Manhattan Select Bus Service's Launching Pains: Cranky Passengers, Cabs in the Bus Lane, Faster Ride

Thursday, October 14, 2010 - 06:57 AM

(Alex Goldmark — Transportation Nation) Manhattan got its first taste of "bus rapid transit" this week. New York's MTA calls it Select Bus Service, and it is rolling up and down dedicated red lanes...well, mostly.

I rode the M15 SBS in afternoon traffic from one of the busiest stops at 14th street through Midtown and up into the more residential (and busier) Upper East Side until 68th street, talking to riders along the way. For most of the trip it was clear this is a bus line working out the kinks on a good idea. Riders were still learning how to use the new payment system, which is on the sidewalk, not on the bus. And, to put it kindly, drivers of other vehicles are still learning to stay out of the bus lanes.

In all it took me just about 30 minutes each direction, a little under that going northbound and a little over heading southbound.

(There's some dispute about whether New York's system can even be fairly called BRT, since it doesn't include several important features of the systems in Bogota and Guanzhou, China, like physically separated lanes and BRT "stations" similar to light rail stations.)

That's fast in comparison to last week's options. Two riders told me they are now getting to work in half the time—but transit riders are notoriously inaccurate when estimating travel times. Most riders, though, haven't yet timed out their trips. They were more confused with the new payment system and with a route that now skips stops that the old express or "limited" bus used to make.

All along the route, though, New York City Department of Transportation and transit employees were on hand to explain how the new vending machines work, and answer questions about the new route. And man, were they needed.

A bigger problem may turn out to be just how selective the bus-only lanes turn out to be. Depending on the stretch, the M15 can fly past traffic—or get stuck behind obstacles like unloading trucks or taxis discharging passengers. Two times we watched traffic pass by while waiting for local buses to pull out of a stop.

(Two bunched local M15 buses block the bus lane)

Bus bunching proved to be the biggest complaint, causing waits of up to 20 minutes at times and waits of less than one minute at others.

Many times it was local M15 buses blocking the way for the faster SBS. Still, with fewer stops and a (mostly) respected dedicated lane, it was a faster bus trip up and down the east side than I've had before. Half an hour each—less time than it took me to write this, which I started at about 50th street on my cell phone next to confused passengers still wondering what to do with the paper receipt they were told to keep as proof of sidewalk payment. One person suggested there be recycling bins for the new paper waste.

UPDATE: NYPD tells WNYC that as of 10/12/10 a total of 378 summonses were issued along the Selected Bus Service lanes on 1st and 2nd Aves. The fines are $115 for parking summonses and $130 for most other violations (moving violations).


Comments [8]


I absolutely HATE the select bus. Needed to get an xray for bad case of bronchitis today, purchased my receipt, bus lurched out of the stop, and in catching my balance didn't realize my receipt was not going into my purse but on the floor of the bus. At my stop, a pitbull MTA policewoman shoved herself into my face, aggressively demanding my receipt. Of course I had no idea at the time it was not in my purse, so efforts to find it were useless. I explained I had a doctor's appt. but she had not one iota of understanding and even snarled at me, "I'm sick too. So what?!" and coughed into my face! She didn't like my picture ID and threatened to arrest and jail me if I didn't come up with one with an address on it (which I didn't have). Two MTA policemen joined her in harrassing me on the sidewalk, very humiliating... To make matters worse it took them forever to fill out the summons while I almost passed out from fever, and needed to sit, they pointed at the dirty sidewalk! They asked for my social, and I quoted identity theft as a reason not to give it, they wrote "REFUSED". They asked me about work, I said, "Self Employed". Later when I got home I saw he wrote "Unemployed". Very nice... Went online read horror stories of people unjustly fined and abused as well by the fascist style MTA types. I will use local buses, subways, taxis, walk but FORGET these cash cows on wheels for the MTA and their bully boys. Thanks but NO THANKS!

Apr. 19 2011 04:39 AM
Tessa Ray

The worst---poor lighting makes machine transactions so stressful and time consuming, half the time people miss the bus. Plus, if the SBS never comes, we lose a transfer if we need to take a local.

Not faster than Limited, especially with normal urban wheelchair boarding, traffic and truck deliveries. Finally, violates the rights of handicapped access, as the SBS stops on E.14 and Second, then no stops until almost a mile later at uAllen & E. Houston, quite a burden for this disabled New Yorker---and if I got off at E.14 and took a local one stop, I'd lose my crosstown transfer. The Worst! It has made life in NYC much harder.

Nov. 07 2010 04:20 PM

The select bus service is ridiculous. What's the purpose? I missed a bus that was sitting right where I was because I had to stop at the machine and get a receipt. For crying out loud, what is the point of this?

Oct. 20 2010 08:22 PM
Rhea Smith

baby steps! courage! great going

Oct. 16 2010 12:17 AM

Dear Alex:
I read your account of M15 Select Bus Service launch with great interest, and a lot of concern. Would like you to visit our newly launched website, to see the Murray Hill, especially 34th Street residents' (Eastside and Westside) perspective on DOT's propsed trasitway on 34th Street. A plan is good on paper, but impractical in reality and costly for the taxpayers. Thanks, A

Oct. 14 2010 03:26 PM

So true, Jeffrey. Thanks for the correction!

Oct. 14 2010 10:43 AM
Jeffrey J. Early

Eh hem -- that should read "Manhattan got it's first taste...", not NYC. We privileged folks in the Bronx actually had the first BRT line, the Bx12 SBS. :-)

Oct. 14 2010 10:35 AM

Two "select" busses passed me by while I waited my turn at the vending machine and fumbliedfor my metrocard. Can't wait for a cold, snowy day out there, fumbling for my metrocard to use to get an extra piece of paper. What is the point of using your metrocard to get an extra piece of paper? Boondoggle

Oct. 14 2010 07:39 AM

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