Picking up on the idea that the MTA needs permanent leadership as well as the ongoing confusion over Select Bus Service in light of the MTA’s move to turn off the flashing blue lights, an interested party sends the following missive:
You note that the MTA has essentially been rudderless in the water for 100 days since Joe Lhota left. One of the consequences of that is that the MTA exercised exceedingly poor judgment, and also failed adequately to cover its legal flank, when it issued a press release stating that it was turning the lights off “in response to specific concerns”. Four months before Mr. Lhota received a letter from a couple of Staten Island politicians opposed to exclusive bus lanes on Hylan Blvd., in which the safety of the flashing blue lights was speculatively called into question — despite the fact they had been in continuous use with all kinds of other vehicles without incident since June 2008. Moreover, this announcement came from out of the blue as there was no prior notice and no public hearing that followed. This, naturally, led to speculation that MTA had been doing something illegal for all those years (although that was not something specifically admitted to in the press release).
This contrasts with the years of public outreach since SBS was announced in 2004, a partnership with NYC DOT, and consultations with NYPD and FDNY about the safety of the new technologies being introduced – i.e., bus priority at traffic signalsl and flashing blue lights on buses. Moreover, the legislature got into the act, passing a law that permits automatic camera enforcement of exclusive bus lanes (but only for the first group of SBS routes).
So, one wonders if the MTA hadn’t thought about its possibly needing additional permission to use these lights? We do not know the answer to that.
Nevertheless, the MTA has now discovered the existence of VTL § 375, subdivision 41, and seems to have reacted in panic. Meanwhile, there is great deal of demand for the blue lights to be turned back on. Without leadership, the MTA shows no enthusiasm, or initiative, for developing a strategy to help its beleaguered bus riders.
I should note: there has never been a traffic summons issued to a bus driver for using the SBS lights. Also, nobody has ever sued the MTA to stop using them. Therefore there could never have been a judicial determination that the MTA’s use of blue flashing lights on SBS buses is wrong. (The MTA decided this entirely on its own, and also decided, in effect, to “plead nolo contendre”.) In hindsight, until a judge stopped the MTA, they should have continued to use the blue lights as they always had.
While we await remedial legislation (which may or may not be passed) to carve-out another exception from the volunteer firefighters’ over-reaching monopoly on the color blue, the MTA might consider giving itself legal cover to turn the lights back on by challenging the constitutionality of VTL § 375, subdivision 41 — because the 2002 law was over-broad — giving unnecessary monopoly control over anybody’s use of an important primary color to one group (whose own use of this power is strictly limited by that same statute).
Regardless of such a case’s outcome, the MTA should have affirmative steps to defend its course of conduct over the previous five years (of using the lights for the public’s benefit), as well as its continuing to use them. And, politically, it comes across as fighting for its ridership, instead of trying to remain invisible until Governor Cuomo puts a strong leader in charge of the entire operation.
Another argument in favor of adopting a litigation strategy is that it would be absolutely ridiculous for this cash-strapped agency to spend a large sum of money to replace a system that is in good working order across its growing fleet of specially fitted-out buses. (This seemed to me to be suggested by the press release.)
By the way, I live along the M15 SBS route, and it is anxiety-provoking for me — and everyone who uses it with me — to be unable to distinguish SBS from non-SBS buses. Also (would you believe?), it appears MTA had never asked for legislative relief from VTL § 375, subdivision 41. FYI A06076 (which incorrectly describes the lights) was introduced March 14th in response to constituent concerns like mine, but so far, it has no counterpart in the Senate.
Now, I don’t think the MTA has been as rudderless as this reader makes them out to be. As I said earlier today, Fernando Ferrer and Tom Prendergast have kept things moving along as a steady clip. But the SBS issue has raised a series of eyebrows from those belonging to East Side politicians on down. A number of riders have raised concerns over the inability to ascertain if an approaching bus is a Select Bus or a local bus, and with stops at opposite ends of the block — or on other blocks all together — boarding properly and in time becomes stressful.
The MTA hasn’t publicly addressed the issue in months, but Community Board 6 in Manhattan is taking up the cause tonight. They’re going to vote on a (non-binding) resolution 1) supporting legislative curative action, and 2) calling on the MTA to examine all options for turning back on its iconic pair of simultaneously flashing blue lights on SBS buses. (The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Alumni Hall B at NYU Langone Medical Center at 550 First Ave., and anyone can speak.)
While CB6’s vote carries only some symbolism and garners some press, what’s the answer? Maybe the MTA should turn those lights back on, and maybe someone in Albany can lead a charge to secure the proper exemption. The lack of lights does the Select Bus Service and its riders no favors.