Home Buses Lappin: M15 Select Bus Service garners a B-

Lappin: M15 Select Bus Service garners a B-

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the last few years, the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation have worked to make our city streets more bus-friendly. Left twisting in the winds of surface traffic, the current fleet is known more for the shleppiness of rides and for cross-Manhattan trips, being slower than walking. Select Bus Service — the city’s cross between bus rapid transit and glorified express service — has been designed to combat that stigma, and just five months after its first Manhattan implementation along 1st and 2nd Aves., Select Bus Service garnering both praise and criticism from the city’s politicians.

From the get-go, forces lined up against Select Bus Service in Manhattan. Due to the demands of drivers as well as construction work around the Second Ave. Subway area, DOT opted against the gold standard of bus rapid transit: There are no physically separated lanes. Instead, the city can enforce bus lanes through camera-based ticketing systems, and for parts of the route, buses do not even enjoy those bus-only lanes. Meanwhile, pre-board fare payment has come to the city as well, but as machines are often out of paper and enforcement has been cumbersome, paying before boarding hasn’t delivered the promised panacea of speedy buses. Things are faster, but they’re not yet fast.

Yesterday, City Council member Jessica Lappin, who represent’s Manhattan’s 5th District, unveiled a Select Bus Service report card, and she gave the new, speedier a B- after just four months of service. Lappin has been one of the more vocal proponents of faster bus service, but she also must balance that support with a community loath to surrender any parking spaces or curbside vehicle access. It shows in her assessment.

Lappin, who said there was “no excuse” for the service to receive anything less than an A, thankfully hasn’t given up hope after four months. “I am proud to have worked with activists and other elected officials to bring this service to the East Side and I still believe it can be a great thing for our community. but we aren’t there yet,” she said on Monday. “In some ways, the new service is working well, but other areas still need improvement.”

So what’s working well? Lappin, who solicited reactions from her constituents that ran the full gamut of “miserable” to “disgraceful” to “appalling,” highlighted speed as the main benefit. The buses have improved travel times by nearly 20 percent, and for that, everyone along 1st and 2nd Aves. is thrilled.

But Lappin dwelled on the negative as politicians are wont to do. The buses, she claims, are not accessible enough and earned a meager C- here. By her count, 56 percent of seats are not accessible for the elderly or handicapped because they are up a set of steps on the bus, and stations that are half a mile apart are not easily reached by those who cannot walk. To me, this is a strange thing to nitpick. Nearly all new buses have sections that aren’t accessible, and the SBS vehicles have low floors for easier boarding. As the MTA said, these buses are no less accessible than any others, and those who find the station spacing too great can still take local M15s.

The Council member also highlighted problems with fare collection. As I’ve detailed before, passengers left without proof-of-payment receipts have been ticketed aggressively and, shockingly, do not find the fine a welcome one. Some have complained that the MetroCard readers run out of paper, and although the MTA claims those machines are empty only 2-5 percent of the time, Lappin found that 10 percent of machines in her district were out of service. Thus, she gave this component a C. Meanwhile, enforcement efforts, which earned a B, cause buses to idle while cops check tickets, and thus, it slows down the service.

I’m honestly having a tough time wrapping my head around the East Side assessment of the Select Bus Service simply because Lappin readily admits that its significantly faster than the M15 local service. The point of SBS isn’t to stop every two blocks; it’s to offer speedier trips for those in a position to take advantage of it. Right now, politicians should be focusing on securing dedicated lanes, signal priority for buses and better bus lane enforcement. That is how a city can build a better bus service.

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BoerumHillScott February 8, 2011 - 8:22 am

I have not personally used the service, but from what I have read I think an overall grade of B or B- is fair.

The accessibility comments are pure B.S. Many modern bus, light rail, and BRT systems across the country make use of low floor vehicles with raised sections.

It seems like there is still a disconnect with the paper ticket system that could probably be resolved with a combination of better signage and proactive maintenance/re-stocking.

Better dedicated lanes and signal priority should be implemented ASAP – that alone would be enough to get the grade up to the A- range.

Peter February 8, 2011 - 9:09 am

A friend who uses the M15SBS regularly says that lines buying tickest are often long, and one can miss a bus waiting in line to pay.

As well, buying a chit ahead of time (my friend works in Bedpan Alley & Far Upper E. Side, so the M15SBS is a godsend) doesnt work, because the chits time out too soon.
One should be able to pay for a fare several hours in advance instead of just a couple. It would be a welcome convenience, have little downside to NYCT, and help mitigate the broken or empty vending issues….

John-2 February 8, 2011 - 9:33 am

It would be nice if — as in the way you can print out your own tickets to sporting events or concerts — there was some way to do the same on the SBS tickets just before you leave home or work through credit/debt card options. That would mitigate to some extent the problems with paperless vending machines or lines long enough to force ridersvto miss their bus.

As for the stop problem, I’d love to know the location of the apartments/businesses where those people are. My guess is most of them don’t like the distance for the same reason someone would want a 28th Street stop on the Eighth Avenue subway — because they live or work near Eighth Avenue and 28th Street, even if putting a stop there would defeat the purpose of why the IND spaced its local stations further apart in the first place.

al February 8, 2011 - 11:39 pm

The short time period is to prevent repeated use of one receipt. It might work if you were to give a ticket a time frame and place:

This ticket was printed at 08:00 AM 10/20/2011
Ticket valid 10:00AM – 10:30 AM 10/20/2011
M15 SBS @ 23rd St & 1st Ave (uptown)

Hank February 8, 2011 - 9:52 am

I ride the 2nd Avenue SBS 4-5 mornings a week to get to work and the 1st Ave 2-3x / week.
A) Couldn’t agreem more on the ticketing. Clearly the WORST part of the system. Machines are often broken or without paper, and there are an inadequate number of them at busy stops. ProTip: Give enforcement agents readers so at least those with passes don’t have to get tied up in the ticket snafu.
B) Enforcement. It’s necessary but being carried out dumbly. Officers should either accost people before getting on or after they get off. Or they can simply hop on and travel a few blocks. Nothing more frustrating then stopping a whole bus (defeats the express notion). Also, what’s the rule if both machines are out at your stop and you hop on without a ticket?
C) Accessibility. WTF? I took a wheelchair-bound relative out on the SBS recently and he said it was the most accessible public transit he’d been on. I know Lappin has to truckle to the seniors who pack her townhalls to gripe, but this is almost Bush-level ignorance of reality.

al February 8, 2011 - 11:34 pm

Card readers would help, but many cards are used until they fail or expire. I can imagine enforcement agent checking a card again and again, with please swipe again messages displayed repeatedly.

tacony palmyra February 8, 2011 - 10:32 am

I’ve twice had the receipt get stuck inside the machine instead of dispensing. I couldn’t get a ticket from another machine because my card was “just used” — what’s the solution here? Thankfully I didn’t run into an enforcement officer either time. Think he would have bought my story?

I also am still annoyed that the stops are so far from the M15 local stops in some places, which makes it difficult to “take the first bus that comes,” which I’d much rather do at night in this horrible weather we’ve had lately. Forget the other issue that people w/o unlimited cards have to swipe twice if they have an SBS receipt and they’re sick of waiting so they jump on a local and swipe again.

al February 8, 2011 - 11:31 pm

How good is you cell phone’s still and video camera mode? It might be good to have it out and recording while you attempt to get a receipt until they iron out the kinks with this SBS.

Andrew February 10, 2011 - 7:17 pm

That happened to me last week – the receipt came out and then went back in. Fortunately, I read somewhere about that happening to someone else. It’s apparently a bug in the machine’s software. I was lucky in that somebody else came along behind me and swiped his MetroCard, and both receipts came out.

Receipts have been accepted on the M15 local since the second week of SBS service. (Or, as ajedrez points out, you can use your free transfer if you don’t need it elsewhere.)

ajedrez February 8, 2011 - 2:53 pm

Aren’t there free transfers from the +SBS+ to the local? So at least customers traveling within the 2nd Avenue corridor don’t have to pay a second fare.

Dave February 8, 2011 - 7:45 pm

Is there any rational explanation for why the bus is stopped for fare enforcement? Every other city I’ve been to, the inspectors just stay on for a few stops, then get the next service going back the other way and do the same thing… seems to be a crazy waste of time to completely stop the bus on an ‘express’ service.
I can only see the current system as increasing anatagonism towards inspectors (as opposed to being happy seeing them fine the fare evaders you’d been subsidizing up to that point).

Terratalk February 9, 2011 - 1:44 am

Is anyone else annoyed that we finally get shelters with seats at limited stops and the “select bus” has taken over those shelters and the people using the local bus (at the same stops) are forced to another corner (or another block) without any protection from the elements?

Tom West February 9, 2011 - 9:39 am

“Enforcement efforts … cause buses to idle while cops check tickets, and thus, it slows down the service.”
Why on earth can’t the offciers check tickets while the bus in motion??

JP February 9, 2011 - 11:10 am

If that were the case an inspector has to check 100 people’s tickets in a throng between 34th and 23rd streets- there’s not enough time.

Forget this pre-payment thing, tap to pay is the only way.

Andrew February 10, 2011 - 7:23 pm

They can, and they do – I’ve had my ticket checked on a bus in motion.

There have been reports of buses being held at stops for “5 minutes” for inspections. I have no idea how often this happens or whether the “5 minutes” is real or perceived. If it’s very infrequent and it actually only takes 2 minutes, it’s not a big deal.

As for why it happens (assuming it still does), it’s probably because it simply didn’t occur to whoever made the decision to allow stationary checks that it would delay bus service, and the people who are concerned about avoiding delays in bus service aren’t aware that it’s happening. If it happens to you, why don’t contact the MTA and ask? At the very least, the appropriate people will be made aware of the problem.

Rob February 9, 2011 - 12:12 pm

I understand that the weather has been terrible, but I live on 1st Avenue and the buses are rarely using their designated lane between 86th and 96th Street. What was the point of the lane if the buses don’t use them, there is little to no camera enforcement, and the paint is coming off the road less than 6 months after it was laid down?

Andrew February 10, 2011 - 7:25 pm

Buses are under no obligation to use the bus lane. It’s there so that buses can avoid traffic jams. But if the bus lane is blocked – by other buses, or by other vehicles using it illegally, or by traffic backed up across it (e.g., at the FDR Drive entrance at 96th), the bus can and should use another lane.

Bus-mounted camera enforcement hasn’t even begun yet.

Mike March 2, 2011 - 3:23 pm

Has any one else been having problems with the Metrocard receipt kiosks at 1st Ave and 2nd St rendering their unlimited Metrocards (whether weekly or monthly) invalid? This happened to me 2/18 (despite being able to use my Metrocard perfectly fine earlier that morning to take the subway into Manhattan to Second Ave). I brought it to the booth clerk at 2nd Ave to see if they could read it and the card looked as if it had been erased. The clerk said people have been complaining about this problem. I sent in my claims form and got a new 30-day unlimited card. The problem happened AGAIN 2/23 at the same location. I called into the claims center to complain and the claims agent said he never heard of any problems like this. The morning of 2/28, at the same SBS stop at 1st Ave and 2nd St, I saw both kiosks render 4 different people’s Metrocards invalid while I stood in line to use them. Any one else having these problems?

Jaime August 30, 2012 - 7:55 am

I have! I have been used an unlimited card for the past 3 weeks without fail on the subway and local buses. However, today I decide to take the select bus, and INVALID CARD. I just used it last night without any problem. Its the 2nd time this has happened to me. Its annoying!!!

ER March 10, 2011 - 7:40 am

I find the service mediocre. The system of having to use a machine outside the bus and receive a slip of paper for each an every ride, even if you have an unlimited card, seems time- and paper-inefficient. In Germany, you can buy a single ride or simply carry a n unlimited pass to show upon inspection. In Japan, which navigates huge crowds and extremely busy roads, you get on at any back door and pay at the front when you exit, giving enough time to find you card or money. And why put these machines on the street instead of on the bus? Not to mention that drivers poorly handle traffic flow problems – when three buses arrive at once and two are empty, wouldn’t it make sense for one to stay at the stop until a few more passengers boarded? Instead they thoughtlessly roll on by, leaving at least 10 minutes between buses at rush hour and resulting in overcrowding on the next bus. I would say C- for efficency and proper driver protocol. It’s embarassing that New York City offers this poor quality of transportation.

Abe March 27, 2011 - 12:32 am

1. Sunday morning in front of Sloan Kettering. Machine is out of paper. No receipt.
2. Select and local stop on same block at 1st & 86th. Sloan Kettering local stop vs Select stop on separate blocks making it impossible for anyone but the most physically fit to choose the first bus that comes. Same thing at 116 & 115 St, too far apart.
3. Impossible to see ticket machines at night.
4. Why does a rider with a monthly metrocard need another ticket for Select?
5. Why not put ticket machines INSIDE the bus?
6. Tourists get totally confused.
7. Bus either waits extra time until everyone prints tickets OR bus runs off while rider is waiting on slow printer.
8. Since Select went into effect, frequency of local buses has gone down dramatically.


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