Separating Fact From Fiction
None of the problems that current Select Bus Service (SBS) routes have encountered are mentioned at these sales pitch infomercials dubbed “workshops.”
Problems, such as fare machines that are inoperable or are out of paper, or occasionally remove all the money from your MetroCard, unfair enforcement or transfer penalties. (These will be discussed in more detail further on in this series.) When the first route was implemented in the Bronx, all the fare machines had to be replaced after the first year or two because no one thought of providing weather protection for the equipment. How much extra did that cost?
It is now revealed that initial satisfaction on the Bx12 was only 70 percent until early problems were corrected. However, the first year report makes no mention of any problems citing a 98 percent satisfaction rating. The propaganda from this first report was used to build support for a second route, the M15.
Rather than admit huge traffic delays on the M15 bus route, which sometimes results in 45-minute delays for a local or SBS bus, in spite of the exclusive bus lanes, which are supposed to greatly speed bus travel, all the MTA states is that Second Avenue Subway construction makes providing SBS service on the M15 challenging. What about the huge delays buses face every day during rush hours due to chronic traffic congestion at the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge? How is that being addressed? These were problems that were known about before that corridor was chosen and should not have been a surprise to the MTA.
The MTA and DOT have built powerful coalitions who support SBS, helping the MTA extol its virtues and spread its lies. Among these groups are Transportation Alternatives, Regional Plan Association, the Association for a Better New York, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Riders Alliance, Straphangers’ Campaign, BRT for NYC, Streetsblog, Pratt Center, Move NY, the City Council and its Progressive Caucus, the Mayor and Governor, and the Working Families Party. Wow, with all these groups in favor of SBS, how can they all be wrong? This must be a good thing. That is what the MTA and DOT want you to believe. However, when you look at what is really happening and ask the proper questions, it is not so obvious that they are correct in their unquestioning support of every existing and proposed SBS route.
That is not to say that SBS or BRT are bad things — only that its implementation leaves much to be desired, the way it is being shoved down our throats without any claims being proven, proper community involvement or adequate documentation provided.
Inadequacy Of Community Involvement
Community involvement has been grossly inadequate. Workshops are only publicized for a few weeks on specific bus routes. Only regular passengers are aware of them and most are too apathetic to attend, believing their input will only be ignored. Consider the fact that the need for an Avenue R bus stop was raised at every workshop, but none was installed, leaving a one-mile gap in SBS bus stop spacing. This has resulted in riders previously using the faster limited bus to have to resort to slower local service, adding at least 10 minutes to their trips while buses not stopping save a negligible 30 seconds. Look at the massive confusion that resulted when the B44 was implemented. Most residents were unaware of a change in route and the new service until the day it began operation because of inadequate publicity. Riders were not made aware that the route was being split in two, with local service continuing on New York Avenue and SBS service on Rogers Avenue replacing Limited service on New York Avenue until weeks after implementation.
No one other than bus riders knew about or attended the SBS workshops. Automobile drivers’ opinions were not solicited and most did not learn about the street change configuration until it went into effect. Final plans for Woodhaven Boulevard will be revealed
to the public on March 11 at 11:30am in Queens Borough Hall – Room 213. However, this meeting is not listed on the DOT Events Calendar or anywhere on the MTA Website. Why is this meeting being kept a secret? Invitees are asked to RSVP by March 6th at 212-839-7289.
We Need Adequate Planning And Community Involvement — Not Politics — In Decision Making
Just as Governor Cuomo let politics close down the subways prior to a major snowstorm that never materialized, and decided upon a specific airport rail route to LaGuardia Airport without any cost benefit analysis, Mayor de Blasio is also planning using politics. He has mandated 20 SBS routes within the next two years before he leaves office. Politicians are not interested in solutions that they cannot receive credit for. Hence, the great push for SBS. It took 12 years to obtain the first seven SBS routes and the mayor is aiming for 13 more within the next two years. The B44 SBS was decided upon in 2006 and not completed until 2013.
All routes were unilaterally chosen by the MTA and DOT. Community involvement was only sought to help DOT iron out minor details. The B44 process took so long because meetings were held separately, with every business association requesting one, rather than having one general meeting and one follow-up meeting with all the business associations at once. Separate meetings allowed the MTA to tell each group what they wanted to hear without having to be consistent in their responses.
When asked by a City Council member how SBS routes are determined, DOT stated they looked at high volume routes and neighborhoods needing better connections. Where is the great need to travel between Williamsburg and Sheepshead Bay? How do the numbers bear that out? There already was a way to travel between those neighborhoods, so why hasn’t the SBS process resulted in new routes being established where connections are not presently possible?
Why haven’t our elected officials given us a heads up about City Council hearings regarding Select Bus Service? Where is the town hall I requested from our elected officials so that we can ask questions and receive answers regarding bus and subway service?
The SBS is being painted as a panacea to solve our transportation problems when they currently only affect fewer than 10 percent of bus riders, which number 2.5 million daily. Local bus routes are being ignored and the MTA only alleges that BusTime is being used to increase reliability. Why, when Greg Mocker of WPIX recently questioned the head of bus operations as to what they are doing to improve bus reliability, the response was that they are adding SBS routes, but no mention of BusTime. The SBS routes have not been shown to be any more reliable than other routes. Yet, we are asked to trust the MTA and DOT.
Councilmember and former bus driver Daneek Miller is perhaps the only Council Council member not fooled by the MTA and DOT. At the February 10 City Council hearing, he asked what goes into the planning process and what determines the success of a route. He questioned the need for an SBS route between Flushing and Jamaica, stating that SBS will do nothing to help relieve 90-minute commute times to Manhattan faced by most Queens’ residents.
Nevertheless, he still is on record as supporting SBS.
Next week: SBS future plans.
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).
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.