Southern Brooklyn

Some SBS Questions For The DOT And MTA


THE COMMUTE: Tomorrow night, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Brooklyn College Student Center (Campus Road and East 27th Street, second floor) may be your last opportunity to provide input to the MTA’s and DOT’s plan to convert the B44 Nostrand Avenue route to Select Bus Service (SBS).

There will be no formal presentation. One was made last year to Community Board 15. The B44 SBS is scheduled to go into effect during the winter of 2013. You pay before you enter the bus, which makes fewer stops than the Limited it will replace. There will be only one stop between Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue, at Kings Highway. At this point the plan is almost a fait accompli. Moving or adding a bus stop is the most you could hope to accomplish by attending the open house.

Heralded as a quick fix to speed local buses in 2003, Select Bus Service (SBS) is already about eight years behind schedule. Scheduled to be implemented in five pilot corridors — one per borough — within two or three years, we will only have four within 10 years, which is the length of time it should take to build an extension of the Nostrand Avenue subway. The MTA chose SBS instead, costing about $20 million, although a price tag per corridor has never been revealed. A subway extension would cost in the billions.

The question is if it is worth the money, considering the effort put into it and the savings that will be achieved. The projection by the MTA is that the average Limited passengers currently using the B44 will save only an average of 1.7 minutes per trip if they switch to the SBS. This information is buried on page five in one of their publications, which is not easy to locate. (Don’t believe me? Go to and try to find it without the link [PDF].)  In other publications, the MTA sings a different tune, that travel times could be increased by up to 25 percent, sort of like a store selling items for 99 cents and up. One point seven minutes is a far cry from 25 percent.

Those switching from the Limited to the local bus, because the SBS will have fewer stops than the Limited, will have longer trips than they currently have. The MTA will save considerably more than 1.7 minutes, somewhere between 15 and 19 minutes per one-way trip from Knapp Street to the Williamsburg Bridge. Sounds to me like this is more of a cost cutting measure than a means to help bus passengers.

I have previously written extensively about SBS, most recently here and also here. MTA has made a few changes to their initial plan. They added one stop and now promise that all bus stations, Local and SBS, will be on the same block.

I intend to ask the MTA the following questions tomorrow night:

Bus Questions

  1. Can you transfer between the local and the SBS and does such a transfer prevent you from transferring to a third bus? If so, why should that be the case and doesn’t that discourage the use of SBS for those without an unlimited pass?
  2. Will local buses accept an SBS receipt if the SBS is delayed and if so where on your website is this indicated? If not, why not?
  3. Will you be considering increased walking time to and from the bus stops as part of total trip time since SBS stops are located further apart than Limited stops, and how will you be measuring this or will you just be tracking bus travel time savings?
  4. You will be measuring patronage on the B44 before and after SBS implementation. Will you be counting the number of current Limited passengers who will be switching to the local and the amount of time their trip will be lengthened or will you only be looking at passengers with shorter bus trips?
  5. Doubling B44 service south of Avenue X is not warranted where there are only about a half dozen riders per bus. On the other hand, the B36 is jammed especially during rush hours and school dismissal time. Also, Sheepshead Bay residents prefer the Sheepshead Bay train station to the Flatbush Avenue IRT station. Why can’t the SBS go to the Sheepshead Bay Station via the B36 route, making one stop at Bedford Avenue and Avenue Z instead of to Emmons Avenue?  B36 riders deserve the extra service more than B44 riders south of Avenue U.
  6. You indicate on your website that you must board within one hour of obtaining your SBS receipt. A ride from one end of the route to the other could conceivably take more than one hour. If an inspector boards near the end of the route, is it possible for someone to still receive a summons because the receipt expired one hour after boarding? Shouldn’t this time limit be greater?
  7. What steps will you be taking to assure that innocent riders will not be receiving summonses because of broken fare machines so that they will not have to go to court and lose a day’s pay to prove their innocence? If someone does receive a summons, why is it necessary to also eject that person from the bus? Isn’t the $100 summons enough of a punishment?

Traffic Questions

  1. Will left turns be banned south of Avenue X when the exclusive bus lane is in effect since there will be only one moving lane or will the bus use the curb lane at corners? If neither is the case, how will through traffic move since you will not be allowed to pass in the bus lane when a car needs to make a left turn? If left turns will be banned, shouldn’t the public be informed during the planning process, which is now?
  2. What will be the hours of the exclusive bus lane south of Avenue X since the available literature states all times, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or just rush hours depending upon which publication you read?
  3. How will you measure the effect reducing street capacity by a third will have on traffic congestion? Will you also be measuring traffic on parallel streets such as Bedford and New York avenues, and East 29th and Haring streets south of Avenue X, or only on Rogers and Nostrand avenue? And will you be doing before and after traffic counts?
  4. Why do you not mention in any of your literature on the web or at presentations that SBS will reduce road capacity by one third for vehicles other than buses where exclusive lanes are being provided? Isn’t that an important enough of a consideration to mention?
  5. How many parking spaces will be lost and how many will be added?
  6. Is the B44 SBS worth the disruption and expense when only 1.7 minutes will be saved for the average Limited passenger making a 2.3 mile-bus trip? Can’t greater savings be achieved simply by enforcing existing traffic regulations and placing enforcement agents at traffic hotspots?

I will report on the MTA and DOT’s answers next week.

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 (10/4/2011): The original version of this article stated an incorrect time for the hearing. It will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Comment policy


  1. Maybe if they extended SBS over the Williamsburg Bridge and ran to Midtown East along the M15 +SBS+, that could be a fix as follows:

    Since we’ll never see SAS Phases III & IV, let alone a Brooklyn (and Bronx) extension and since we’ll never see a Nostrand Ave subway extension, the B44 +SBS+ will cover these and have increased ridership.  Plus, it would help create a +SBS+ network if you then extended the M15 +SBS+ to connect with the Bx!2 +SBS+

  2. You are probably right but the difference is if that’s the case, everyone will know about it and hopefully it will spur the politicians and the community into some action.

    Also, the Open House may be from 6:30 to 8:30, not 6:00 to 8:00. I’m not quite sure.

  3. Khan will probably tell the drivers to go ride a bike. This is being implemented for the sole purpose of fining civilians for having expired or no receipts on the bus and for fining drivers for driving in the bus lane when they shave nostrand down. This will not save any time especially near the junction. Who are they kidding. They knew about the cameras and $115 fines before they even started SBS. Watch the fines increase to $125 or $150 shortly since they are “not doing enough”

  4. It will also save the MTA significant money by cutting off 15 to 19 minutes off a complete one-way trip which is the reason they are behind it.  It is not to save riders any significant amount of time and will even slow the trip for some which the MTA will conveniently not count.

  5. I suggested possibly extending it over the Williamsburg Bridge in an earlier article. The MTA will not go for that because it means having to provide additional service when their only interest is to provide less service.  It also may encourage additional trips to Manhattan by people who are willing to take a bus but not a subway into Manhattan, but the MTA is not interested in that either.

  6. But when they implemented the M15 +SBS+, didn’t they say that it would cost an extra $1.4 million? I mean, I myself don’t believe them: The maintainance for the machines would be offset by additional ridership and lower operating costs, but aren’t they going to insist that their motive is not to save money?

  7. I wasn’t considering the cost of maintaining the machines which could be significant after the manufacturer’s warranties expire. Also, you can’t just look at additional ridership.  On the M15 you also have to consider how many passengers would have made the trip by subway if the SBS did not exist.  You would need to do surveys to estimate that which they are not doing. 

    Of course they will insist that their motive is not to save money, but that is their entire motive.  Just like when cities insists their motive is to improve safety when it really is to raise revenue when installing red light cameras.  As proof, Suffolk County now wants to remove the cameras because they are losing money.  So what happened to improving safety? NYC only wants more because they are gold mines for revenue.  Nothing to do with safety. They cause more fender benders by cars stopping short.

    You also have to consider the amount of fare evasion and if the revenue from summonses covers that, also the administrative costs of collecting the fines.  None of that information has been made public.

  8. I’m looking forward to SBS coming to Brooklyn! Hopefully this route will be as successful as the 1st and 2nd avenue routes in speeding bus commutes.

  9. The B44 = substitute of the planned IRT Nostrand Avenue Line extension. Manhattan Beach and the east side of Sheepshead Bay could definitely use a subway service.

  10. I wish I could be optimistic but I really feel this one is a big mistake. Some people really like 1st and 2nd Avenue, but this one is altogether different. There will be two separate B 44s operating on different streets and service on NY Avenue will really suffer. No one will be willing to walk from Rogers to NY Avenue, not to mention th confusion and there will be excess service on Rogers with the B49 as well. Remember, originally the SBS was supposed to supplement the Limited, not replace it in order to attract new riders.

    Also the trips on Nostrand will be shorter than on First and Second Avenue so there will not be a big opportunity for most riders to save significant time and I feel the increased walking distance to the SBS will cancel out most of the time savings.

  11. Not to mention that ridership on the M101/102/103 also saw a large decline (I think it was 9.4%, but that sounds too large)

  12. 2 different streets?! That’s nuts.  I never knew that was part of the plan.  I thought the entire B44 would move to Rogers (and thus enabling some kind of B49 reduction).  Who set this 1 up?

  13. NYCT Operations Planning. The entire B44 should have been moved to Rogers with a replacement route on either New York or Brooklyn /Albany Avenue.  There would have been too great of a service gap if there was no service on NY Ave at all.  Next north south route is Utica Avenue

  14. Sir, do you realize that this 1.7-minute (per 2.3 miles of travel) figure that you have been citing for the past month or so is not an estimate of what an average bus passenger will save? Read the document from which this came more carefully. The 1.7-minute figure is in fact an estimate of what the passenger would save if the MTA simply increased the number of limited-stop buses and eliminated a few stops, but did NOT institute off-board fare payment, bus lanes, or transit signal priority. The real estimate is 4.4 minutes per 2.3 miles.

    Additionally you said the estimated amount of time saved per full-length trip is 15 to 19 minutes when in fact the estimate is 19 to 25, which also appears right there in the document.That being said, I don’t even agree with that estimate because they based all of these calculations on a 75-minute trip, when actual travel times during a weekday can be anywhere from about 70 to 80 minutes. If the buses are running on time. It takes longer northbound due to the turns and the fact that there is less space on New York Avenue than on Nostrand Avenue. Weekends it’s typically about 60 to 70 minutes.

    I say the time a passenger saves per two-mile trip will actually be greater than 5 minutes. If you calculate the travel time using a different method, which I believe produces more accurate estimates, you find that 44-46 minutes is plenty of time for a Select bus to complete a one-way trip via Nostrand/Rogers/Bedford Avs northbound or via Nostrand Av southbound.

    Google transit says it takes 32 minutes one way to drive the B44 SBS route by car. If the bus makes 15 stops and the average amount of time spent at each stop picking up and dropping off passengers is 15 seconds (which is really a sky-high average since a bus can spend as little as 5 seconds in a stop and people don’t even pay the fare on board a SBS bus and have three entry doors available instead of one), the bus will spend a total of 3 minutes and 45 seconds doing this each full-length trip. So round up to 4 minutes if you want and now we have a 36-minute trip.

    Now let’s assume the bus stops at 15 red signals (one for each bus stop) and spends 30 seconds sitting at each red signal. Another lump estimate, although it probably accounts for the unavoidable choke-ups that the B44 SBS will deal with at the Junction. That isn’t even much, since the worst problem it currently has is northbound on Nostrand between Flatbush and Glenwood, where the SBS will not operate. And that short northbound section of Flatbush between Nostrand and Rogers is clear all day regardless of what’s going on on the southbound side of Flatbush between Rogers (or Farragut) and Nostrand. Anyway 15 reds with 30 seconds spent at each red comes out to 7 minutes and 30 seconds the bus spends dealing with this each full-length trip. Round up to 8 minutes if you want, and now we have a 44-minute trip.

    44 to 45 minutes is plenty of time for a B44 SBS bus to make a one-way trip if it makes 15 stops. It wouldn’t make sense to add more than five stops, at Avenue R, Avenue L, Bergen, Gates, and Myrtle. And that’s only if the people really want those stops. I think it would be weird since the stops in Bed-Stuy would be quite close together, but I might keep these five to preserve the bus transfers and because there are a large number of apartment building around R and L. It also wouldn’t add a horrendous amount of travel time. I’d say the travel time would then be 49 to 50 minutes at most. That’s adding one minute for each of the five stops I mentioned, another lump estimate which I am using to be conservative.

    I don’t agree with sending the SBS to the Sheepshead Bay station, because the bus users east of Nostrand and south of Voorhies would then hang out to dry. You say people want the Brighton line instead of the Nostrand line? Well if you encourage travel to the Brighton line and end up putting everybody over there, the trains will be packed to the gills. Who would want that? And why does it have to be all about the Brighton line, when a SBS to the Nostrand line at the Junction would simply give commuters an alternative means of reaching Manhattan? The difference in safety is negligible since the Brighton and Nostrand lines meet each other by Atlantic terminal, and you have characters boarding the Brighton line at Coney Island, Newkirk Avenue, Church Avenue, Parkside Avenue, and Prospect Park. How is this much different from seeing certain characters board the Nostrand line from Flatbush Avenue to President Street? I had some loud young guys on a (Q) train call me out for wearing a Bullwinkle shirt about three years ago. Called me out as soon as I got on going northbound at around Newkirk Avenue. They went “YOOOO DIS NIGGA WEARIN SOME BULLWINKLE SHIT” really loud, making certain that it reverberated throughout the whole 75-foot-long R68A. I have never had a problem on the Nostrand Avenue line. Sure, more low-income people use the Nostrand line, but that doesn’t make it a hellhole. And nothing like the Brighton line incident I described has ever happened to me on the Nostrand line. Don’t judge a book by its cover. The IRT is relatively safe after Franklin Avenue. When last was the Nostrand line closed for a police investigation? What is so great about the Brighton line when a couple of years ago, someone got stabbed at the Avenue U train station? Also someone go shot nearby a year ago: 

    In spite of the IRT making more stops in Lower Manhattan than the BMT, the BMT is not much faster, especially for those who near Nostrand and east of Nostrand in Sheepshead Bay. All trains have to slow to 25mph when crossing bridges like the Broadway, the Williamsburg, and the Manhattan, and there are always hangups before the bridge due to other train traffic and the bridge speed limit.

    It doesn’t make much of a difference if somebody living near or east of Nostrand uses the IRT over the BMT to reach Union Square or Times Square, especially after they make the B44 SBS. Lower Manhattan and Grand Central are easier to access using the IRT and the bus connection to get people to the IRT will be much better after SBS. Even for places like Herald Square it might actually be better to take the IRT and then either walk to the Square upon reaching midtown or transfer to the (B) train at Atlantic. 

    To be quite honest, the only thing I agree with in this entire article is the fact that nobody should be fined or taken to court if they couldn’t pay because the ticket machines were broken. That makes no sense. But I can’t say I agree with the rest of your article. Those are my two cents.

  15. After the colon in the fourth to last paragraph, I meant to link you to this:

  16. That certainly was more than two cents worth and I thank you for your input.

    First, you are correct. I misread the report. The correct number is 4.4 minutes for the average passenger not 1.7 minutes. That does make some difference. I still have concerns, however, because that number is just thrown at us. We don’t know what assumptions went into that number. Does it include the fact that some riders will have to walk further to the SBS than the Limited because it makes fewer stops or that some Limited riders, for example those getting on at Avenue R (I assume there is a Limited stop there) will now have to use the local instead, lengthening their trip? We don’t know because it is not spelled out.

    I think many more people would benefit by sending the SBS to Sheepshead Bay Station than Knapp St. For one thing, Kingsborough students would use it and transfer to the B49. I don’t agree that people south of Voorhies would be hung out to dry. How many do you think would board the SBS south of Voorhies anyway in the two stops that it makes there?

    As far as safety on the Brighton Line is as compared to the Nostrand Avenue Line, I agree that there are problems on both but I believe when it comes to safety, most people still would prefer the Brighton especially during non-rush hours. The reason would not be the characters you see on the train which make you feel unsafe which you see on both lines and all over the City, but that most people do not feel that the Junction is a safe place to transfer especially late at night. You will get some ridership on the SBS from Sheepshead Bay during rush hours, but I predict it will be light at other times except for the Sheepshead Nostrand Houses and Sheepshead Bay High School.

    You also talk about overcrowding the Brighton Line. Remember that the Brighton Line has a higher capacity than the Nostrand Line because the cars are bigger. It is also a 4 track subway as compared to two tracks for most of the way. A breakdown on the 4 track part won’t disable the entire line.

  17. Good stuff.

    Well the thing is, someone who lives by a SBS stop south of the junction and had a bad experience at the junction or has a super-cautious mentality might stand there and let a SBS bus pass and gamble by waiting for a crosstown local bus (B4/B36/B3/B7/B82). I say gamble simply because you know how local and limited buses run just as well as I do. You simply never know what can happen a lot of times because they are affected by so many ridiculous variables.

    Perhaps I go overboard by using the word gamble, but that’s how I see it based on my experiences. I feel that in addition to being the lowest form of transportation, local and limited buses are oppressive to all who must deal with them. Everything from the frequent stops making me feel like I’m not getting anywhere, to people not wanting to move to the back (doesn’t help when you can only enter through one door), to bus operators arguing with passengers about the fare, to assaults, deaths, and people who don’t have the card or change ready before they get on, delaying the bus even more. If just the slightest thing goes wrong your trip is delayed. And it’s really stupid because the only way it works is if everybody exhibits perfect behavior by having the card or change ready right away and inserting the card or change at warp speed, when we all know that nobody is perfect. And the thing is if you do just one thing wrong like drop your card or change or whatever, you piss off the other passengers and the bus operator which was not your intention. Bullsh!t system in my book. Sorry if I offend.

    Someone like myself on the other hand, tries to avoid local/limited buses at all costs (which are minimal because riding local/limited buses is more psychologically costly to me than avoiding them), so I would gladly use the B44 SBS to go to the junction for the IRT. One of these days in the future two people should race each other. From a SBS stop south of the junction to some place in Manhattan that’s equally accessible by the BMT and IRT.

    I contend that the SBS may not be used much south of the junction during off-hours initially, but will eventually become more popular. It may take a month, it may take a year, but I think it will eventually become more popular. Because systems where you stop every 2-3 blocks and everybody has to enter through one door and pay at one farebox, which will remain in the case of the crosstown buses in Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, will have one thing too many go wrong while you are using them and it is not unlikely that you would turn around one day and say screw it. Too many headaches dealing with those buses.

    In addition to ridership from the schools and projects, off-hour ridership can also come as a result of the nursing homes by Knapp Street. Also it’s only a matter of time before increasingly scarce parking spaces, increasing traffic congestion, and increasing fuel prices force more people to use their cars less. Especially if the alternate mode of transportation in question will be far more civilized than it currently is. It’s much more difficult to get people to use an annoying, uncivilized, oppressive mode of transportation such as a local/limited bus than it is to get them to use SBS and the subway, which basically the same as using a car service as long as they are running properly.

    Also if something happens on the Brighton line, you might get stuck because the train still has to negotiate switches or may be in situation where it cannot even switch (switch is being blocked by a stalled train). Also the IRT becomes 4 tracks on Eastern Parkway. Also the Brighton line has problem because it shrinks from 4 tracks to 2 after Prospect Park, so you also have that to worry about. And it remains a 2-track line until DeKalb Avenue. Either way, these facts are only relevant to trivial situations. I don’t remember the last time the Nostrand or Brighton line was unexpectedly shut down or severely delayed. These are relatively low-probability occurrences.

    And while the BMT trains have a higher capacity, I believe the service is actually less frequent most of the time. If ridership really exploded on the Nostrand IRT line, they could add more service just as they could if ridership really exploded on the BMT Brighton. I personally think that SBS would help distribute the ridership more evenly, since it would leave the Brighton line available to those who can access it more easily. The housing density in Brighton Beach with the numerous condos is much higher than that in Sheepshead Bay, especially along Nostrand Avenue. So more dense housing = short walk to BMT Brighton, less dense housing = take SBS to IRT Nostrand. A few stragglers might do something different, but I think that will be the rule of thumb and is the way it will turn out.

  18. Two points of yours I didn’t address: (1) Avenue R is a limited stop and (2) The 4.4 minute estimate does not include the walking time to access stops, since this depends on one’s exact starting point. Could be any local building anywhere–store, residence, office, restaurant, etc.

  19. I actually agree with most of what you said here except for the last paragraph. At least years ago, the Nostrand Avenue line was operating at capacity during rush hours. With service being reduced all over, they probably also cut a few trains there too during rush hours. But I doubt it if ridership exploded as you say, I don’t think the line could handle it after the eliminated trains were put back.

    The situation on the Brighton Line is different. If ridership increased to the point where the line became overloaded in a few years, the MTA could bring back the F Culver Express. If that were to happen many of the riders who live between the two lines such as near Ocean Parkway who will gravitate to the Brighton Line because the express has returned would switch to the F leaving more capacity for the Brighton Line to take on additional passengers.

  20. I went to the meeting last night and according to the MTA, all the time savings estimates do include walking time according to their computer model which is what they are using. What we don’t know is how accurate their model is. I’ll address this a little more in next week’s article.

  21. I want a Nostrand Avenue line extension and so people can stay underground and not leave from staion to bus. It would make more sense.

  22. I don’t want people to spend on the SBS. I want them to keep saving money until they reach enough to build an extension. I want them to have faith in themselves. I don’t want them to give up. I have been thinking about this for many years. Please guys chose my idea?

  23. Please don’t use the SBS for B44 service. Cancel it MTA, if you are already planing it?

    I want a Nostrand Avenue line extension. You have to save your money and sacrifice yourself for the people’s benefit? 

  24. A Nostrand Ave line extension would cost way way more than the SBS. It took this long just to get a 2nd ave line in Manhattan and that serves way more people. I cant imagine the MTA investing that much into southern Brooklyn. There just aren’t enpugh people here. 

  25. Actually when the Second Avenue Subway was proposed as a four track subway traveling the length of Manhattan it would have served a hell of a lot more people than the scaled down two track subway of only five stations. I’m not sure of how many more people it will be serving than a Nostrand Avenue line. Actually one of the reasons the Utica Avenue extension was killed was fear that it would overcrowd the Eastern Parkway portion of the line filling cars to capacity by the time the line reached Grand Army Plaza.

  26. No chance it will be stopped. The MTA sees this as a means to reduce operating costs. That’s the real reason it will be built.

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