Select Bus Service in New York City


New York City’s Select Bus Service
Photo (c) 2013 C. Walton

With all of this talk about Select Bus Service (SBS) in New York over the past decade, from our current mayor to mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, it has its share of supporters and opponents, from riders to politicians.  Select Bus Service is New York’s form of “Bus Rapid Transit” which has been studied as early as 2004 and first implemented in 2008 on Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway.  Since then, it has been brought to 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan (2010), 34th Street in Manhattan (2011), Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island (2012), Webster Avenue in the Bronx (2013), and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn (2013).   The next SBS route is proposed for 125th Street (2014), after a huge debacle earlier this year causing the project to be pushed back several months due to community and political concerns.  Nevertheless, this is a great time to talk about SBS.

First, let’s talk about why we have Select Bus Service.  We as New Yorkers all know that buses are slow and subways are fast.  For the most part.  Some buses, like the Express buses (like New York City Transit’s X routes and MTA Bus Company’s QM/BM/BxM routes), are faster than the subway, and some subway routes crawl slower than some buses.  Nevertheless, transit riders in this city opt for the subway to get around the city and use buses as a means to reach the subway or to shoot across Manhattan.  It makes total sense once you add the fact that subway ridership is really high (some of the highest since the 1950s), while bus ridership is stagnant.  Many of New York City’s local bus routes are fairly long (anything over 5 miles or takes more than an hour between endpoints is considered long) mainly to reach most residents within walking distance and provide 100% disabled accessibility across the city where the subway lacks sufficient elevators.  They are constantly slowed down by nearly anything from traffic to vehicle accidents to high levels of boarding at key bus stops.  Even though some of the heaviest bus routes have Limited-Stop service to make them faster, these buses often still get stuck in the same road conditions as their local counterparts despite having less stops.  Select Bus Service tries to answer that.

While Select Bus Service may not be another Curitiba RIT or Bogota Transmilenio, it sure is a step in the right direction for a city that cannot afford new sorely needed subways (let’s not include the Second Avenue Subway or the #7 train extension to Hudson Yards) or build bus-only roadways to bypass traffic like in Ottawa, but could still benefit from faster bus service.  My only concern is that if we are adding any more SBS routes, we should really consider combining the ideas of visible bus lanes and off-board fare collection with ideas for SBS routes that operator over a combination of local routes across multiple boroughs or even an entire borough.

For those who do not know, off-board fare collection simply means that instead of paying your fare as you board the vehicle, like a regular local or express bus, you pay before you board the vehicle, as you would on a subway, hence the idea of a “surface subway.”

What the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) and the MTA are doing are merely converting the most heavily used or slowest bus routes in the city to SBS yet catering so much to community and merchant needs which constrict bus lane implementation that could really speed up bus service.  Some routes, like the M15 on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan and the Bx12 on Fordham Road in the Bronx, probably needed some work (they are among the top ten bus routes with the highest ridership).  Others, like the M34 and M16 (now the M34A), probably could have just operated with larger buses as they do now and a sophisticated bus lane setup which is now under construction on 34th Street.  The S79 could have simply been a Limited route with its current route adjustments, while the Bx41 could have just added Limited service outside of the weekday rush hours.

B6 Bus

A better SBS candidate to traverse southern Brooklyn?
Photo (c) 2010 C. Walton

A better implementation of SBS in terms of a route conversion would be the B6 route from Bensonhurst to East New York, running across Bay Parkway, Avenue J, Glenwood Road, and Flatlands Avenue along a belt line that covers a good part of southern Brooklyn.  Southern Brooklyn is both a transit haven and a transit desert, depending on where you are going.   (Manhattan-bound riders have many subway options, though cross-Brooklyn riders have only local buses.)  Connecting southern Brooklyn with SBS could not only upgrade the current B6 Limited (and maybe even upgrade the B82 Limited as a southern arm of this SBS corridor), it would also provided a much needed visible east-west high-capacity transit route to avoid traveling all the way up to Atlantic Avenue or Jay Street to go across or come back down (and possibly take another bus route).  Aside from route conversions, another idea for SBS would be a route which runs over a combined B41 and Q35, which would allow a seamless one-seat ride on Flatbush Avenue from central Brooklyn to the Rockaways and everything in between, or over a combined Bx6 and Bx5, which would give riders in the South Bronx with a highly visible transit connection across the South Bronx without having to transfer in Manhattan just to come back into the Bronx.  One more idea:  Convert BOTH the Q52 and Q53 to Select Bus Service and implement bus stop improvements and implement bus lanes in appropriate places to improve service on ALL Woodhaven Boulevard buses (Q11, Q21, Q52, Q53).

Let’s see how this pans out.  I have decided to make a series of critiques of Select Bus Service as a whole and in-depth commentary on each current route and possibly new routes or even new ideas for routes.  I sure have plenty of ideas, but I would rather discuss what I feel are the most plausible routes.  Check it out below:

Select Bus Service: A Critique

Next SBS route is the M60 +Select Bus Service+ to be implemented in April 2014.  After several years of talks and backlash, maybe we can make this work.

The M60 is next for SBS conversion.

The M60 is next for SBS conversion.
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