Home Buses Learning from the Select Bus Service success story

Learning from the Select Bus Service success story

by Benjamin Kabak

During yesterday’s Transit Committee meeting, the topic of conversation between the assembled MTA Board members and agency president Thomas Prendergast turned to bus ridership figures. As I’ve detailed here before, bus ridership is suffering from a slow, steady and long decline. As subway ridership nears record highs, the buses just aren’t drawing passengers.

Under fire from Charles Moedler and others, Prendergast reiterated the MTA line that the 2010 service cuts, in which numerous bus stops were eliminated and service was pared down across the board, were not the main drivers behind this decline in bus service. Rather, Prendergast said, the weak economy has stiffled discretionary trips and the MTA is recapturing many former bus riders through the subway system instead. After all, who wouldn’t rather have a ride faster and more reliable than a New York City bus?

As a contrast to this doom-and-gloom back-and-forth over the steady decline in bus ridership, city and MTA officials launched the latest Manhattan Select Bus Service route along the 34th St. corridor, and NYC DOT issued a progress report praising the M15 SBS. Regular old local bus service may be on the wane, but New Yorkers are flocking to the Select Bus Service routes, and the differences in service could provide an easy path to a better bus network throughout the city.

The story along 34th Street is a familiar one to us. After a rancorous debate amongst residents who did not want an ambitious Transitway in front of their lobbies, the city settled for a typical SBS route instead. Buses along the corridor will feature pre-board fare payment (with proof of receipt), dedicated and off-set bus lanes and camera enforcement of those lanes. Despite the reduction in plans with the death of the transitway, city officials are trumpeting SBS success stories anyway.

“Select Bus Service is proving to be a success wherever we install it,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Travel times go down, ridership increases and safety improves with Select Bus Service. We expect to see the same positive results here on 34th Street and we will continue to look for more opportunities to expand this great service. We all know that when mass transit works well, more people use the service, which helps to free up our streets – a boost for our economy and our environment.”

At the 34th St. unveiling, DOT and the MTA also revealed a progress report on the SBS M15. So far, the new bus service is a success. Ridership along the SBS corridor from around 25,000 limited bus riders per day in 2010 to 35,000 SBS riders per day in 2011. Although some of that increase has come from riders shifting from the M15 local to the SBS routes, overall M15 bus ridership is still up by around 11 percent per day as overall bus ridership drops by 5-8 percent.

Meanwhile, travel times are dropping as well. An end-to-end run on the M15 Limited would take nearly 81 minutes. Forty of those were spent traveling while 19 were spent stopped at the bus stop, 18 at red lights and three minutes spent at other delays. The M15 Select Bus Service takes 68 minutes end-to-end. Of those, 35 are spent in motion and just 12 are spent at bus stops while the delays due to red lights remain the same. That drop — from 19 minutes to 12 at bus stops — is the key. By removing the line at the point of payment, the MTA doesn’t even need flashing buses to improve service.

So then can we see the key to better bus service in the stories of the SBS? By improving frequency along 1st and 2nd Avenues and speeding up the on-boarding process, the MTA has made bus service attractive, and it was rewarded with increased ridership. Elsewhere, buses run less frequently and involve long waits to board. Thus, ridership is down, and the MTA seems to know it. “If we are able to further reduce travel time through faster boarding and improved fare collection, we can expect an additional increase in ridership of five to ten percent,” Darryl Irick, the Senior Vice President at the Department of Buses, said.

If the authority is intent on improving bus convenience and combatting declining ridership, the answers are in Select Bus Service. Pre-board fare payment and regular and predictable service would go a long way toward improving the bus network. The buses simply must be treated as something more than second-class transportation. Otherwise, ridership will decline on every route but the glorified Select Bus Service.

You may also like


ajedrez November 15, 2011 - 12:59 am

As I’ve always said, +SBS+ shouldn’t be an all-or nothing solution to improving bus service. Some corridors could benefit from a combination of bus lanes, POP, and TSP, but not all 3.

For instance Hylan Blvd could use bus lanes (for the S79, as well as the S78 and all of the express buses), and possibly TSP, but POP really isn’t necessary on the route. Simply converting it to limited-stop service would do wonders.

On Utica Avenue, some parts are too narrow for bus lanes, but I see no reason why POP can’t be implemented (TSP might be hard in areas with congestion)

But I do agree with the overall idea that we should add more +SBS+ routes across the city.

Alon Levy November 15, 2011 - 3:36 am

Because the idea of systemwide improvements like POP was invented elsewhere. The American innovation is corridor-by-corridor BRT; who needs to listen to the Krauts and Frogs and whatever we call Singaporeans?

Eric November 15, 2011 - 7:21 am

Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence 🙂

Bolwerk November 15, 2011 - 1:24 pm

Eh, why don’t you just explain to ajedrez why he is wrong? He clearly isn’t being a NIH jingoist, has no such history of such attitudes, and probably just hasn’t thought the POP matter through.

Alon Levy November 15, 2011 - 3:18 pm

Because the basic idea in his comment about unbundling POP, limited stops, signal priority, and bus lanes is a really good point.

Andrew November 16, 2011 - 7:10 am

They are unbundled. Plenty of non-SBS routes have limited stops, while the M34 doesn’t. The pilot program for signal priority was in Staten Island, which still doesn’t have SBS. And there are bus lanes all over the city. The only element that’s purely SBS is POP, and that’s because the riders need to know before boarding whether they are expected to pay in advance or on-board. (Wiring every bus stop citywide for fare machines all at once, and installing and maintaining fare machines at every bus stop, would be cost prohibitive, especially with the need for machines disappearing in a few years.)

Alon Levy November 16, 2011 - 8:45 am

A smartcard validator costs about $700. The MTA’s smartcard plan explicitly rejects the idea of POP outside a select number of SBS routes.

And the bus lanes on Madison and Fifth are nice, but they’re not the more visible bus lanes on First and Second.

Andrew November 17, 2011 - 12:27 am

Nothing about the smartcard plan obviates the possibility of POPping all bus routes. That’s a policy (not planning) decision that can be made closer to implementation. For now, the smartcard plan provides both POP and non-POP models for bus payment.

Who cares about visibility? The bus lanes on Madison work quite well when they’re in effect – they’re probably the only dual bus lanes in the city, and they’re also among the few that don’t allow non-buses to use them to make right turns. If only all of our bus lanes could be so effective.

Alon Levy November 17, 2011 - 1:21 am

You seem to think that “The MTA explicitly rejected POP” is the same as “the MTA is going to implement smartcards in a way that precludes future POP implementation in the hypothetical case the MTA undergoes a major change in management.” They aren’t. Since there’s no benefit to locking out POP, even from an agency turf perspective, the MTA would have to be malicious rather than merely insular to do the latter.

ajedrez November 15, 2011 - 8:50 pm

But I don’t think SBS (or BRT or whatever term you want to use) should be implemented systemwide. It should only be implemented on the really heavy routes.

If you have a route running every 6-8 minutes (with a local counterpart as well), where a bunch of passengers are embarking/disembarking at every stop, that’s an obvious candidate for BRT.

However, if you’re talking about a route running every 15 minutes with no local counterpart, and riders get on 1 or 2 at each stop, that’s a terrible candidate for +SBS+. The infrequency of the bus makes it hard to justify taking away a lane for driving (I mean, the lane would be moving more people if it were allocated for cars than a bus running every 15 minutes), and the machines have to be installed and maintained at every stop when realistically they are going to see light use (and having 1 or 2 people dip their MetroCards doesn’t really slow the bus down. It’s when you have 15 people at a stop when you need to load them quickly)

Not to mention that if a person is fumbling to put their MetroCard into the machine, they could miss their bus and have to wait the full 15 minutes for the next one.

I mean, a lot of routes in Staten Island fit the above description (and some even run every 30 minutes). Citywide, there are plenty of routes running every 10-12 minutes, which isn’t really a great frequency for +SBS+.

Alon Levy November 16, 2011 - 8:58 am

That’s why I mentioned unbundling. Forget bus lanes for a second. Let’s focus on two operational treatments: signal priority, and POP.

Systemwide POP is a normal thing in many cities, usually bundled with attractive monthly passes. In German-speaking cities, you don’t need to swipe anything at any station. You show up with your monthly pass, board the bus as if it were free, and if an inspector comes, you show your valid pass. In Singapore there are no season passes, so you have to tap your smartcard (which you can do without taking it out of your wallet) at a validator when you board and disembark, and in both cases you can do so both at the stop and on the bus. It’s easier to do it this way than to force passengers to memorize which buses they can board from any door and which they have to board from the front.

Signal priority is a matter of transportation priorities. Does a bus carrying 20 people get more priority than a single-occupant car, or less? If the answer is more, then the correct thing to do is orient signals around bus arrival times. This in turn means letting buses preempt signals since it’s unrealistic to expect timetable adherence to within a single light phase. Otherwise, buses just get stuck at red lights. If you look at more successful trams and buses, they never hit a red light. New York SBS instead spends 25% of its travel time stopped at a light so that Iris Weinshall’s constituents coming across can run over pedestrians get to their destinations more efficiently.

ajedrez November 16, 2011 - 10:56 am

But I still don’t think POP saves a lot on boarding time when you’re dealing with routes that board only a couple of people per stop (which are a significant number of them). Unless you’re dealing with a senior, most of the time, the bus opens the doors and then closes them as soon as the person gets on, and the person pays while the bus is merging back into traffic.

As far as the argument that people need to remember which routes they can pay before boarding on, if there’s only a few +SBS+ routes, it’s not that hard. If it says “Select Bus Service” on the destination sign, you buy a ticket and if not, you pay onboard. The MTA should allow +SBS+ tickets to be used on the respective local routes, though.

TSP should be implemented on all but the lowest-use routes (since you’d be paying to install the equipment when the bus might only be carrying 4 people and it’s only passing the signal every 30 minutes). As a bus rider, traffic lights are more annoying than loading times.

Bolwerk November 16, 2011 - 11:41 am

POP has advantages besides boarding time. Collection costs are lower, TVM maintenance is reduced and perhaps even centralized, and potentially driver safety increases.

There is a kind of insurance-like quality to a properly run POP system too. If you have a rough idea of what your evasion rate is, you can target enough enforcement to re-capture the loss in fines, or even make a small profit off enforcement. (So, you can even argue that you want some evasion!)

Alon Levy November 16, 2011 - 5:24 pm

If your standard for what deserves SBS is 10-minute off-peak service, there are around 50 routes in the city that deserve SBS. It makes it unwieldy to have a partial installation.

Bolwerk November 15, 2011 - 1:29 pm

Alon may have a different take, but IMHO system-wide POP would go a long way towards making the system safer for drivers, a point of contention for the TWU. Right now, drivers have a duty to make sure people pay and, but aren’t really equipped to handle hostile circumstances. Trained personnel who can do POP inspections could handle collection, and the driver can handle the f’in driving.

And, besides the security issue, just being able to use two doors to board would speed up boarding. And fare collection costs could likely be lowered. I agree there are routes where SBS may be overkill, but system-wide POP is a no-brainer, and POP inspectors are one of the few areas where some added staffing would actually be a good idea for the MTA.

BrooklynBus November 15, 2011 - 5:25 pm

I would support SBS on Utica Avenue only south of Eastern Parkway. However given all the problems I’ve been reading about with the Limited service, I can’t be 100% sure that it would even be a good idea soth of Eastern Parkway, but is definitely not needed for the entire route.

I also see problems with implentation given all the auto-related uses between Tilden Avenue and Farragut Road where double parking is a constant problem. Those businesses are going to scream bloody murder if rules against double parking are enforced, but something needs to be done there.

There may be other solutions that need to be investigated. In the 1960s, during rush hours there were many buses operating only one way in service between Eastern Parkway and Avenue H due to the very heavy peak direction of travel. Using Schenectady Avenue while out of service going south in the morning rush hour, buses were able to make it back to Avenue H in a fraction of the time enabling several additional AM trips than if they operated both ways in service. Also when no one parked in the no parking right hand lane which was primarily is primarily used by buses, but is not an exclusive lane between Carroll Street and Eastern Parkway, 10 minute would be saved within only three short blocks. All that was needed was enforcement against parking. SBS may just be overkill.

I agree that the MTA is looking for a one size fits all solution with SBS, when other measures like you state, POP, banning parking in the right hand lane, or just Limited Service, or signal priority may all be what is necessary if used separately.

pea-jay November 15, 2011 - 1:52 am

Why can’t all bus runs (or at least those with a decent frequency) be structured like SBS runs. Not to be glib but a slight reduction in the number of stops serviced combined with pre-payment, traffic light preemption and wherever possible, restricted lanes. Even without the lanes, the pre-payment will significantly help. So will raising bus stop curbs. Right now the handicapped ramp is pretty quick. But if the curb and paved area in the bus stop were the same height, wheel chairs could roll right on even faster.

Eric November 15, 2011 - 7:20 am

1) People in wheelchairs are rare. The average time spent waiting for wheelchair boarding on each ride is extremely small. It does not justify the expense of remodeling every stop.

2) Prepayment is expensive – a machine to accept money/cards at every stop, with the risk of vandalism and so on. It is only cost-effective on central, popular routes.

3) Infrequent stops are good for the median rider whose journey is slowed, but bad for elderly/disabled/other passengers for whom walking a longer distance to the stop is difficult. It’s a trade off.

AlexB November 15, 2011 - 7:59 am

Responding to 3, I think it’s usually the case that the services that make the fewest stops attract the most riders. Compare the 2/3 to the 1 or the 4/5 to the 6 or the A to the C. People go out of their way to get to an express stop on a train or a limited/SBS stop on a bus. Local services are important, but mainly to serve people who don’t want to walk very far..

Josh K November 15, 2011 - 10:16 am

Re: 1) You obviously haven’t ridden the M116 crosstown. Every trip involves onboarding and offboarding of at least 2 chair riders. Each way.

Kai B November 15, 2011 - 10:24 am

2) could be solved when you can pay on board and a checking agent can read your card to see if you swiped/touched in. Due to the proprietary technology of the Metrocard, however, this won’t be around until a new system is implemented. The current receipt system isn’t ideal.

Alon Levy November 15, 2011 - 3:28 pm

Prepayment is really cheap. Singapore’s smartcard validators cost S$960 each. Put one at every stop and at every bus door, and have buses still accept on-board payment and print receipts (with payment while the bus is in motion to reduce delays), and we’re talking $15 million systemwide.

In contrast, let’s look at the benefits. On the M15, shorter bus stop dwells cut 8.5% from the trip time, i.e. they cut 8.5% from bus driver labor costs. Now there are 11,000 bus drivers making about $50,000 a year each. So we’re talking about saving $45 million a year in operating costs.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines November 15, 2011 - 8:59 am

[…] 2nd Ave Sagas: Export SBS Successes to the Rest of the Bus Network […]

Ed November 15, 2011 - 9:37 am

I just got back from a long trip across the country. From what I could see, other cities don’t structure their bus routes so that the meander over the city, stopping every two blocks or so. Its more typical to have bus stops that are well marked, and busses that cover clearly defined corridors (usually going straight down a long avenue then back), and will go some distance between stops. New York has turned its normal bus system into a system for the disabled and the elderly, and the system for the disabled and elderly (Access-a-Ride) into a patronage mill, and so when they decided they needed a normal bus system again it had to be implemented in a gimmicky manner as SBS, one route at a time.

My guess is that over time SBS will be expanded and the “regular” system will be defunded gradually as its users die off.

TP November 15, 2011 - 10:30 am

You have an interesting way to look at things and I like the conspiracy theory-ish tone to your argument, but I think New York’s actually better than most of the country in this regard. Transit in general is seen as a social service for the disabled, elderly, and truly destitute in many cities. Look at Philadelphia where the buses stop at every single block on many routes. This study has some interesting comparative analysis: http://www.dvrpc.org/reports/08066.pdf

Might there be a correlation between ridership on slow, local buses and the physical fitness of the city’s residents? Most of the city’s walkable enough that a lot of the buses have long just been serving people who can’t or don’t want to walk. It’s not like 125th Street was once free of traffic on a Friday night so I’m not sure congestion is primarily to blame for dropping ridership in all cases.

Al D November 15, 2011 - 10:37 am

Another factor is that the pace of life has sped up over time as well as the awareness level while bus service is essentially unchanged which makes is look slower and almost quaint these days.

The bus is my absolute last choice for transit in this town.

ajedrez November 15, 2011 - 10:08 pm

You also have to consider that in Manhattan, fewer people own cars, so the fitness of the bus riders is improved by the mere fact that they have to use transit instead of driving. I mean, if you look on some crosstown routes, the riders don’t seem particularly unhealthy.

As far as that report from Philadelphia goes, I don’t like how they are trying to make suburban routes follow a limited-stop pattern when the bus runs every 30 minutes. I mean, chances are that there are a lot of seniors (percentage-wise) who take those routes (considering the fact that it’s the suburbs), and if they can’t make it to the stop in time, they’ll miss the bus.

BrooklynBus November 15, 2011 - 10:19 am

Ben, you are totally wrong on this one. While SBS will help in some instances it is definitely not the only solution or even a major solution to solving the local bus crisis we have. Although I am very pro SBS on 34th Street and believe it will be a big success there, and may not be a bad idea on the M15, you know what I think of the proposed B44. The fact is that when the program is completed, no more than 10% of the routes will ever have SBS. It is not possible for it to be the solution. Local buses have far greater problems than the fact they are slow and that’s what needs to be addressed.

Take it from someone with much more knowledge and experience than yourself. Someone who has been studying local bus problems in NYC for over 40 years and has worked on it professionally. I am surprised that you have swallowed up all the false propaganda that the MTA has been spitting out. Read my three-part series in Sheepsheadbites http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....e-changes/ beginning yesterday to learn how the MTA has not been addressing the real problems with local buses for the last 40 years, and how their current path will only make things worse. I also explain how they need to shift direction for there to be any hope. Believe me when I say SBS is not the answer like the MTA would like everyone to believe.

Benjamin Kabak November 15, 2011 - 10:22 am

I think you’ve 100 percent missed the point in your daily rush to declare me “totally wrong” on something. I didn’t say SBS is the only solution or a major solution. In fact, I didn’t even address routing or how it could improve bus service. I said pre-board fare payment is a part of the solution. Even you can’t deny that SBS numbers show a 9-minute improvement in time buses spend at stops waiting for people to board. That’s the bulk of the improvement in travel time, and there’s absolutely no reason why that simple change can’t be introduced to local buses in an effort to improve travel times.

Also a request: If you disagree with me or others, please try to do so without insulting me or others. Having a civil discourse maintains orderly and productive discussion, and it makes people more inclined to hear you out.

BrooklynBus November 15, 2011 - 3:31 pm

I’m sorry, I missed the very last sentence in which you stated that ridership will decline on every other route. That was the only indication in the entire article that the MTA isn’t doing everything right. You did say “So then can we see the key to better bus service in the stories of the SBS?” which threw me off which led me to believe that you thought it was the entire solution.

I certainly agree that pre-boarding saves time and agree that you do not need an SBS route to have it.

Andrew November 15, 2011 - 11:42 pm

Off-board payment (not “pre-boarding,” whatever that means) is the primary feature that uniquely distinguishes SBS from any other bus line in the city.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2011 - 6:35 pm

Okay so I typed it quickly. You knew what I was trying to say. And no it is not the primary feature. It is just one of many: exclusive lane, priority signals, bus bulbs, rear door entry, wider bus stop spacing, etc.

Alon Levy November 16, 2011 - 7:21 pm

Rear door entry = off-board payment. (This includes the more standard industry practice of having season pass holders board freely and non-holders pay up front.)

Andrew November 16, 2011 - 11:48 pm

Rear door entry is the same as off-board payment.

The other features are neither necessary for SBS nor exclusively found on SBS. If a bus route has all of the features you name but not off-board payment, it won’t be labeled SBS. If it has off-board payment but none of the other features you name, it will be labeled SBS.

Benjamin Kabak November 15, 2011 - 10:39 am

In another vein, do your routing studies include having local buses stop every other block? To me, that seems like an excessive amount of stops that lead to slow service as well. It’s far more frequent stopping than most bus systems.

BrooklynBus November 15, 2011 - 3:52 pm

I did not look into bus stop spacing in my studies, but this is my opinion on it.

On very heavy routes, especially the ones where you also have Limited service, the buses should stop every other block. Moving the stops to every three blocks inconveniences people by increasing their walking distance and does not cut down on dwell time because the buses will just spend longer picking up people at the new more crowded stops.

Similarly on very light portions of routes, it makes no sense to make the stops further apart, because much of the time the bus skips most of the stops anyway so no time is saved and the people have to walk longer to a bus stop. But more important than the extra 200 feet, is the fact that your chance of missing a bus goes up astronomically and could cause you to wait an extra 15 minutes for the next one while you are walking that additional 200 feet. I’m speaking from personal experience on this one because the MTA eliminated the closest bus stop near my house in 2005 and I’ve unsuccessfully been trying to get it restored. It only had 54 users a day and I figured something like one in ten buses ever stopped there anyway. But about 40% of the time, I now miss a bus I would have caught if the bus still stopped there. The MTA even admitted to me that they gained nothing with the stop’s elimination nor did it improve bus running time. The only thing accomplished was that 54 people a day are now needlessly inconvenienced.

That leaves all the other bus stops where there are short blocks. I would say that for at least 50% of them, I would agree that three block spacing is preferable to two-block spacing, i.e. for moderately used bus stops, ones where the loads aren’t excessively light or excessively heavy, and that it would make the buses much quicker. It’s not just something that you can do across the board without studying each particular area.

Alon Levy November 15, 2011 - 4:14 pm

Moving the stops to every three blocks inconveniences people by increasing their walking distance and does not cut down on dwell time because the buses will just spend longer picking up people at the new more crowded stops.

Only if you’re assuming buses with very few doors, high floors, and no prepayment. If non-artic buses had three doors and artics had four, people could board from any door, and boarding were more or less level, then dominant factor in dwell time would no longer be the number of riders. Cities whose buses have those features thus have no trouble running buses much faster than American cities, in part due to their much wider stop spacing (400-500 meters, i.e. 5-7 short Manhattan blocks).

BrooklynBus November 15, 2011 - 5:38 pm

When I made that statement, I wasn’t talkiog about all bus routes, just those that are very heavily used. But you are correct, more doors and POP definitely would cut dwell time, but people would still be inconvenienced by longer walks to the bus stop.

I was in Jerusalem and was suprised how fast their local buses moved with stops every quarter-mile. But I also noticed, zero double parking due to a requirement for nightime deliveries which we don’t have here, which allowed the buses to move real quickly because they never had to wait to merge because no car or truck ever blocked their path.

Bottom line, if stops were spaced every quarter-mile here, the buses would still not move as quickly as they do there because of double parking here. Also, I noticed a lot of rounded intersections so there was hardly a corner where a bus had to slow down to make a right turn. We don’t have anything like that here. In fact, the one rounded intersection we had in my neighborhood was rebuilt about 15 years ago like all the others which require you to slow down to 5 mph in order to turn.

So there are a lot of other factors involved. You can’t just say if we widen the spacing between stops will make everything will be better.

Benjamin Kabak November 15, 2011 - 5:41 pm

If you want transit options that actually move, you have to draw the line somewhere with regards to station spacing. It’s true that if you changed the current configuration, a few someones will be inconveinced, but at the same time, even more someones will enjoy a quicker ride. Does the M104 up Broadway have to stop 4 times between 84th and 91st Streets? Does the B67 have to stop on Union, Lincoln and Sterling?

Making buses in New York stop every third block instead of every other would be a huge improvement and moving to every 4-6 blocks wouldn’t rob the bus network of its utility.

BrooklynBus November 15, 2011 - 6:27 pm

I can’t comment with certainty on the specific instances you cited but I would lime to emphasize that it is not a rule you could just apply across the board. There are other considerations such as topography. Also, you have to ask yourself if increasing the stop spacing would move some out of the quarter-mile walking standard to a local bus route. Theoretically at least, if the bus stops are further apart, the routes need to be closer together, although in some instances that would not be practical. You also have o make sure you are not eliminating a bus stop near a major institution like Methodist Hospital.

If you asked me that B67 question before he B69 was rerouted, I would have tended to agree with you that those stops do not need to be so close together, but now with people already having to walk from Prospect Park West to 7th Avenue, which is already over a quarter-mile walk on hilly terrain, I don’t think you would want to increase their walk further.

Alon Levy November 16, 2011 - 9:10 am

To clarify: 400-500 meters is normal in flat terrain. On hills, obviously stop spacing is going to be narrower, since passengers’ willingness to walk is reduced. And yes, if there are two major destinations that are closer than 400 meters, they should still get two separate stops, unless they’re right next to each other.

Andrew November 17, 2011 - 12:42 am

If you want to get rid of double parking, there’s an easy two-step way to do it.

First, figure out why people are double parking, and provide them with legal ways to do what they need to do. If they’re trucks making deliveries, then set aside some curb space for delivery vehicles. If they’re cars parking for a few minutes because there’s no space available at the curb, then install meters and set the prices to yield a vacancy rate of about 15%. (Yes, that will reduce the number of free long-term parking spaces. That’s the tradeoff.)

Second, enforce vigorously, preferably with as much automation as possible, to reduce enforcement costs. Cameras on buses, for instance, can help, especially since they will explicitly target drivers who are directly delaying bus service.

If you’re not willing to take both steps, it’s pretty disingenuous to complain about double parking.

Nighttime deliveries can help, but they can’t solve everything – many businesses aren’t open all night, and many businesses are located in residential areas in which heavy truck traffic at night would keep the residents awake. Better to make it voluntary.

ajedrez November 15, 2011 - 8:56 pm

Do those cities have some sort of limited-stop service? I mean, 5-7 blocks is longer than the spacing on local buses in NYC, but limited buses tend to stop every 10-12 blocks.

BrooklynBus November 15, 2011 - 10:16 pm

I don’t believe the spacing on Limiteds are that far apart in most instances. 10 to 12 blocks seems to be t spacing for SBS. I think Limiteds are closer to 5 to 7.

ajedrez November 16, 2011 - 10:59 am

In Manhattan, it’s more like 8-10 blocks (34-42 is 8 blocks, 42-50 is 8 blocks, 96-116 is 10 blocks, etc).

In the outer boroughs, they’re usually at major transfer points, and bus routes are usually spaced around 1/2 mile apart, which is roughly 10 blocks.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2011 - 6:42 pm

On the B44 proposed SBS, the distance between Kins Highway and Avenue U is 1 mile, and they originally proposed no stops between Church Avenue and Flatbush, a distance of 1 1/4 miles, but they added a stop half way after community requests.

Andrew November 16, 2011 - 11:59 pm

Fortunately, if there proves to be a problem with that spacing, another stop (at Avenue R, presumably) can be added later on. (A stop was added on the Bx12 SBS at Sedgwick Avenue a few months into the program.)

BrooklynBus November 17, 2011 - 10:06 am

It would only be added if the community asks for it before it starts operation. I doubt they would add it later. So far the only stop added was Avenue D, at the community’s request.

They might not even ask for it because they prefer the Brighton line as I’ve suggested, and do not intend to take the B44 to the Junction no matter how attractive it is.

Alon Levy November 16, 2011 - 9:05 am

Singapore doesn’t. I don’t know about other cities, but I doubt it.

Al D November 15, 2011 - 4:28 pm

What’s not addressed in any of this, and I’ve experienced too on +SBS+, is the randomness of intentionally slow drivers or drivers just pulling over and waiting at a stop for no apparent reason.

Also, I’ve noticed that drivers won’t pass their leaders these days, almost no matter what. So this slows thinngs down further.

I am not trying to blame the drivers necessarily, but there are some fatal operational procedures at work here.

This rarely happens on the subway. Trains travel at a set speed speed, and yes, there are times when trains are held for ‘scheduling adjustements’ or ‘even spacing’, at least an announcement is made and the delay is a 1 time event.

Buses can and do stop numerous times along the way to wait.

It should be simple. Once a bus leaves a terminal, it should complete its run in an expeditious fashion. No long stops just because, no not passing buses ahead.

Alon Levy November 15, 2011 - 4:54 pm

If the buses bunch so much that passing buses ahead is even an option, there’s something wrong. Either the reliability is abysmal and should be fixed (which is what the SBS operational treatments do), or the line should be railstituted.

Andrew November 17, 2011 - 12:47 am

If the headway is very short, there’s nothing wrong with buses passing other buses. All it takes is a small delay on a bus (a wheelchair, an inquisitive passenger, a double parked car) for the next bus to catch up to it. Since the second bus is probably carrying a relatively light load, why not let it pass the first bus and pick up the presumably larger-than-usual crowd waiting at the next stop?

Alon Levy November 17, 2011 - 1:24 am

If the headway is short enough it happens more than once in a blue moon, then the reliability is so poor that there’s no benefit to cutting the headway further. That’s why local bus lines never run more than once every 3-4 minutes: the infrastructure can in principle accommodate much more (and does, for interlined BRT services), but the buses would hopelessly bunch.

ajedrez November 17, 2011 - 2:42 am

If buses were crushloaded even at 3-4 minute headways, then the MTA would have to increase the frequencies, even if it meant buses would bunch. I mean, some areas actually do have more than 3-4 minute headways (such as parts of Utica Avenue in Brooklyn and Hillside Avenue in Queens)

Alon Levy November 18, 2011 - 2:10 am

If buses bunch, then increasing frequency won’t alleviate crowding. That’s why the M15 and B46 are stuck at about 3-minute headways.

ajedrez November 15, 2011 - 9:06 pm

Sometimes buses get ahead of schedule. When you’re dealing with a bus running every 30 minutes, having the bus run 10 minutes early could cause people to miss the bus. On heavier routes, they want to keep an even spacing so that one bus doesn’t run half-empty while another one runs crushloaded.

If the drivers are inconsiderate, you can start a cycle of buses bunching that lasts for a while. One bus gets ahead of schedule, so the next one gets more crowded. The crowded one slows down and in the meantime, another bus catches up because it has fewer passengers. The cycle continues until either crowds naturally subside or a driver running early pulls over and waits for a few minutes.

That’s why communication is key. If BusTime is available to dispatchers, they can hold buses where necessary.

Personally, I don’t like being on a bus that has to pull over and wait at a certain stop. When the dispatchers are informed of a problem such as the one above, they should make the drivers wait at the terminal rather than along the route. I’d rather have the bus come a few minutes late and know that once I’m on it, it will move, rather than have it needlessly stopping.

Andrew November 15, 2011 - 11:45 pm

If that happens often, it’s an indication that there’s too much padding in the schedule.

ajedrez November 17, 2011 - 2:43 am

Very true.

Andrew November 16, 2011 - 7:26 am

“Someone with much more knowledge and experience than yourself”? Boy, are you stuck up.

You, sir, are the expert in false propaganda. For someone who has never himself ridden SBS, you certainly pontificate over it a lot.

I guess that’s because it wasn’t your idea. What do those stupid planners at NYCT who never ride the buses know? You, obviously, know better – after all, you came up with a bunch of bus route changes in the 70’s!

BrooklynBus November 16, 2011 - 7:00 pm

You sir, aren’t even worth the ink to respond to because of the way you speak to and insult people, but I will anyway.

You want to know what arrogance is? It is those so called planners at Operations Planning, certainly not me. They are the ones who won’t listen to anyone else. The ones who dismiss all outside suggestions and if they can’t find a legitimate reason to reject yur proposal, they just change it to something you never proposed. It cetainly doesn’t describe me. That is not only my opinion. It is a widely held one. Just ask ajedrez what he thinks.

What I said was the truth. Ben may know the law, and a lot about financing, but he has no experience in Planning. I have 40 years experience in that area. That is not being stuck up. It is the truth.

No, I didn’t just come up with a bunch or route changes in the 70s. I came up with some very successful changes in the 70s and that isn’t even debateable. Compare those changes which made travel much more convenient and efficient for thousands on a daily basis with last years cutbacks, many of which reduced efficiency according to the MTA’s own numbers.

Read Parts 2 and 3 in the coming weeks. It might yet change your opinion of planning at the MTA, if you at all have an open mind. But from what I see regarding your SBS views, you do not.

One doesn’t have to ride SBS to see its shortcomings and as I’ve explained to you over and over again, it would not make a difference if I rode the M15 SBS since I would have no frame of reference to compare it to. How would I know how much service has improved having not riden the M15 before?

I also notice you didn’t comment when I stated I was very pro-M34 SBS. So there goes your entire argument that I hate all SBS.

Andrew November 17, 2011 - 12:19 am

40 years experience? You haven’t been involved in transportation planning since the 80’s!

Funny how you ignore the many service changes that have taken place across the city over the decades and focus only on last year’s service cuts, enacted in response to an unprecedented budget crisis. But I guess they don’t count, since most of them weren’t in southern Brooklyn.

Did you realize, by the way, that New York City has five boroughs, and that NYCT’s bus planners have to plan for all five of them?

You have ridden buses in New York. (Mostly in Brooklyn, but Manhattan and the Bronx aren’t on another planet.) If you were willing to ride SBS before pontificating over it, you might get a sense of some of its benefits. On both the Bx12 and the M15, the introduction of SBS substantially boosted ridership. In other words, something worked. So why do you repeatedly insist that SBS on the B44 could not possibly attract riders off of other modes? Based on your extensive experience in transportation planning, does a reduction in travel time not attract riders off of other modes?

Unlike you, Ben is willing to read and learn and think. You merely self-congratulate and hold grudges.

BrooklynBus November 17, 2011 - 10:37 am

I wrote my Masters thesis in 1972 on the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of local buses in Brooklyn at Columbia. That’s 39 years ago. I got my first job at City Planning heading a Brooklyn Bus Study in 1973. I was director of bus planning for NYC at NYCT in 1981. You obviously haven’t read my article in Sheepsheadbites. More of you talking without knowing the facts.

The routing changes over the years have been minuscule compared to the changes that are needed. Bus changes that I recommended in my thesis because they were so obvious to me were not obvious to the MTA until 10, 20, 30 and 38 years later. I recommended about 40 needed route changes back then. Less than half have been done, and I was directly responsible for about 8 of them. Do I have to describe each one to please you?

The MTA planners have mainly been spending their time studying minor terminal loop changes over the years, a task that should be the function of Operations, not Planning. That’s why they had no time to do real planning throughout the five boroughs. As I previously stated, if you really want to learn what has happened over the last 40 years as far as bus planning is concerned, read parts 2 and 3 of my series on Sheepsheadbites starting next Monday. Part 1 was last Monday.

Ben is willing to learn and think and so am I. Apparently you are the one who can’t. All you can criticize me for is that I haven’t ridden a select bus. I don’t see that as a crime. Do you criticize someone for writing about World War II because he didn’t live through it?

In answer to your question, if a reduction in travel time attracts them from other modes. The answer is that it depends. I believe some M15 riders were attracted from the Lexington Avenue subway which is not what you want to achieve. They also will be attracted from other slower bus routes which is the same mode. If you are asking me if they will choose to leave their cars home and use the bus instead, the answer is only if both their origin and destination is within the SBS corridor and if the bus would be faster than driving Those needing a transfer to a subway or other slower local bus which is at least half the riders would not. The major reason why someone with a car chooses to use mass transit in this city is because of the lack of a parking space near his destination. Saving 5 to 10 minutes on the SBS when his car might still be faster any way is not enough incentive for him not to use it.

What you will get from SBS is more discretionary trips, I.e. trips that otherwise may have not been made because they were too inconvenient.

Kai B November 15, 2011 - 10:29 am

I actually took the M34 to the East River Ferry yesterday and didn’t realize it was its first day. My bus was very crowded and there were some vocal complaints that the bus didn’t stop at every intersection – one passenger yelled something about it being ridiculous that it didn’t stop at Lexington Avenue.

Boarding – seemed much quicker
Travel – bus lanes still clogged with trucks and cabs but the fewer stops helped
Frequency – seemed higher from glancing at the countdown clocks. I seem to remember the M34 having pretty dismal frequencies, even at rush hour.

Tsuyoshi November 15, 2011 - 3:41 pm

I tried it today. It seems like the frequency is much better, but I never took the M34 before so it’s hard to say for sure. For the portion of my trip (7th to Madison) it still stops at every block. I was hoping for spacing more like every two blocks. The loading time does seem better than a regular bus, but there were still a lot of people who can hardly walk, so not as fast as loading a train… not that anything can be done about that.

It’s an improvement, but nothing revolutionary. For my usual trip between 7th and Madison, I think I’ll stick to walking.

Andrew November 17, 2011 - 12:22 am

It skips Madison and Lex. (How did you get off at Madison?)

There are too many busy transfer points for it to skip much.

Larry Littlefield November 15, 2011 - 10:35 am

Note that the M15 has traditionally moved faster, and attracted more riders, northbound than southbound.

The reason? The Northbound M15 ride on First Avenue, which has grade separation in three cases where the cross street would otherwise have equal traffic signal priority. At 42nd Street (the underpass), at 59th Street (passing under the Queensboro), and at 125th Street (passing under the Triboro).

It is at these major intersections that traffic really backs up. Serious BRT, if complete grade separation cannot be afforded and absolute signal priority cannot be accomodated, at least requires grade separation at intersections like those.

Note that the Church Avenue trolley used to have a tunnel under Ocean Parkway.

Alon Levy November 15, 2011 - 3:33 pm

Ew. I don’t know 1st and 125th, but 1st and 59th and 1st and 42nd are both extremely unwalkable. Likewise, the grade-separated arterial junction I’m familiar with from Singapore was a nightmare to cross just to be able to hail a taxi. Grade-separated roads are nice for motorized traffic, but hellish for pedestrians. Is your experience as a cyclist different?

ajedrez November 15, 2011 - 9:09 pm

All that, plus the fact that it’s an extra block away from Lexington Avenue, making the subway a less attractive option.

Andrew November 15, 2011 - 11:47 pm

The bus doesn’t use the UN underpass (although the underpass does reduce overall traffic volumes on the surface street).

Today’s Headlines | Body Local NYC November 15, 2011 - 10:57 am

[…] 2nd Ave Sagas: Export SBS Successes to the Rest of the Bus Network […]

John-2 November 15, 2011 - 11:25 am

SBS on 34th is really a different animal from the M15 SBS just due to the length of the routes. One the crosstown, you’re not so much bypassing stops are you are just consolidating them, which will save a little time. But the largest percentage of the route is still at the mercy of crosstown traffic and vehicles traveling to/from/between the Lincoln and Queens Midtown tunnels. I would expect the day-to-day improved time percentages to fluctuate far more on the SBS crosstown route based on the traffic problem(s) de jour because once you get behind schedule, there’s less ability to make any time up further down the street.

Why Queens’ Woodhaven Boulevard is a Prime Opportunity to Implement Full Bus Rapid Transit | Mobilizing the Region May 1, 2014 - 11:21 am

[…] payment, traffic signal priority and pedestrian safety infrastructure. Existing SBS routes have demonstrated that these modest changes do in fact yield benefits such as increased bus travel speeds between 5-20 […]

David J. Andrews December 4, 2014 - 8:47 am

I don’t care what anyone says, SELECT BUS SERVICE IS A DISASTER! The fare machines eat your card (I’ve lost three of them) and it takes 5 weeks to get a new card/refund…IF you can get through to the MetroCard agents at all!!! Friends, there is a reason why you watch those Select Buses speeding past you half empty as you wait for a REAL bus. No body wants to lose their MetroCard and nobody has time to try to contact the MTA. Ride these buses at your peril. It’s only a matter of time before you will regret it.

The Commute: Let's Have An Honest Discussion About Select Bus Service - Sheepshead Bay News Blog July 14, 2015 - 12:01 pm

[…] As for the rest of my argument in my last piece, Kabak did not address any of the points I raised regarding the proposed SBS route, which I have addressed numerous times here. It should also be noted that his article takes a far different stance from his previous writings on SBS, which were supportive. Such as this one: […]


Leave a Comment