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).