Southern Brooklyn

Benefits Of SBS And Other Considerations


Today’s special edition of The Commute is a follow-up on yesterday’s column on suggestions and critiques of the planned Select Bus Service (SBS) route on Nostrand Avenue, which will replace the B44 Limited.

THE COMMUTE: Last week I made a slight error by stating that the average SBS passenger making a 2.3-mile trip will save an average of 1.7 minutes. A Sheepshead Bites reader brought the error to my attention. The correct estimated time savings is 4.4 minutes compared to current service. Part of this savings is not due to SBS but because the SBS will be operating slightly more often than the current Limited bus. The 1.7 number referred to the time that would be saved if the Limited service were to be increased to the level of frequency provided by the SBS without any of the SBS features. In other words, the SBS by itself when discounting the additional bus frequency will save the average passenger 2.7 additional minutes.

This is the average time savings for everyone using the B44, not only SBS passengers, and includes additional walking time to and from bus stops. One of my concerns before attending the Open House was that the MTA was not taking walking time into consideration and was only measuring bus travel time savings.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at how the MTA/DOT came to their conclusions presented at last week’s SBS Nostrand Avenue route hearing, and why they might be lacking.

How Did the MTA Make their Predictions?

These savings are projected according to a computer model used by the MTA. How accurate is it? According to Ted Orosz, the Project Leader on the MTA side, the information coming out is as good as the information going in. Therefore it is important that we find out as much as we can about the model they are using and what went into it. Thus far the MTA has not revealed any information about its model. Basically what they are saying is that they are the “experts” and we should trust them. It is up to you if you are willing to accept that.

A Little About Models

I know a little about computer modeling. We used it at the Department of City Planning to help us with our 1978 bus proposals. What I can tell you is similar to what Orosz stated. If you make the wrong assumptions inputting data, the data coming out will not be accurate. You have to really understand the system to make the correct assumptions. Computer models have come a long way since 1978, but the same holds true today. So how good is the MTA’s model? I don’t know. But this is what I do know.

In 2006, near the conclusion of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s three-year study of transportation in Southern Brooklyn, the MTA made a presentation on the model they were using. Three years earlier, they promised that the model would assess various bus route change options suggested by the participants in the study. Finally, they admitted that the model could not be used for that purpose because it was not sophisticated enough. It could only be used to predict broad regional travel patterns on the macro level, but was useless to study individual routes.

So the question becomes what has changed in the past few years? What model are they using now and if it can assign and predict travel patterns on a route-by-route basis, why was it not used last year when the MTA made its massive service cuts? At that time the MTA indicated it was relying solely on fare box revenue, MetroCard data, and passenger traffic counts to make those changes.  Nowhere in any of their documentation did they refer to any computer model and nowhere in their presentation of SBS are there any written references to a computer model that I could find.

How a Computer Model Works

In simplest terms, origin and destination data is inputted, that is, the addresses where people begin and end their trips. This data is obtained from past surveys that were conducted, usually from census data, unless the MTA performed its own surveys, which is doubtful. The transit network is also inputted. The computer then builds trip tables assigning passengers to what it determines to be the route they prefer, usually the one taking the least amount of time. It is up to the planners to assign other variables the model would not consider on its own; for example, to not allow trips where three or more changes would be involved. The model could also assign a penalty of several minutes to subway stations that many people consider unsafe because they believe it would be too dangerous to transfer there, if the planners believe that doing so would result in more accurate trip planning by the model.

In the Urban Transportation Planning System (UTPS) Model I used at the Department of City Planning in 1975 to develop the Southern Brooklyn bus route changes made in 1978, it was not possible for us to account for three bus trips made with a single fare, which was allowed at that time on some trips, so our model was incorrect in that respect. Today, the MTA has to make allowances for passengers using an unlimited pass and those paying per trip. If, for example, the model is programmed to assign an unlimited pass for 54 percent of the passengers and in actuality, in poorer neighborhoods, only 38 percent of the riders use an unlimited pass, the model would assign more trips that can be made with two fares even if the trip that is actually made is a longer one requiring one fare. The same would apply to college students who may only make their trip three days a week and also choose the pay-per-ride option because it would be uneconomical for them to purchase an unlimited ride pass.

The poorer the assumptions that are made when building the model, the less accurate the results. Good planning practice is to disclose all assumptions to give the public an understanding of the planning process. Although Chairman Jay Walder prides himself on the MTA being a transparent agency, the MTA has not revealed one iota of information regarding their model. We do not even know if they are using 2010 census data or 12-year-old 2000 census data. You can ask the MTA these questions, or you could just trust them. The choice is yours.

Other Considerations

You will be able to transfer between the SBS and the local; however, making such a transfer will deprive you of transferring to a third bus or the subway. Since many riders south of the Junction would transfer to the subway, in essence this means that unless they have an unlimited card, they will not be able to transfer from the local to the SBS or vice versa for a single fare and would either have to stay on the local for their entire trip or walk up to a half-mile to or from the SBS.

It is unofficial MTA policy for a local bus operator to accept an SBS receipt as payment for a fare if the SBS is delayed; however, the MTA will not make this the official policy, according to Orosz. I am not sure how to interpret that. I guess it means you have no recourse if a local bus operator refuses to let you on with an SBS receipt. Also, I do not understand why, if it is allowed, the MTA will not make this official policy. It seems to me that this will lead to unnecessary conflicts between passengers and bus operators.

As for my question about what steps the MTA will be taking to assure that innocent riders will not be receiving summonses for not paying their fare, I was told by Orosz that all passengers who receive summonses deserve them and that passengers that claim to be innocent are liars because they should have been able to produce a receipt when requested. Of course, summonses will not be issued immediately. A grace period will be given until riders familiarize themselves with the new system. However, contrary to Orosz’s statement I believe there is room for confusion and misinterpretation that could result in unfair summonses being given. For example, the signs on the current fare machines in Manhattan state that you should “Speed Your Ride – Pay Before You Board” That could be interpreted by someone unfamiliar with SBS that you could also pay once on board as on the railroads. There have been instances where bus operators have not informed riders wishing to pay on board that they must get off the bus, but rather motioned them to get on to keep the passengers moving. The signs should make it clear that pre-paying is not an option but a requirement and there is a risk of a hefty fine.

I also learned at the Open House that the construction cost for the project is about $20 million including the cost of the fare machines. The cost of the machines will be paid from the MTA Capital Program. The federal government and DOT will foot the bill for all other costs except for the ongoing costs of repairing the fare machines when they need repair, which will be borne by the MTA, I assume after the manufacturer’s warranty expires.

In Manhattan, where SBS is already in operation, the MTA claims that fare evasion is down from 13 percent to seven percent since the MTA began operating on the M15 route, so any revenues brought in from summonses are only pluses for the MTA according to Orosz. I did not seek further information as to how much revenue from summonses are collected or if that amount is greater than the amounts lost through fare evasion, as I had intended.

According to Eric Beaton of DOT, 150 parking spaces will be lost north of the Junction and below the Junction there will be a net change of zero parking spaces. My final question for DOT was which bus stops would be removed from Emmons Avenue since that was mentioned at the Community Board 15 meeting last year. DOT stated they will have that answer on October 25 at their presentation to Board 15. Of course, you will have to ask the question if you want that answer.

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. A couple of points:

    * I don’t think you could really use Census data to make the origin/destination model. I mean, theoretically, it would be somewhat accurate if you’re just counting commuters, but when you throw in college students, seniors, schoolkids, and those riding the bus on their lunch break or for leisure activities, it becomes extremely inaccurate.

    * As far as transferring to the +SBS+ vs. staying on the local, there is the advantage of having the bus lanes and slightly reduced ridership (because you’ll see some former local riders switching to the +SBS+ because it’s even more of a timesaver than the local) which will help speed up the trip, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they forbade that transfer (of course, it should still be done, as there are obvious benefits to the extra transfer)

    * I wonder if they would use that model when trying to figure out the ridership for my S93 extension. 😉

  2. Yes of course a new survey would be preferable to census data, but if they would have done one, they would let us know. I bet they are using 13 year-old census data which is why they don’t want to give out too much information or even public ally mention they are using a model. I think using old such old data is worse than not counting non-commuter trips.

    I wish people will ask these questions instead of blindly accepting the statistics that are given.

    No former local riders will be switching to the SBS. All SBS riders will be coming from the Limited. People who use the Local now cannot use the Limited so why would they switch to the SBS when it makes even fewer stops and does not access Kings County Hospital or the A train from New York Avenue? Contrary, the reverse will happen. Current Limited users will switch to the Local. Also, since the Local will use 40 foot buses and the SBS attics with more capacity, the locals will be more crowded, with ample capacity on the SBS. Because of more overcrowding, I doubt it if the speeds on the locals will even increase. And I really doubt it if they will run more locals than SBS. One of the complaints I hear about the M15 is that the local service has degraded since the start of the SBS and the same will happen here.

    And they will find a reason why they can’t use the model for any other proposals.

  3. Plenty of people will switch from the local to the SBS.

    You’re assuming that every current local rider has absolutely no choice but to use the local.  In fact, most current local riders have a choice.

    Some local riders are traveling between limited (future SBS) stops and currently take whichever bus comes first.  With the additional time savings due to SBS, some will decide that it’s now worthwhile to skip the local and wait for the SBS.

    Other local riders are traveling to and/or from local stops.  In many cases they are in walking distance of future SBS stops, and the additional time savings might be substantial enough that it pays to walk a few extra blocks. 

  4. Not true that plenty of people will switch from the local to the SBS.  Few will switch from the local to the SBS.  Considering that 22 limited stops will be eliminated and there are so few SBS stops, more will be switching from the Limited to the local than will be switching from the local to the SBS. The number of local riders who will be in walking distance of the SBS will be small compared to all the local riders.  The only ones who will find it worthwhile to walk extra blocks to the SBS are those who 1) have quite a long distance to travel on the B44 which are a minority of the riders; 2) those without packages who don’t have difficulty walking and would not mind it; 3) the weather isn’t raining, snowing, excessively hot or excessively cold.  When you consider all the factors, you will realize that you are incorrect.

  5. I’m sorry, you’re just plain wrong.  People are willing to walk longer distances to faster services.  Just as a subway station draws people from a larger radius than a local bus stop, so will an SBS stop.  This has been the case on the Bx12 and the M15 and it will also be the case on the B44.

    By global standards, local stops in New York are spaced absurdly close together.  While some bus riders appreciate the very close stop spacing typical on NYC local buses, far more would rather see some stops sacrificed in favor of faster trips.  B44 riders will have both options: slow trips with lots of stops on the local and faster trips with fewer stops on SBS.  Most will ride SBS, but if you prefer the slower ride with a shorter walk to the bus stop, the local will still be available.

    Some background on stop spacing:

  6. Yes, people will walk longer for faster services, but you are overestimating the distances they would be willing to walk.  The industry standard is 1/4 mile to a local bus route and a 1/2 mile walk to a subway.  SBS would fall in the middle – 3/8 of a mile.  However, by spacing the stops every half mile, you are asking people to walk a half mile to the closest SBS stop: walk up to 1/4 mile to reach Nostrand Avenue and up to another 1/4 mile to the closest stop.  That would be okay for a subway, but not for SBS which is not as fast as the subway, so people will only be willing to walk 3/8 mile not 1/2 mile and that is in good weather.  If its raining, snowing, very windy, very cold or steamy hot, people would not even be willing to walk that far.  In those cases, they will sacrifice speed for comfort. 

    That’s why it is essential that people be able to transfer between the SBS and the local without any fare penalty.  I also disagree that most will ride the SBS.  The locals will be jammed and the SBS will have plenty of room. That’s because the SBS will have artics and will run more often than the locals, and the locals will have regular length buses, unlike the other boroughs.  So even if ridership is equally split, the locals will be more crowded, and don’t forget about the extra walk from Rogers to NY Avenue for the SBS, another factor unlike the Bx12 or the M15.

    The link you cited shows that people will walk 5/8 of a mile to a subway which I do not agree with and is not what I was taught in school.

  7. That’s not the industry standard.  Maybe that’s what you were taught in school in the 70’s, but there’s been more research since then.

    The fact is that, outside the U.S., bus stops are spaced much more widely than here.  Also, outside the U.S., buses are not thought of as the mode of last resort.  Perhaps there’s a connection!

    Some people like buses because of the very short stop spacing, but far more would prefer faster service in exchange for possibly having to walk a but farther.  Fortunately, on the B44, both options will be available – if you want the slow bus that stops frequently, take the local, and if you want the fast bus that travels long distances between stops, take the SBS.

    Very few people transfer between SBS and local, except at either end of the Bx12 local (where the SBS continues to Bay Plaza or Manhattan while the local only runs between Pelham Bay Park and Sedgwick Avenue).  How many people get off the subway at a local stop and transfer to a parallel local bus to get to a point between subway stations?

  8. By the way, if you’re so concerned that B44 local riders will be losing service, why weren’t you concerned a month ago that Brighton local riders had just lost half of their service?  Most of them can’t even walk to an express stop – they have no choice but to live with the severely reduced service.

    In fact, as I recall, you even pooh-poohed the mere suggestion that the B continue running local.  Why?  Do the riders at the eight local stops that just lost half their service not matter to you?

  9. Because you can transfer much easier between a local and express train than you can between the local and SBS buses. If you transfer between a local and express subway, you still can make another transfer for the same fare.  When you transfer between the SBS and local bus, you just used up the only free transfer you were allowed.  That’s why I am so concerned with the B44 local riders losing service and i wasn’t concerned about the Brighton local riders.

  10. “How many people get off the subway at a local stop and transfer to a parallel local bus to get to a point between subway stations?”

    If you are talking about Manhattan where this would mostly apply, the answer would be practically no one.  The reason for that is the distance between subway stations when you consider multiple exits is only about a quarter-mile.  The SBS stops are spaced at least a half mile apart in most places, so there would be more of a reason to transfer. 

  11. So the additional wait time is suddenly no longer a concern?  For two years, Brighton local passengers had a train every 5 minutes off-peak; now they have a train every 10 minutes off-peak.  That seems pretty substantial to me!

    And SBS stop spacing is more like local subway stop spacing than like express subway stop spacing.  Transferring from SBS to local bus is akin to transferring from local subway to parallel local bus – and the same transfer policy applies in both cases.

  12. Plenty of stations have exits at only one location.

    The fact is that, on the Bx12 and M15, virtually nobody transfers between SBS and local.  I see no reason that the B44 will be any different.

  13. And part of the reason they don’t transfer fro SBS to local bus is because it’s not free if they already transferred or plan to transfer to another bus or train. That number substantial. The B44 won’t be any different as long as the transfer policy is not changed. You should not have to pay double fare to make a one-way trip.

  14. And for the 20 years before that they had the 10 minute headways which isn’t bad at all. Now if it were 20 minutes, it would be a different story. The 5 minute off peak headway was only temporary during the construction so why now should it become permanent? You say and increase from 5 to 10 minutes is “pretty substantial”. But what does it really mean? When the B was local the average off-peak wait time was 2 1/2 minutes, now it is 5. That’s an average increase of 2 1/2 minutes. Looking at it that way, it’s not that much more of a wait and Express riders save 6 minutes which you of course conveniently don’t mention in your little analysis. If we assume that the number of riders boarding at th local stations equal the number of riders boarding at the express stations, you are comparing saving 6 minutes for express riders vs saving 2 1/2 minutes for local riders. It made sense to restore the express service and it is also cheaper for the MTA to operate.

  15. Transfering between SBS and local bus is not akin to transferring from the subway to a parallel local bus. Look at the Lexington Avenue Line in Manhattan. You have exits at 14 St., 16 St, 22 St, 23 St, 27 St, 28 St, 32 St, 33 St, 42 St, (walk inside to 44 and 46 St), 51 St, 59 St, 60 St, 68 St etc. Nine blocks is the longest distance between stops. In most cases it is four or five blocks. That means your longest walk is a quarter mile, and half th time it is only 2 or 3 small city blocks. It really doesnt make sense to take a local bus.

    SBS stops are mostly spaced every half mile and longer in some instances like the B44 between Avenue U and Kings Highway. Someone would transfer for a local bus to get from Avenue U to Avenue R if there were no transfer penalty of having to pay an extra fare if you already transferred from the subway or crosstown bus.

  16. I took the B36 to the subway and am wondering why a person that pays cash can not use the paper transfer for the train. Is the token booth clerk allowed to buzz a person through with a paper transfer? It does not seem right to have to pay a double fare, which is what I was told to do by the clerk.

  17. But it is free if they aren’t transferring to or from another bus or train, and it is also free for holders of unlimited cards.  But even in those categories, virtually nobody transfers between SBS and local.

    The SBS-local transfer policy is identical to the limited-local transfer policy and the subway-bus transfer policy.  I see no reason to object to specifically SBS on these grounds.

  18. I have no problem with Brighton express service.  Brighton express stations are busy enough that it makes sense, even if local passengers have to wait longer and end up on more crowded trains.  (In my experience since express service has come back, the locals are more crowded than the expresses.)

    I’m just pointing out the inconsistency.  The Brighton express is a good thing, because it moves faster, but SBS is a bad thing, because local passengers have to wait longer?

  19. The Q doesn’t stop between Avenue U and Kings Highway either!

    Rather than looking at another borough, why not compare B44 SBS stops to stops on the nearby Brighton line?  SBS stop spacing is much more similar to Brighton local stop spacing than to Brighton express stop spacing.

    And, of course, nothing is set in stone.  If the stop spacing proves to be a problem, stops can be added/deleted/moved as necessary.

  20. When free bus-subway transfers were first introduced in the late 90’s, they were specifically tied to MetroCard, as one incentive to use MetroCard instead of coins.  That policy is still in place.

  21. Well, I never. Actually I did and the policy got to go. Cash is still around as much as gov’t. would love a cashless society. 
    Am I not already paying more for a one way trip?

  22. And as for your question, I doubt the agent is allowed to buzz someone through with a paper transfer.  You’re welcome to ask, but don’t be disappointed if the answer is no.

  23. You’d prefer to go back to the pre-MetroCard days, when everybody had to pay a double fare to transfer from bus to subway and when there were no discounts for frequent riders?

  24. That’s never been the policy.  Free transfers from bus to subway were a MetroCard innovation, and the privilege was only granted to MetroCard users.

    Remember that processing MetroCard payments costs less than processing coin payments – that’s why there are incentives to use MetroCards.

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