Southern Brooklyn

B44 Select Bus Service – How To Make It Better


THE COMMUTE: Select Bus Service (SBS) along the  B44 is coming to Sheepshead Bay. When it will arrive is still a mystery depending on which MTA page you access. It is scheduled either for later this year or mid-2012. But has the MTA ever been consistent?

I have previously suggested that SBS be scrapped because I believe the MTA chose the wrong route in Brooklyn for it.  Most of the criticism, however, from our local community has related to loss of parking spaces, impacts on traffic, potential benefits not worth the cost of implementation, and the MTA not being upfront with the community. These are all valid concerns.

(Find out what SBS means, and what the community’s concerns are.)

Proponents of SBS cite a time savings of 20 minutes or more along First and Second Avenues in Manhattan and, to a lesser degree, along Fordham Road in the Bronx, the first SBS route in the city. Off-board fare collection, broken machines, fare abuse, and $100 fines for fare violators, others who are simply unaware that payment is required before boarding, and some who have even paid their fare are also major issues

Whether you agree or not, SBS definitely will be coming to the B44 Nostrand Avenue route, although several if not all of the Community Boards along the route have taken a position against it. So let us fight to make it work better.

Here’s one idea

The MTA’s bus route planning process is myopic. A proposed change rarely includes more than two bus routes. In planning SBS, only single routes were considered. The MTA did not study the possiblity of extending or combining routes.

One must ride the entire route from Knapp Street and Emmons Avenue to Williamsburg Bridge Plaza to save the projected 19 minutes. Typical trip savings will be in the 4 to 6 minute time range, according to MTA estimates. Virtually no one will be saving the full 19 minutes. However, had the MTA considered extending the B44 over the Williamsburg Bridge, by using the B39 route discontinued last June, to connect with the M15 SBS along First and Second Avenues, there might have been a reason to ride the entire route – to avoid a subway or express bus ride to Manhattan. The MTA can still consider this option.

What’s wrong with the current plan

The B44 SBS plan will also provide local bus service south of Avenue U, eliminating transfers for a few passengers who currently change from the limited to the local. However, since SBS will only be making three stops south of Avenue U: Knapp Street and Emmons, Emmons and Nostrand (northbound), Shore Parkway and Nostrand (southbound) and Avenue X, most passengers south of Avenue U will still have to transfer to the SBS or else walk additional blocks to access it. Currently, no change of bus is required to stay on the Limited, which will no longer operate.

The question arises with so few people boarding at the three SBS stops south of Avenue U, and most SBS buses running nearly empty south of Avenue X, does it really make sense for half the B44 buses to skip all but three stops south of Avenue U? Why should a virtually empty bus pass you by while you have to wait 10 minutes for another one?.

I also question the wisdom of an exclusive bus lane between Avenue X and Emmons Avenue. The MTA also has been unclear as to the hours of operation for this exclusive lane (rush hours only in the peak direction of travel, or all day until 7 p.m. or 10 p.m.).

The MTA is hoping that by providing a quicker trip to the Flatbush/Nostrand Junction, current B36 and B4 passengers would be encouraged to switch to the B44 SBS. This will not happen, because most passengers in Sheepshead Bay will still prefer the Brighton Line to the IRT at the Junction.

How about this idea?

Instead of providing both SBS and local service to Knapp Street, it would make more sense for SBS buses to make all stops south of Avenue Z and (as a friend of mine suggested) operate the B44 local to the Sheepshead Bay Station instead via the B36 route. This would provide needed additional bus service to the Sheepshead Bay Station since the elimination many years ago of rush hour B36 shuttle buses between the Station and Avenue U. The amount of time the SBS would save by skipping stops south of Avenue Z will be negligible due to light boarding and light traffic.

If implemented, some of the B36s could operate along the eastern portion of the B4 route to Knapp Street restoring midday and weekend service lost to the service cuts last June. The B4 could then terminate all times at the Sheepshead Bay Station, providing additional bus and subway connections, and eliminating the time-consuming loop around Coney Island Hospital where the bus currently lays over for 20 minutes. This would end the insane situation the MTA created whereby you can transfer from the B4 to the B68 but not from the B68 to the B4 during middays and weekends.

Or this one?

Still another option would be a five-minute extension of the proposed B36 branch service from Emmons Avenue and Knapp Street by continuing along Knapp Street to Gerritsen Avenue and Avenue U, or to Kings Plaza on weekends. These ideas would promote new ridership especially to the UA movie theaters and would be a far better use of scarce resources than operating near empty SBS buses on Emmons Avenue. These proposals would look like this:

Click to enlarge


Any opinions?

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).

Comment policy


  1. An additional line to the station, plus added service to Knapp Street (near where I live) would certainly be ideal. That said, even before SBS comes to Sheepshead Bay, I would suggest the B44 figure out a way to get itself to a bus stop, on time, in accordance (give or take five minutes even) with the posted schedule. I know it’s too much to ask, but the two times this month I’ve had to wait for a B44 at Nostrand and Voorhies, I was left waiting a minimum of 25 minutes. Yesterday, at around 4:15 PM, was between 25 and 30 minutes, and earlier in February I was stuck waiting at around 9-something AM for close to 40 minutes. Fifteen minutes is frustrating, but 25-40 minutes is completely unacceptable and rightly pisses me off.

  2. Saw two B4s right behind each other last week. That’s inexcusable at 20 minute headways. Means people are waiting for 40 minutes.

  3. I know this is slightly off-topic (and out of Sheepshead Bay), but I was thinking, how about having the B44 do even more than that?

    One branch of the route does this: Washington Plaza – Broadway – Roebling – Lee – Nostrand – Emmons – Sheepshead Bay Road to B/Q train. Northbound everything is the same except for Nostrand – Flatbush – Rogers – Bedford – Taylor – Roebling to Washington Plaza.

    Tho other branch does this: Jackson Av/Queens Plaza South – Jackson – Pulaski Bridge – McGuinness – Graham – BQE service road – Union Av – Heyward St – Lee – Nostrand – Shore Pkwy S – Knapp St. Northbound everything is the same except Nostrand – Flatbush – Rogers – Bedford – Lynch – Union Av and follow reverse northbound route to Queens Plaza.

    I know that was long and took us way out of Sheepshead Bay, but this idea would give the line two big sources of ridership at Queens Plaza and at Sheepshead Bay station. Plus in the north people would have easier access to midtown since they can now access the (7) and (L) trains. It’s not easy for people in Williamsburg to get to Midtown dealing with the (J) and (M) only. The (7) and (L) go straight to midtown, run very frequently, and you have a bunch of other subway lines in Queens Plaza so I think the B44 would serve a great purpose if it connected all of that to the rest of its route. Now people would really have a reason to stay on it for a long time.

  4. And thus take advantage of the time savings. I know it wouldn’t result in the avoidance of a subway ride into Manhattan, but at least the (7) and (L) give you better options than the (J) and (M) because the (J) and (M) run less frequently, turn away from midtown thus requiring a transfer at Delancey or Canal, and go over the Williamsburg Bridge quite slowly.

    Question- How is the traffic on the Williamsburg? If they sent the B44 over the bridge, would it suffer much from the traffic? If so, how often and how long might a vehicle take to get over the bridge in the worst case scenario?

  5. If they send it over the bridge I would say Delancey – Essex or Allen – Houston – Varick and then bring it back via Varick – King St – Av of the Americas – Houston etc., stop at the train stations and the M15 Select only.

  6. I think you are trying to do too much with one route. First of all that would make the B44 extremely long. Long routes are less reliable. For example if the BQE gets backed up which it frequently does, the BQE service road (Meeker Ave) could come to a standstill. That means that a traffic delay there would affect service in Sheepshead Bay. I am assuming the branch to Queens Plaza would be SBS only since you have enough local service in the area (B43, B48 and B62)

    The other problem is removing all service from New York Avenue and not replacing it with any. Kings County Hospital is a major destination. You either need to put another route along NY or Albany Avenue south of KH Hospital because from Rogers to Utica Avenue is a very large gap without north-south service. (I also believe that the B44 is heavily used along NY Av by people accessing the A train.) Minor problem, I don’t think any time would be saved by using Graham Avenue for that short distance.

    It’s also a very big change to do all at once and would delay the project by several years. It’s a good idea for the future tough. I like the idea of increasing access from Williamsburg to the 7 and other routes via SBS or Limited. (They can already easily get to the L train so I don’t see the point in that.) However, I think it is too long of a route to go all the way to Sheepshead Bay and overlapping two routes would increase the costs.

  7. I just learned that once you get on a local and change to an SBS, you use up your one allotted bus transfer. That means anyone who gets on a local cannot change to an SBS without an unlimited card if he needs a third bus.

    Also, anyone currently boarding the B44 Limited at Avenue Z and takes it to a transfer point along the B44 route would now have to walk two extra long blocks to Avenue X to board the SBS, If boarding at Voorhies, he would have to walk down to Emmons to board the SBS. Many seniors or infirmed people would not be able to take advantage of SBS because of the long walk to it and some currently using the Limited would no longer be able to take advantage of using a faster bus without a long walk up of up to a mile which would wipeout any time savings the SBS offers.

    Years ago whenever you took a bus that didn’t go to the end of the line, you could get another transfer to the same route to continue your trip that didn’t count. It should work the same way with Limiteds and SBS. Transfers shouldn’t count.

    Even people who know about SBS do not realize all the ramifications like not being able to take the first bus that comes along, having to commit yourself to SBS or local beforehand. If there is something you think needs to be changed, now is the time to make your voice heard, not after it goes into affect.

    No one complained about losing the B4 except me when the service cuts were announced, and now it doesn’t run some of the time. Once the change goes into effect, it will be too late to bitch and yell. If you don’t like something about the SBS, now is the time to say something, not later.

  8. Right. I want to get back to what you said about sending it over the Willamsburg. What do you think about sending it all the way to Houston/Varick? Makes it a crosstown route with direct access to all the north/south subway lines in Manhattan, plus the M15 Select. I know you said long routes are less reliable, but Houston has plenty of room for bus lanes east of Av of the Americas.

    The only issue I see is traffic on the bridge (unless it’s negligible) since it doesn’t seem like you can put bus lanes there. The last stop could also be Houston by LaFayette or Allen, but again if Houston is so wide and gets bus lanes then why not send the B44 to Varick for the (1) train. The TA loves that (1) train and it runs like water all day every day. Big source of B44 ridership if it went there.

    If you live in that northern part of Brooklyn then this Lower Manhattan extension of the B44 makes life a lot easier. What they want to do, it’s like now you have the B44 line move faster but surprise, surprise, it’s still a headache to get to midtown and the west side using the (J) and (M) which have funny headways in and of themselves. And they crawl over that bridge to boot.

    The extension of the B44 over the Williamsburg (and, in my opinion, to Houston/Varick) seems like the best way to go in order for this thing to grow. We’ll have to see what happens when they roll the thing out, and if buses are consistently running around empty for no reason then they should think to extend it over the Williamsburg or do something else with it. They couldn’t possibly get rid of all the new shelters and machines that they will have built on the rest of the line. The way this whole thing is going I would say they have no choice but to extend the line once they see too many empty buses on the road. Or enough people ask for an extension. Unlike the Bx12 and M15, the B44 select looks like something that is open to modification after it is implemented. I don’t think it will just be quiet first stop to quiet last stop with nothing done to make it more purposeful.

  9. On the surface your plan seems to make sense. However, it’s not that simple. First of all there is the cost which is what it all comes down to. The MTA is implementing SBS to reduce costs. By having Limiteds make fewer stops they save money. They are not instituting SBS to expand ridership.

    Don’t know if you realize it but the M now goes to Midtown so it’s not much of a headache anymore to go from Williamsburg to Midtown. Also, the Houston Street crosstown bus does not even operate on weekends because of the Houston Street subway, so any extension of bus service there would be considered added costs.

    It appears that sending a 44 SBS across Houston connecting to subway lines is a good idea. However, it would still connect with the F at Second Avenue if it would end there, so extending it further adds the Lex, the BMT Broadway, the 8th Avenue and the 7th Avenue Lines. A transfer at West 4th connects the F to the 8th Avenue Line, and Houston Street is a local stop on the 7th Avenue Line. So from a cost-benefit perspective, I think most of the advantages could be obtained just by extending it to Broadway.which would be half the distance. Maybe that would be a good compromise. Also, perhaps half the SBS buses could be turned at the Williamsburg Bridge or at Allen Street to further keep down costs.

    I also do not think that there would be enough buses along Houston Street to merit a separate bus lane. Perhaps, buses and taxis or carpool.

    I also think the way it is being set up, most people will still take the local and the SBS will not attract many riders for long distances. But I don’t think the MTA would ever admit that. They will somehow skew the numbers to make it look like a success and no one will challenge them.

    But you are correct. It will be possible to make changes but for that to happen a lot of people will have to speak up. The problem is when they do, they usually just speak negatively, and do not make proposals such as yourself to make it work better. The MTA also has to be willing to listen, something they rarely do.

  10. On second thought, maybe Allen Street and Delancey would be enough because it gets them to the M15 SBS. If someone wanted a subway, why wouldn’t they just get on one to begin with? Why would they want to take a bus over the WB to get one in Manhattan?

  11. I think it should be Houston/Allen since that’s a SBS stop on the M15.

    The reason I thought of sending the B44 across Houston is that the (M) has funny headways, any train using the Williamsburg travels it so very slowly, and the (M) doesn’t run west of Myrtle/Broadway on the weekends. You have the (J) but that won’t go straight to midtown. I was also thinking about far east side/far west side access. The (F) and (M) put you right in the middle on 6th, so the west side is alright. 8th is a stretch but that’s what West 4th is for (transfer). If the B44 doesn’t go to Broadway or LaFayette some parts of the east side may be hard to reach since you can’t get to the (6) easily. But that may not be so bad since you have the M15 SBS.

    Wait, what about sending it to Grand/Chrystie station via Grand/Allen to go directly to the M15 as well as the (B) and (D)?

  12. I know the (F) and (M) gets you up Av of the Americas and transfer to the (B) and (D) but that direct (B) and (D) connection at Grand/Chrystie seems important because anybody coming from points north can take any 6th Av train. This is especially important on the weekend when there are the only two services on Av of the Americas, both of which run quite infrequently.

  13. I’m only guessing here but I would say that the bridge would be very unpredictable. Sure there are certain times when it is prone to delays. From my driving experience, I would say that a trip over the bridge could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes. And don’t forget if the bridge gets backed up, traffic on Delancey would also be affected, so that could take another 20 minutes as well. Worst case scenario if all buses used the bridge and no buses were turned before the bridge, buses could be delayed for as much as an hour, and that’s assuming a one-way delay not two way delay, so I believe any proposal using the bridge should only involve half the SBS buses when the bridge is prone to big delays and they all be turned short during major delays.

  14. Grand / Chrystie provides more subway connections than Houston /Allen and doesn’t seem to be further away. It may be worth it, but as I said, I don’t think subway connections are that important in this case. But they certainly do some in handy during subway outages, unscheduled or scheduled like during this month on weekends. It would improve your options.


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