NEW YORK—After getting off to a rocky start with drivers unaware of newly dedicated bus lanes, and commuters fumbling at the ticket dispensers trying to print tickets to ride—the city’s Select Bus Service (SBS) has earned greater respect from the public. The program is expanding, although some riders are still having trouble navigating the new system, which avoids the usual Metrocard.
When the first of six new express bus lines were launched at Fordham Road–Pelham Parkway in the Bronx by the MTA and the New York City Department of Transportation in 2008, there were plenty of complaints. The first day, ride times were actually slower than usual. However, as passengers and drivers became more familiar with the service, more and more people are experiencing the benefits.
The Select Bus Service promised faster service due to dedicated bus lanes, fewer stops, signal priority, and customer prepayment using dedicated ticket machines to speed boarding.
“The fact that you can board from the back makes things more expedient,” said Mariela Lazaro, a banker who lives in Manhattan. “It’s faster to load and unload.”
“Riders really like it. It definitely makes for a faster bus ride,” said Andrew Albert, chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council, an advocacy group for the city’s bus and subway riders created by the state Legislature with members appointed by the governor.
According to an update issued by the MTA in October last year, the Bx12 Bronx bus, as well as the M15 that runs along 1st and 2nd avenues in Manhattan have improved travel times by 20 percent and 15 to 18 percent respectively. Both lines have also seen a 9 to 10 percent increase in ridership since the select service was implemented.
A third SBS runs along 34th Street in Manhattan, and the fourth is scheduled to begin operations this summer along Norstrand Avenue-Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn. Service for Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island and Webster Avenue in the Bronx, are scheduled to open sometime in 2013. Routes target major residential and commercial corridors with high traffic use.
There are still some New Yorkers who are still getting used to the system, even though it has been available in some areas for four years.
Artur Akopyan, a transit rider, is one of many people who have missed buses trying to obtain their tickets.
After the bus driver asked Akopyan for his ticket receipt and he did not have one, he was instructed to exit the bus and buy one from the ticketing machines located outside. Akopyan stepped off the vehicle when the driver assured him that the bus would wait for him. Unfamiliar with the Select Bus Service, he fumbled around with the machine before finally getting the needed receipt. When he turned around, the bus had already left.
“The writing on [the ticket machines], where you have to place your Metro Card, all of that could be a lot clearer. … A lot of people aren’t aware that they may be asked to produce their receipt on board the bus and some people are removed from the bus or even issued a summon,” said Albert.
The MTA has indicated that the Select Bus Service is a lower cost alternative, can be up and running faster, and be more reliable than building new subway lines. The SBS is an “option” and one of the ways the MTA is looking at improving service for new and existing customers.
“I think anytime you introduce a new way, it takes a while for people to get used to it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a valuable, good thing. … We want to see Select Bus Service expanded,” said Ya-Ting Liu, Public Transit campaign manager for Transportation Alternative, a local advocacy group.
“It’s really expensive to build and expand our transit network via rail and subway. It’s so much more cost effective to expand a service via bus and by providing SBS, and we really feel that that’s the way of expanding and improving transit service in the future. If you can help speed up the buses then bus service can become competitive with subway service,” Liu said.