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.


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