MTA To Change B44 Select Bus Service (SBS) Following Pressure From Local Pols

The B44 SBS debuts along Nostrand Avenue. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr
The B44 SBS debuts along Nostrand Avenue. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: As a result of the efforts of Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, City Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch and Jumaane Williams, as well as pressure from North Brooklyn residents, the MTA announced on Friday that beginning in the spring, SBS stops at Avenue L and Gates Avenue will be added to the B44 route. The news came via an email from Jacobs’ office and in an article from the New York Post.

Additionally, as first reported by a B44 bus driver (Post 1045) in NYC Transit Forums last week, on February 2, service was increased on the local. Therefore, my article on February 3, which stated that the only modification made by the MTA was to place public information posters in the buses, was inaccurate. The MTA officially gave no prior indication that changes would be made to the local schedule on February 2. It was only a rumor, as I previously reported.

Jacobs additionally reported that the MTA informed her that the new schedules will include SBS buses making the entire trip to Sheepshead Bay from Williamsburg. The complete trip will be possible without a transfer. Those schedules have not yet been made public. Presumably the new schedules mean that some Williamsburg buses will now terminate at Knapp Street instead of all of them terminating at Avenue U. We do not know at this time if the SBS, the local, or both will operate the entire length of the route.

So let this be a lesson to all you skeptics: Complaining does do some good.

The added stops primarily aid transferring passengers who previously had access to the faster Limited route but were required to use the slower local once the Limited was replaced by the SBS. Their trip times were unnecessarily lengthened by the SBS skipping their stops.

The MTA chose not to add a new SBS stop at Avenue R, although some requested it. I suspect that there were not enough transferring passengers to warrant it since few passengers transfer to the B44 from the eastbound direction. That is because both the B2 and B31 terminate at the Brighton Beach train station and do not venture further into Brooklyn, as I proposed here.

The B44 changes that were and will be made should address most riders’ concerns. Ridership on the SBS should reduce the strain on the local bus service and the added local service should improve reliability. The additional stops cannot be made until the spring since some of the bus stops will now have to be lengthened before the changes can take effect.

I am not taking a position as to whether Myrtle Avenue and Avenue R also need to be added as SBS stops since I have not seen data regarding passengers boarding at those stops. If local buses are being extended to Williamsburg Plaza, the number of passengers now required to pay a double fare due to the SBS will be reduced and extra local service may ease problems at Avenue R.

What Still Needs To Be Done

Passengers transferring at Avenue R and Myrtle Avenue should not be deprived of taking advantage of the SBS by having to first take a local, and then transfer to the SBS, by being required to pay an additional fare (unless they have an unlimited pass). The fare policy regarding SBS and Limited buses needs to be rationalized, as I have previously suggested.

There needs to be better utilization of buses south of Avenue X. The MTA’s goal for current B36 and B4 passengers who use the Sheepshead Bay train station to shift to the B44 SBS to transfer to trains at the Flatbush / Nostrand Junction instead has not happened. They were hoping that additional B44 service south of Avenue X would be so attractive that passengers would alter their travel patterns.

Their plan failed, as I predicted here. That failure is evidenced by B44 buses operating south of Avenue X all day long with fewer than 10 passengers in both directions, except for when nurses change shifts at the numerous health facilities along Emmons Avenue. Those health care workers greatly benefit from the SBS.

It is inefficient and foolish to provide underutilized B44 service south of Avenue X all day long when the level of service provided is only needed a few times during the day. This is especially true when the B36 is so overcrowded along Avenue Z during the morning rush hour that buses regularly bypass passengers (as reported by one Sheepshead Bites reader), while empty and frequent B44 buses are operating in the same area.

I previously suggested two different ways to better utilize off-peak direction excess B44 SBS capacity. First, by rerouting the SBS to the Sheepshead Bay Road train station (leaving the few buses serving Knapp Street during the nurses’ change of shifts), or by operating alternate SBS buses to Kingsborough Community College during school hours. Ted Orosz, the MTA lead person in charge of the project, personally promised me to study that idea and report his findings back to me within three months. As of this writing, he has not.

The second alternative would be simpler to implement, whereas the first one would require a study to ensure that physical space is available near the station to accommodate the articulated buses. It would also require re-striping, new traffic regulations, and perhaps some minor reconstruction. The improvements the MTA has agreed to make and has already made will be a great help. However, more needs to be done.

There is no word from the MTA with regard to how much it will cost to add the new stops, rewrite schedules, and distribute new public information notices via new signage, maps, and on the internet. Of course, those costs could have been avoided and the route could operate much more efficiently if the route had been properly planned in the first place, and integrating it into the current system, instead of planning it in isolation without consideration to modifying other existing routes.

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.

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