THE COMMUTE: Select Bus Service (SBS) is due to arrive either later this year or mid-2012 on the B44 (Nostrand Avenue) bus. If you want an overview of how it will work you can get it here. According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, SBS on the B44 is the greatest invention since sliced bread. I have written on more than one occasion how the B44 SBS has been poorly thought out and how it can be improved.

Many riders along First and Second avenues in Manhattan like it because they believe it saves them time. My main gripe is that, for many, this may only be a perception, since bus travel times and numbers of passengers using SBS are the only indicators being tracked. No one is measuring door-to-door travel time for the passenger, which includes the additional walks to and from the stops that are spaced further apart than the Limited that the SBS replaces.

Also, transferring to the local bus is difficult since the local and SBS stops are separate and distinct and often are not adjacent to each other. It may also cost you an extra fare if you require a third bus or a train. So many who would like to use SBS might not be able to take advantage it.

The Savings

The MTA admits that a B44 passenger making an average 2.3-mile trip will save under five minutes for local passengers and only 1.7 minutes for Limited passengers by using SBS [PDF]. Don’t forget, if local passengers could use SBS, they would be on the Limited now, so the five-minute savings really is a meaningless number and 1.7 minutes is the number you should be looking at.

That’s right. About $20 million dollars is being spent to save the average passenger less than two minutes, when simple traffic enforcement near the Junction to prevent illegal parking could save at least five minutes. SBS is not only expensive, it comes with disadvantages such as reducing the width of the roadway by 33 percent for all vehicles except buses in areas where an exclusive bus lane is proposed. (This is not mentioned in any of the literature describing SBS.) It will also reduce parking availability and increase traffic congestion throughout the corridor. Who is measuring those costs? Only the MTA will be saving money by reducing the cost of bus operations since the SBS bus route will save about 20 minutes end to end. The passengers will be saving zilch and many could be faced with longer trips, such as current Limited passengers who will be switching to the local because the northbound SBS will not operate on New York Avenue but two long blocks away on Rogers Avenue.

It is also unclear if the 1.7-minute timesaving includes the extra time it will take to walk to and from the SBS stops, or the five minutes it takes for inspectors to board and check receipts while they keep the bus from moving. Probably not. Then there is the confusion of the local bus operating on a different street from the SBS in the case of the B44 and the fact that if the SBS is delayed, you cannot board the local once you purchase your SBS receipt, even if more than one local comes first. The proposed system for the B44 is pure lunacy; there is no other way to describe it.

Also, the MTA claims that, in Manhattan, SBS is increasing bus usage, but no one is counting the numbers of people being diverted from the subway, so it is misleading to assume that additional passengers equates with additional revenue.

Fines for Doing Nothing Wrong

But that’s not the worst of it. Any new system will have its growing pains until people become accustomed to it. However, you would think that after two years of operation, the MTA would have already worked out all the kinks regarding SBS. Broken fare media machines, where one must purchase their SBS receipt to ride the bus, are still plaguing the M15 along Second Avenue, eight months after SBS’s initiation there. Since you are not allowed to use your MetroCard or pay once on board, if the machines are broken, you risk a $100 fine if an inspector boards to check receipts even if you have an unlimited MetroCard.

That is exactly what happened to Aaron Goldberg last week, according to NY1, since inspectors do not carry portable MetroCard readers, which could have determined his MetroCard was Unlimited. In other words, if the MTA does not repair its machines, it’s your fault.

This is similar to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) philosophy that, if an alternate side of the street parking sign falls off (and is not replaced for years), you are liable for a summons. That is because the law states that the more restrictive sign like a “No Parking Anytime” sign — which could be located 500 feet away — and not the sign closest to where you are parked, is the one in effect. The conflict exists because the sign showing where one restriction ends and the other begins is missing. It all depends on the direction the agent is walking when writing the summonses.

DOT and the MTA have little incentive to replace missing signs or repair broken fare machines quickly, as the case may be, since additional revenue from issuing summonses is collected the longer the problem remains.

Each SBS bus stop has two machines but in rare instances both malfunction. The receipt could get jammed, the machine could be out of paper, or there could be a software problem. According to the MTA website, if both machines are out of order, the passenger should notify the bus operator when they board the bus who will call in the problem to alert inspectors. Mr. Goldberg did not do this, but why should the onus be on him when he wasn’t evading the fare? If a farebox is out of order on a local bus, the passengers ride for free. Was he wrong in assuming the same for SBS although he had a valid unlimited MetroCard and did not have to pay an additional fare for the SBS, but just get a receipt?

What is even worse is that, in Mr. Goldberg’s case, the MTA admits to knowing the machines were out of order, but still will not dismiss the summonses until the “victims” go to court to plead their case which could involve the loss of a day’s pay, and paying additional fares to get to and from court. That means paying four times for a single trip plus the cost of the summons if found guilty. Like DOT, the MTA is hoping that paying the fine will just be easier even if you are innocent.

Now some are wondering if the summonses are nothing more than a cash cow for the MTA, with $1.4 million in tickets issued on the M15 SBS only in the first four months of operation. This is just another example how the MTA values reducing their deficit more than it values fairness or customer service.

The chances of an inspector boarding are minimal, but one person received a summons because two inspectors boarded on the same trip. After showing her receipt to the first inspector, she threw it in her purse. When a second inspector asked her for the receipt near the end of her trip, she mistakenly dug up an old one and was immediately given a summons and thrown off the bus before her destination. If a $100 fine is not enough punishment for doing nothing wrong, why are you also made to get off the bus and pay another fare to re-board, not to mention the loss of time and inconvenience? What a way to encourage bus usage! So much for using discretion in issuing summonses as the MTA promised it would do.

Yet another flaw in the system is that receipts are only valid for one hour after purchase. So if you should decide to ride an SBS route from one end to the other, where waiting for the bus together with the trip could take more than one hour, you also risk a summons for an expired receipt if an inspector boards the bus shortly before you are due to get off, although the ticket was purchased for that trip.

Fare Evasion

Fare evasion was a big problem on the first SBS route, the Bx12 in the Bronx. After enforcement was stepped up, it became less of a problem, according to the MTA, with a fare evasion rate of only 10 percent. However, confidential sources within MTA Revenue reported to me that the fare evasion rate on SBS is closer to 30 to 40 percent. Will it also be fare jumper heaven for B44 riders?

I would like to see statistics comparing revenue lost through fare evasion with revenue gained through fare evasion summonses. You would think with the MTA, being so transparent, as MTA Chairman Jay Walder claims, this information would be readily available on the MTA website, but it is not. According to The Daily News, most fare evaders get away with it. At the same time the innocent ones have to pay. Not a very fair system.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lauraoshun Laura Aiello

    oh boy…that’s gonna be a hot ghetto mess lol

  • The Latest Guest

    Even though I do think SBS is a cool concept, you article does a good job of pointing how it’s not all that good for the B44. Just one nitpick though. The start of the service has been pushed back to January 2013. [As per the DOT's summer newsletter] http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/201107_nostrand_sbs_newsletter.pdf

    • Anonymous

      Looks like mid 2012 is now late 2012. The MTA needs to update their website and make it consistent.

  • Guest

    I hope Mr. Goldberg wins his case like he should and then sues the MTA for millions.

    • Anonymous

      He would have to prove major damages to get millions. There weren’t any.

  • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

    What I see this requiring is a clear policy on what to do if fare machines are not working.

    1. The driver must be notified—and then verify by checking the machines—that all machines for one type of fare payment are broken.
    2. That driver must then call it in immediately to supervision.
    3. Anyone who got on at the previous stop would be told to pay at the next stop if the machines are functioning there. A bus would sit through a maximum of two light cycles while this payment is made.

    I say this because it’s unclear what Goldberg’s intention was…did he really intend to pay the fare, or did he think that he would get a free ride? That is debatable.

    As for the B44, unlike the Bx12 and M15 SBS routes, I don’t agree with this particular concept, as it doesn’t exactly complement the subway in a route not duplicated by it. The Q44, combined with part of the Q6 (excluding the portions of each that go east of Sutphin Boulevard or 150 Street), traveling from JFK Terminal 4 to Jamaica LIRR to Flushing to Parkchester – ending in Parkchester – to me would have been better.

    • Vickster

      According to the article, Mr. Goldberg had an Unlimited MetroCard – that means his fare was already paid when he bought the card – so there is nothing to debate. 

      • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

        But you still have to dip the card in to register fare payment, at that stop or the next one. Unless he was ticketed at the very next stop, to me, that signifies intent to evade.

        Now, I’m not entirely opposed to having a MetroCard-only payment machine on the bus.

        • Anonymous

          If he wasn’t required to pay and he wasn’t, it cannot be construed as intent to evade. Merely not having a receipt in hand does not mean that someone evaded the fare if they are in possession of an unlimited card. The problem is that the inspectors have no way to tell.

          • Flatbush Depot

            Actually they do. The serial number on the Metrocard matches the serial number on the receipt you get when you buy the card at a Metrocard vending machine. The receipt also says what card type you purchased, what date you purchased it, and what time you purchased it. That is your way out if you cannot produce a receipt.

            I don’t mean to make it seem like I like the situation or that I’m defending the authority, just saying that there are ways out.

          • Flatbush Depot

            I said “if you cannot produce a receipt.” I meant to say “if you cannot produce a ticket from the SBS machine.”

          • Anonymous

            However what if you purchased your MetroCard from other than a vending machine, you wouldn’t have a receipt and there still is the expense and inconvenience of going to court.

        • Flatbush Depot

          I hope that would only be on non-SBS buses. Paying the fare on the bus is archaic and nerve-tearing, especially for those who are sitting on the bus, who have to wait and watch. It’s also the source of most passenger/operator confrontations.

          Just because this ridiculousness is occurring with the summonses doesn’t mean they should go back to the ridiculousness they had before SBS.

          • Anonymous

            There is nothing wrong with off-board fare collection if it works properly. The problem here is that they rely on paper and apparently they cannot predict when the machine is about to run out. And of course it will jam from time to time. They could have designed it some other way. I’m not sure how.

            Guess you wouldn’t have liked to have had to make change for the passengers before 1969. That was more archaic.

          • Flatbush Depot

            Agreed.

    • Anonymous

      Your solution is a good one provided that both machines at any particular location is a very rare occurrence. It would not work if it would happen more than once along a trip because every driver would be delaying each bus to check the same machines until they are repaired unless Central Command also notifies all drivers after the first report when it is made and again when the machines are repaired.

      As for better candidates, I suggested back in 2004 a route similar to the B82 that would terminate at Gateway Mall in Spring Creek. If successful it could have been extended to the Aqueduct Racino and JFK.

  • LLQBTT

    Also, SBS service is apparently subject to the same random ‘schedule adjustments’ that basically slow the bus down or stop it entirely.  The other day I caught an SBS uptown and it paralleled the local to 14 St., no traffic, no overcrowding, just the operator going waaay slow, and waiting in a stop for no apparent reason, so no time savings at all!  Then after 14 St., it operated in a more ‘SBS-like’ manner.

    So what’s the point of the service if it’s subject to the same random stops and delays as ‘regular’ bus service?

  • LLQBTT

    Also, SBS service is apparently subject to the same random ‘schedule adjustments’ that basically slow the bus down or stop it entirely.  The other day I caught an SBS uptown and it paralleled the local to 14 St., no traffic, no overcrowding, just the operator going waaay slow, and waiting in a stop for no apparent reason, so no time savings at all!  Then after 14 St., it operated in a more ‘SBS-like’ manner.

    So what’s the point of the service if it’s subject to the same random stops and delays as ‘regular’ bus service?

    • Anonymous

      They probably shouldn’t care if the bus is early if all of them are early. The only justification I could see for the driver driving slowly like that if he was aware that the SBS behind him was being delayed significantly.

      • LLQBTT

        Appreciate all the replies, but as a passenger promised faster service than a local, I don’t care if the bus runs hot cold boiling or freezing.  None of the conditions described above applied here.  There was another SBS directly behind, and another passed us straight up.  There is no excuse for just dilly dallying at a bus stop for no reason (and announcing nothing to the passengers).

    • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

      That driver may have been running “hot” (as in running early). There does need to be better dispatching of the SBS, with some runs short-turning and running only between 96 (100 southbound) and Houston Street.

      Also, to me, that northbound stop for Houston should be flip-flopped with the local, with SBS getting the closer stop.

      • Flatbush Depot

        They don’t slow down SBS buses for running hot because there is no such thing with SBS. There are fewer time points on the operator’s schedule and if the operator is a little early (s)he keeps it moving. Typically the only time you slow down is when your leader is right in front of you and is carrying more people than usual while you’re carrying less than usual. What BrooklynBus said was also correct. Only slow down to keep the headways even. Same thing happens in the subways, and you can see this with the holding lights at some stations.

      • Flatbush Depot

        They don’t slow down SBS buses for running hot because there is no such thing with SBS. There are fewer time points on the operator’s schedule and if the operator is a little early (s)he keeps it moving. Typically the only time you slow down is when your leader is right in front of you and is carrying more people than usual while you’re carrying less than usual. What BrooklynBus said was also correct. Only slow down to keep the headways even. Same thing happens in the subways, and you can see this with the holding lights at some stations.

      • Flatbush Depot

        They don’t slow down SBS buses for running hot because there is no such thing with SBS. There are fewer time points on the operator’s schedule and if the operator is a little early (s)he keeps it moving. Typically the only time you slow down is when your leader is right in front of you and is carrying more people than usual while you’re carrying less than usual. What BrooklynBus said was also correct. Only slow down to keep the headways even. Same thing happens in the subways, and you can see this with the holding lights at some stations.

      • Flatbush Depot

        They don’t slow down SBS buses for running hot because there is no such thing with SBS. There are fewer time points on the operator’s schedule and if the operator is a little early (s)he keeps it moving. Typically the only time you slow down is when your leader is right in front of you and is carrying more people than usual while you’re carrying less than usual. What BrooklynBus said was also correct. Only slow down to keep the headways even. Same thing happens in the subways, and you can see this with the holding lights at some stations.

      • Flatbush Depot

        They don’t slow down SBS buses for running hot because there is no such thing with SBS. There are fewer time points on the operator’s schedule and if the operator is a little early (s)he keeps it moving. Typically the only time you slow down is when your leader is right in front of you and is carrying more people than usual while you’re carrying less than usual. What BrooklynBus said was also correct. Only slow down to keep the headways even. Same thing happens in the subways, and you can see this with the holding lights at some stations.

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