that one car can block a whole street, never mind a delivery van or tractor trailer.

Alon Levy October 14, 2010 - 6:30 pm

Haven’t lived in the area in 2.5 months, so I wouldn’t know.

AlexB October 14, 2010 - 4:56 pm

I have some other issues about stop locations:
– Main problem is that the physical locations of the bus stops are often different from the name of the station. For example, the 23rd st northbound station is actually halfway between 24th and 25th st. I heard someone on the bus say the 86th st stop is actually at 88th St. I don’t mind too much that they slid the stops down to not interfere with the existing bus stops, but there should be indication of actual locations. It just makes things that much more inconvenient and confusing.
– Why a 29th St stop, but no 72nd St stop?
– I live in Astoria and locating the 57th St stop at 58th or 59th would have made the transfer from the subway exit at 60th and 3rd Ave more convenient.
– I noticed the northbound stop at Houston IS indicated as being on 2nd St. If you are transferring from the F, I don’t see why it can’t be at 1st St. I mean, if you get the chance to design a brand new bus line and reconfigure the whole street, do it right.

Mark October 17, 2010 - 12:19 pm

Yeah. 96th is actually at 101st and requires walking through the fscking construction.

SEAN October 14, 2010 - 5:40 pm

On a recent trip to Las Vegas I road there version of BRT called ACE. ACE opperates on the Strip for part of it’s run, but also serves the convention center & downtown.

Service began in March, but a few bugs remain. With ACE you prepay & enter any door once your pass is inspected, however with the DUCE the local Strip bus, you pay as you board.

The level of confusion was incredible. Sounds similar to the issues with this select bus route.

Edward October 15, 2010 - 12:38 am

Much confusion could have been eliminated if the MTA just put fare boxes near front, back and middle doors of ALL buses in NYC. The fare boxes could spit out receipts and then inspectors can randomly check who paid and who didn’t. No pre-paying before boarding, and all those machines on the sidewalks could be put right on the buses (smaller versions, of course). If not all buses in NYC, then just on the M15 limited and local versions, in conjunction with dedicated bus lanes. Much easier than the present system, which is just too confusing for a good chunk of riders.

Andrew October 15, 2010 - 7:16 am

But that defeats the purpose. The whole purpose of prepayment is to divorce the payment step from the boarding step, so the bus doesn’t have to wait at the stop while a long line of people (or three long lines of people) pay their fares. Yes, that means that if you’re rummaging through your pockets trying to find the MetroCard that isn’t empty, you may miss a bus or two. (Kind of like on the subway.) Better that than holding up the entire bus.

Alon Levy October 15, 2010 - 2:03 pm

The bus can move while people are still rummaging through their pockets… but that assumes the MTA has heard of places like Singapore.

Roseha October 19, 2010 - 11:50 pm

I’ve taken the SBS twice, once last week, Thurs around 1 PM, and today at 1PM. Both times I made it from 42nd Street to Wall Street in no more than half an hour, which was great. However, they have to run the entire route every day or it’s useless! On Friday the 15th I waited some 15 minutes for a bus and then 2 SBS buses pulled up, one going only to Houston and one only to 14th Street. What? I ended up walking to the subway. At least my card gave me a transfer.

The driver claimed no SBS buses were going beyond Houston that day…but the local buses were! MTA, let’s do this right.

Four months in, SBS service earns its praise :: Second Ave. Sagas January 19, 2011 - 11:51 am

[…] 1st and 2nd Avenues in early October, it had a rocky beginning especially in the press. East Siders couldn’t come to terms with the changes to their painfully slow local bus routes, and the media found faults with the new […]


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