Select Bus Service In-Depth: S79

S79 Select Bus Service

(c) 2012 C. Walton

The S79 +Select Bus Service+:  special bus service for the “Forgotten Borough.”

The S79 runs from the 86th Street (R) Station in Bay Ridge to the back of the Staten Island Mall in Eltingville.  It travels across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and makes it way down Hylan Boulevard and up Richmond Avenue before it takes a shopping trip through the Mall.

Hylan Blvd also has the S78 which runs from St. George to Bricktown Mall, and Richmond Ave also has the S59 from Eltingville or Tottenville to Port Richmond and the rush-hour S89 Limited from Eltingville to Bayonne. In the mix as well are several Express buses including the X1, X4, X5, X7, and X8. All of these Express buses run rather frequently during the peak hours, and the X1 runs 24 hours a day. With all the service adjustments and enhancements in the subway and buses in the other four boroughs, coupled with the influx of residents moving to Staten Island, service hasn’t caught up with the demand (and in more ways than with just buses), thus the idea of the “Forgotten Borough.” For political points, there had to be some form of BRT for the Island of about half a million New Yorkers. The S79 SBS, which apparently has been slow as molasses for ages, was the answer.

For what it’s worth, Hylan Blvd probably was the best choice for SBS improvements, which would reportedly save time for the Express buses as well as the locals. Never mind the fact that Hylan Blvd was one of the five pilot BRT corridors selected by the DOT in 2006, but if we weren’t doing any SBS at all, the S79 probably would have been better as a Limited, and Express buses would have bus lay-by spots, cutouts from the main road specifically for berthing buses at major bus stops, keeping them out of general travel lanes.  Being that we are looking at SBS, if connectivity to Brooklyn wasn’t a factor, the S78 Hylan Blvd local would have been a better candidate for better access to the St. George Ferry Terminal as an alternative to the Staten Island Railway.

Don’t get me wrong, the S79 local to the mall was a trek and a half through “Dealership Alley,” as I like to think of it, and most of that time was wasted sitting at every other local stop while people got on and off, much like the current S78.  Yes, the S79 was the best way to get to the mall if you are coming from Brooklyn or southern Queens and was an alternative to taking the ferry from Manhattan to the S61 (boooo-ring) or the S44 (don’t get me started with that line).  However, based on the current setup, between the use of the same hybrids used elsewhere, the lack of off-board fare collection, and the meager placement of bus lanes, the S79 is just merely a bus line with some extra color.  We might as well make every Staten Island Limited an SBS at this rate.

What really bugs me is the involvement of certain Island politicos, from the cessation of the flashing blue lights associated with SBS buses because of a New York State Vehicle Traffic law limiting use of flashing blue lights for volunteer ambulances to the exclusion of off-board fare collection which practically every other SBS route includes.

Apparently, the traffic law suddenly became a big concern after Staten Island drivers kept pulling over because they mistook SBS bus lights with police lights and causing traffic issues. It was an issue back in 2008 in the Bronx, but the lights continued to be used despite the law in the books. Why it took Island drivers to stop the lights is beyond me, but nevertheless when they were used it was the only sure way to distinguish an SBS bus from a local bus, more prevalent in Manhattan and the Bronx.

It was decided that due to low boardings of S79 buses at most bus stops, with a few exceptions, the S79 SBS would not include fare machines for pre-boarding payment or special bus lanes except on Hylan closes to the Verrazano Bridge and in a few places on Richmond Ave to jump around traffic. If there is no proof-of-payment, then what kind of SBS is this? Lipstick on a pig, or just another Limited bus line. It seems more of a justification to add street improvements and to make the S79 better and faster while spending someone else’s money.

S79 Select Bus Service

Is Select Bus Service really necessary for the S79?
(c) 2012 C. Walton

With that said, there is hardly any justification for conversion of the S79 to Select Bus Service (which was supposedly to benefit the 9,000 riders a day on the S79 plus about 10,000 daily Express bus riders and about 10,000 S59 and S78 riders) without the key features that make it as “special” as Select Bus Service has been made out to be. It is mundane to convert a line to SBS even though most boardings are relatively light with the exception of the two endpoints and the Eltingville Transit Center. It wreaks of “Forgotten Borough Syndrome” when you look at the S79 as practically making Limited stops (22 SBS stops as opposed to 80 local stops) with specially wrapped buses. All because of compromises between DOT and elected officials to maintain Staten Island’s car-eccentric lifestyle and still be a part of the city.

And to think that Hylan Blvd was to be converted to a Transitway running down the median of the street had the DOT been bold enough to promote this plan (side by side with the 34th Street Transitway)…not that the Transitway as designed really would have made things any better for anyone involved, since it involves one peak-direction bi-directional bus lane with a passing siding at SBS stations.

The S79 is faster than before, with many local stops skipped and served instead by the S59 and S78, but not by much, being held back by bunching Express buses, inadequate bus lanes to please the car-friendly businesses and residences that line the entire street, and bus operators that adhere exactly to the printed schedules which are as designed irrelevant to the nature of BRT operation. Why have schedules instead of timepoint references so passengers have an idea of their travel time as opposed to expecting a bus exactly at a prescribed time? Why call it BRT or even SBS when many of its elements don’t exist? And why even bother with converting a local bus line to SBS to benefit Express buses when improvements like these could have been done without the city crying for money to build BRT? We may never know.

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One Response to Select Bus Service In-Depth: S79

  1. ajedrez says:

    As a user of this line, I have to say that, no matter what it’s called, it’s still much faster and better than the old S79. And it bears out in the ridership statistics, as the S79 has surpassed the S53 as the busiest route on Staten Island, with over 10,000 riders per weekday.

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