Monday, October 18, 2010

Rapid Transit Returns to 2nd Avenue

-- Two (2) updates can be found below


Rapid Transit Returns to Second Avenue
after an absence of almost 70 years

The service, a bus rapid transit line with with the name +SelectBusService (SBS), was formally launched by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) on Sunday, October 10th. The new SBS M15 route on First and Second avenues was the first bus route in Manhattan to be selected for this service.

In planning since 2006, the service is intended to bring faster, more efficient transit to Manhattan's east side while construction of Phase I of the Second Avenue subway continues.

According to the MTA and the DOT, faster bus transit times on the route will be achieved by:

- using dedicated bus-only lanes from 125th Street to Houston Street

- pole-mounted cameras to enforce bus lane regulations (starting in November 2010)

- off-board fare collection (i.e. collection of the fare before boarding the bus using an on-street payment machine)

- the use of low floor buses (i.e. access and egress without the need to climb steps)

- entry and exit of the SBS bus through any of the three available doors

- fewer stops on the route, and

- traffic signals that give priority to the SBS bus (to be activated in 2011 on some parts of the route).

When +SelectBusService was launched in the Bronx on the SBS BX12 route, bus speeds improved by 20% and ridership increased by 30% over the service that it replaced, according to the MTA.

Edward Reed / Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office via Flickr

Image of Mayor Bloomberg, DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan, and MTA Chairman and CEO Walder (in the image above and below) at the announcement of the start of +SelectBusService related construction earlier this year.

Edward Reed / Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office via Flickr

The new SBS M15 service, which replaces the M15 Limited, is provided using a dedicated fleet of 46 new semi-low floor articulated buses. The buses were manufactured by the Canadian company Nova Bus, which is a division of Swedish company Volvo Bus.


To date, many of the press reports have been rather critical of the MTA and DOT's new service, as Ben Kabak over on 2nd. Ave. Sagas noted in his posting "SBS reaction as a microcosm for the MTA" on October 14th.

Despite some poor reviews, I decided to try the service on my way to the Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force meeting last Tuesday.

Here's my report of what I observed --

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Route: 125th Street to 68th Street on
Second Avenue using SBS M15

5:40 p.m.
Swiped my MetroCard at the on-street fare machine.
At first, I was not clear why I had to push a "start" button on the machine before inserting my card. An MTA spokesperson later told me that the "start" button unblocks the opening so the fare media can be inserted. Since these machines are exposed to the elements, these openings must remain sealed when not in use.

I observed that most people attempted to insert their MetroCard into the machine before pushing the "start" button. This is understandable considering that Select Bus Service in Manhattan has only been operating for a few days.

For those interested, here's a copy of the front and back of the SBS fare payment receipt that I received from the machine:

5:43 p.m.
Depart 125th Street (on-time)
I observed delivery trucks parked in the dedicated bus lanes near 122nd Street.

Inside the SBS M15 bus that I boarded.

5:48 p.m.
Depart 115th Street
It was interesting to see that the bus did not wait for people in line at the on-street fare machine. This is not the norm with New York City buses today; everyone knows that when you're in line to get on the bus, the bus won't leave without you (unless it's full).

5:51 p.m.
Depart 106th Street
A woman stepped on the bus at the front entrance. Since she was unable to swipe her card on the bus, she had to step off to get a receipt before reboarding the bus.

The bus was slowed by numerous red traffic lights en route.

Two cars were idling in the bus lane near 104th Street.

2nd Avenue & East 100th Street

5:53 p.m.
Depart 101st Street (1 minute late, per schedule)

More red lights slowed the journey down Second Avenue.
There was no dedicated bus lane on this section of the route due to the subway construction.

I was not able to understand the announcements that the driver made. I would have preferred automated announcements as found on MTA's newer subway cars.

5:59 p.m.
Depart 88th Street

I was very impressed by the speed with which people were able to enter and exit the bus, when all three doors were available. It looked as if many museum tourists were boarding at this stop.

6:03 p.m.
Depart 79th Street

6:11 p.m.
Arrive at 68th Street
The trip took 28 minutes from start to finish. This was not bad at all considering that I had traveled 57 blocks on an MTA bus during the rush hour.

People waiting for the SBS M15 (or the local M15) at 68th Street.

A woman hurries to get a fare receipt before the bus departs.

(I happily rode the SBS M15 bus again on Saturday to collect a small set of images to accompany this posting.)

A question, an observation and a concern:

A Question:
Is it permitted to board a regular M15 local bus using one of the SBS off-board fare collection receipts?
(I asked two MTA employees this question last Tuesday. In both cases, I was told that this really wasn't permitted.)

If not, then I think the MTA should reconsider this since policy since this is impractical for many bus users on Second Avenue.

For example:
(a) You're a tourist and you swipe your MetroCard at the off-board fare collection machine because you assume that this is how you pay your fare on this bus line. However, you actually want to ride a local M15 bus.

(b) You swipe your MetroCard in the off-board fare collection machine but you then decide to take the M15 local because it arrives first.

(c) You accidentally swipe your MetroCard in the off-board fare collection machine during the hours when Select Bus Service doesn't operate. (The payment receipt is valid for only one hour.)

UPDATE: I was told late today by an MTA spokesperson that customers may now use the SBS proof of payment receipt to pay the fare when boarding an M15 local bus.

An Observation:
It's probably going to take a long time for New Yorkers to understand that the Select Bus routes are meant to be rapid transit service, like the subway. This means the bus pulls in to its stop, unloads and loads its passengers and then it departs. If you're only in line a the fare collection machine when the bus pulls in, you'll probably have to wait for the next bus.

I saw many agitated people on my two Select Bus journeys who were expecting that the SBS bus would wait for them while they obtained a fare receipt from the machine.

A Concern:

What is to prevent someone from passing on (or selling) his/her SBS fare payment receipt when he/she gets off the bus? In theory, I suppose that it is possible for a number of people to use the same receipt before the hour period expires. (The MTA told me that the receipts are only valid from the stop where issued. However, unless an inspector takes very careful note of the people getting on and off the bus, this would be very difficult to control.)

Considering that this was the first week of service for a radically different kind of transit in New York City, I was impressed with the SBS M15 service.

People need to understand that this is meant to be a rapid transit service, and not another regular MTA bus. In one swoop, the SBS M15 service changes the way we approach moving at street level, just like that.

Yes... the fare machines will run out of paper, people will try to ride the SBS bus for free, and of course the SBS buses will get stuck in traffic and held up at red lights.

If you're not yet convinced that this service is radical in its approach, just think back to some rainy day in the past when you've sat on an MTA bus waiting for a line of 20, 30 or 40 people to slowly but surely shuffle on to the bus so it can depart. How many wasted minutes passed? Now it all changes - everyone just steps right on and off, and your bus is on its way.

A footnote to this posting -

The last rapid transit service to operate on 2nd Avenue was the Second Avenue Elevated Line. This service operated from 1880 until it was closed down in 1942.


For further information I would suggest:

"Select Bus Service Debuts on Manhattan’s East Side" (3:49)
By Elizabeth Press & Clarence Eckerson Jr. & NACTO

"How to Ride the M15 Select Bus" (2:10)
MTA New York City transit- 10/20/10

+SelectBusService - First/Second Avenues
NYC Department of Transportation

Select Bus Service
MTA New York City Transit

"Rolling Out Speedier Bus System, to Glitches and Grumbles"
By Michael Grynbaum
The New York Times

The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute

"Fallen Transit: The Loss of Rapid Transit on New York's Second Avenue"
By Alexander Nobler Cohen
The Third Rail
July 2001


An Update - 11/19/10

The MTA announced, with this press release, that camera enforcement of bus lanes along 1st & 2nd avenues would begin on Monday, November 22, 2010.

An Update - 3/21/11

CIVITAS conducted a survey of Select Bus Riders between November 1, 2010 and January 3, 2011 to gather rider feedback on the first three months of the Select Bus Service (SBS) on First and Second Avenues.

The results of the survey can be found on these two links:
Letter of Recommendations to the MTA - 3/21/2011
Summary of Comments based on Select Survey Ridership - March 2010

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

M15 Select - MTA at its worst!
Insufficient information to the public prior to and after being put into effect.
"Select" buses being used on both "Select" routes and local routes.
Confusion as to where on the block the "Select" buses stop and the local buses stop.
Riders, with paper tickets board thru the front door anyway.
Narrow aisles in the new $880,000 buses are to narrow...a woman with an open stroller and packages, got on a "Select" bus using the last, rear door. The entrance way was clogged...there was no where for other passengers attempting to board to go. The aisles are so narrow that when the free-riding school children get on the bus with intumesent backpacks, the senior citizen with a walker and a shopper with a shopping cart and the mommy with an open stroller, where does one go?
Why start a "Select" route on 2nd. Ave when subway constuction clogs the street-level from 101st to 68th.Street?
If one can by a "ticket" for the "Select" bus and enter thru any door, why can't one do the same on the local?