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.
- 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Councilman Deutsch’s office (email@example.com) 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.
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.