The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: After five years of planning, on November 17, 2013 the MTA began operating Select Bus Service (SBS) on the B44 in Brooklyn. The MTA believed that by providing a speedier bus service to the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction from Sheepshead Bay, with improved service south of Avenue U, riders could be persuaded to use the #2 and #5 trains instead of the B and Q at Sheepshead Bay. The reasoning defied all logic since the #2 and #5 are more crowded than the B and Q, and the trip to the Sheepshead Bay Station is also quicker than the trip to Flatbush Avenue by Brooklyn College, even with SBS.

More than three years ago, I predicted that SBS buses would be operating nearly empty south of Avenue X. I suggested either operating the SBS via the B36 route to Sheepshead Bay Station, or sending alternate buses from Emmons Avenue directly to Kingsborough Community College on school days, in order to better utilize nearly empty buses. I also never believed there was a need for exclusive bus lanes in Sheepshead Bay.

Riders of the B36 have been complaining regularly about overcrowded buses and irregular service as have B44 SBS and local riders, saying buses often arrive two or three at a time. That was not supposed to happen with exclusive bus lanes in place since buses do not have to compete with other traffic on those lanes that comprise a significant portion of the route.

Avenue L riders requested that the former Limited stop at Avenue L be returned as an SBS stop. That was finally done on April 21. I recently learned that Avenue R riders have also been making the same request, but it has fallen on deaf ears. (More on that later.)

Shortly after the B44 SBS began operation, I wrote a three-part series (parts 1, 2, and 3), detailing initial reactions. I was widely criticized for that series by those claiming I was not giving the service a chance and time was needed to iron out the kinks. I was also criticized for not riding the bus or observing it after I wrote my update in February. I was also requested to monitor B36 service by Sheepshead Bites readers to validate the irregularity of service complaints on that route.

So last Friday, May 2nd, I monitored both the B36 and the B44 for a period of two hours — from 7:43 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. — at the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Avenue Z. Remember that BusTime is now in effect in Brooklyn, which is supposed to help better regulate service. The MTA also promised to increase B44 local service due to complaints of overcrowding and waits of up to 45 minutes.

So how has everything been working out? Not very well, I’m afraid. The MTA has had nearly six months to get their act together regarding the B44. They will never produce statistics like the ones you are about to see. Theirs will only show how great SBS is, and will omit all the negatives. The anticipated demand in southern Sheepshead Bay to take the B44 SBS to the Flatbush Avenue station never materialized. I estimate that Sheepshead Bay station riders from south of Avenue X outnumber those going to the Flatbush Avenue / Brooklyn College station by about 12 to one. Rather than ever admit they screwed up, the MTA will just use the lack of demand as an excuse why they cannot afford to provide any additional service elsewhere where demand actually exists.

Here is what I found:

B44 Service Reliability And The Need For An Exclusive Bus Lane In Sheepshead Bay

  • The longest wait for a B44 local was 37 minutes southbound between 8:47 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. The scheduled headway is every 15 minutes.
  • The longest northbound wait for a B44 local was 31 minutes between 9:05 and 9:36 a.m. The scheduled headway is 12 minutes.
  • The longest wait for an SBS bus was 16 minutes between 9:13 and 9:29 a.m. The scheduled wait is eight minutes. That delay more than negates the promised 4.4-minute time savings for the average passenger making a 2.3-mile trip.
  • There were four instances of SBS buses bunched within one minute. There was one instance of the local bunching within one minute, although locals are scheduled only once every 15 minutes south of Avenue U, which represents a 50 percent cut in service at local stops from when before SBS was implemented.
  • Between 9:05 and 9:29 a.m., B44 northbound local passengers at Avenue Y had to watch as many as six SBSs and two B36s pass by or a total of eight buses before the next local arrived.
  • Traffic was very light in both directions and although some vehicles violated the bus lanes, they are totally unnecessary in Sheepshead Bay and do not result in buses traveling any faster. SBS buses reached speeds of about 30 MPH, something New York City is trying to discourage by reducing the speed limit on major arterials.

B36 Reliability

  • The longest wait for a B36 bus was 21 minutes, northbound, between 9:03 and 9:24 a.m. and 19 minutes southbound between 9:03 and 9:22 a.m. The scheduled headway is either every five or six minutes.
  • The number of buses arriving within zero and two minutes was 12 out of 41 buses, which means that 29 percent of the buses were bunched. At 8:36 a.m., four in-service B36 buses turned the corner from Avenue Z into Nostrand Avenue. If you consider buses fewer than three minutes apart as bunched, the statistic rose to a staggering 34 percent. This confirms what Sheepshead Bites readers have been saying all along, that reliability on the B36 is a major issue.
  • Car services and green taxis were cruising bus stops soliciting for B36 passengers to Sheepshead Bay although they already had passengers aboard. One passenger accepted a ride at Avenue Z.

Next week: Find out what the average bus loads were on the B44 and B36 buses at Avenue Z. They may surprise you. Also, read my conclusions and recommendations.

But first, contact Raisa Sunitskaya (rsunitskaya@yahoo.com) or Councilman Deutsch’s office (cdeutsch@council.nyc.gov) if you use the B44 Avenue R stop and would like to sign a petition currently being circulated to add Avenue R as an SBS stop. The petition already has more than 500 signatures. The addition of this stop would benefit not only Avenue R riders, but also Quentin Road and Avenue S riders as well, since the distance to the closest SBS stops at Kings Highway and at Avenue U is too great to walk as those stops are nearly one mile apart.

Also, if you want to keep the remaining subway station agents which the MTA is contemplating completely eliminating, you can sign my friend John Rozankowski’s petition at Move On.

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).

Correction (1:36 p.m.): Two minor corrections were made to this post to correct typos in dates, times.

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • fdtutf

    Two sentences that might need some editing:

    “After five years of planning, on November 17, 2014 the MTA began operating Select Bus Service (SBS) on the B44 in Brooklyn.”

    “So last Friday, May 2nd, I monitored both the B36 and the B44 for a period of two hours — from 7:43 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. — at the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Avenue Z.”

    (This is not meant as a dig; I’m just letting you know there are a couple of things you may want to fix.)

    • Morty

      Alan November 17, 2014 has not occured yet. This is why people hate Sheepshead bay a bunch of stupid geeks, who think they know it all. They are actually dumber than the average junkie from the Coney Island projects. With the criminal record to boot as well.

    • Allan Rosen

      Thanks. I appreciate it. They are obvious errors which got past my editor too. It should be 9:45, and I assume you know what year I meant. I will get it fixed.

      • fdtutf

        I figured those were just little misses. Happy to help.

  • http://yonderplanets.tumblr.com/ Think2wice

    My apologies if this was addressed before, but could the B36 also be extended to Brooklyn College to supplement the B44 Local? I always wondered why it still has to terminate at Avenue U, waiting for a trolley that’ll never come again.

    • Allan Rosen

      I don’t think that would be a good idea. It makes the system just too complex and would further reduce B36 reliability. If they need more locals north of Avenue U, they should just add them perhaps only to Brooklyn College if that is what’s warranted.

  • sonicboy678

    I honestly never saw why Avenue R was omitted in the first place. I mean, I don’t even live near Avenue R and I find the lack of a stop there jarring.

    • Allan Rosen

      Why was Avenue D (which was out back before service started) or any other transfer point eliminated? Each fare machine cost $50,000. They wanted to save money.

      • Andrew

        If the goal were to save money, SBS wouldn’t have started in the first place.

        The reason any stop was eliminated was to save time for people traveling past that stop.

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  • Andrew

    Also, if you want to keep the remaining subway station agents which the MTA is contemplating completely eliminating, you can sign my friend John Rozankowski’s petition at Move On.

    Source that the MTA is “contemplating completely eliminating” station agents? This is news to me.

    What are the details of this plan? Is the proposal to redeploy the station agents in other roles, and, if so, what are those roles? I have trouble taking a position on an issue without the relevant facts.

    • Allan Rosen

      It is a secret until it happens. That’s how the MTA works. When they propose something as advantageous to the rider, there is a big public announcement and it takes a year until it goes into effect. When it is negative, there is a small announcement that they are doing a pilot experiment. Of course, the MTA slanted data always shows these pilot experiments to be successful like the removal of garbage cans at stations. There is never a failed “pilot experiment”. (In the case of the garbage cans, the problem is just moved elsewhere to off MTA property.

      In the case of station agents, all we have are broken promises. Like when booths were closed and personnel would become roving station attendants with red jackets. It sounded like a good idea. At least someone would be available to answer questions. But where are those station attendants today? All gone.

      Here is the link about the MTA’s “pilot program” to remove agents at 25 stations. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-station-booths-article-1.1507918

      Did you see the recent Channel 11 story where the reporter accidentally noticed most everyone jumping the turnstiles where there was no agent at 6th Avenue and 23 Street southbound because none of the turnstiles were working properly? They all needed their magnetic heads cleaned and there was no one to report the problem. The riders weren’t going to tell anyone. How many more stations is this happening at? It will soon become a common occurrence with fewer station agents and the MTA would just believe there is a decline in ridership and reduce service leading to more crowded trains.

      • fdtutf

        “Here is the link about the MTA’s “pilot program” to remove agents at 25 stations. http://www.nydailynews.com/new…”

        The subway only has 25 stations? Or the subway currently only has 25 staffed stations? How did we get from this to “considering completely eliminating”?

        • Allan Rosen

          Because anyone who knows the MTA knows that 25 stations is only the beginning. When it is deemed a rounding success, the MTA will expand the program to another 25 or 50 stations. The they will continually expand it until they can get away with removing as any agents as they can until the public starts protesting and says enough is enough. Then perhaps they will return agents to five stations where they were removed and call it case closed and a compromise.

          Look at all the station entrances which were closed in the 70s due to ridership declines and increased crime. Many of those neighborhoods have since rebounded like Park Slope for example. Yet the southern entrance at 7 Avenue remains closed to this day. Why? It could even e an unmanned entrance but the MTA doesn’t reopen it. Because they have no interest in reducing walk time or making the system more convenient. Their only interest is to reduce costs which They always

          • Allan Rosen

            overestimate anyway.

      • Andrew

        It is a secret until it happens. That’s how the MTA works.

        In other words, you have no source that “the MTA is contemplating completely eliminating” subway station agents. Your friend John Rozankowski made it up.

        I asked another series of questions, which you declined to answer: “What are the details of this plan? Is the proposal to redeploy the station agents in other roles, and, if so, what are those roles? I have trouble taking a position on an issue without the relevant facts.”

        Of course, the MTA slanted data always shows these pilot experiments to be successful like the removal of garbage cans at stations. There is never a failed “pilot experiment”. (In the case of the garbage cans, the problem is just moved elsewhere to off MTA property.

        The purpose of the trash can pilot was to address the serious problem of the garbage train interfering with passenger train service. The volumes of trash have increased (thank you, AM New York and friends) while midday and evening service on many lines has also increased due to the steady ongoing growth in off-peak ridership.

        Last I checked, there are no similar challenges to picking up trash from sidewalk trash cans or from offices and homes. How is this a failure?

        In the c ase of s tation agents, all we have are broken promises. Like when booths were closed and personnel would become roving station attendants with red jackets. It sounded like a good idea. At least someone would be available to answer questions. But where are those station attendants today? All gone.

        Broken promises? That is an excellent example of a failed experiment. The Station Customer Assistant program was terminated in 2009 or 2010.

        Rather than hunt around a station for someone who might or might not be able to answer my question, I’d rather press a button and call someone at a central location who can look it up.

        Here is the link about the MTA’s “pilot program” to remove agents at 25 stations.

        That’s 25 stations, not a complete elimination.

        In fact, it’s not an elimination at all. As the article
        states, “Instead of a clerk behind the glass, each station would have a transit worker carrying out a wider-range of duties that might include such tasks as crowd control on platforms, emptying garbage cans and waiting with an ill rider for an ambulance to arrive, according to union and management sources.”

        Sounds like an improvement to me.

        Did you see the recent Channel 11 story where the reporter accidentally noticed most everyone jumping the turnstiles where there was no agent at 6th Avenue and 23 Street southbound because none of the turnstiles were working properly? They all needed their magnetic heads cleaned and there was no one to report the problem. The riders weren’t going to tell anyone. How many more stations is this happening at? It will soon become a common occurrence with fewer station agents and the MTA would just believe there is a decline in ridership and reduce service leading to more crowded trains.

        Wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been somebody assigned to walk around the station and perform light maintenance duties like cleaning MetroCard heads? Instead, all we have now is one person stuck inside a booth at one of the two entrances to the station. The current system is broken.