As SBS Sprouts on 125th, Levine Says Bus Lanes Could Extend West This Fall

Off-board fare machines have been installed along 125th Street, here at Madison Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

After an on-again, off-again struggle, Select Bus Service on 125th Street is now close to launching. Off-board fare payment machines have been installed, but not yet turned on, for M60 riders. Next up is striping for dedicated bus lanes, which were scaled back after opposition from elected officials. Now, a glimmer of hope: Council Member Mark Levine says West Harlem could get its bus lanes as soon as this fall.

The bus-only lanes were initially slated to run between Morningside and Second Avenues, but the western half was cut off at Lenox Avenue after local elected officials, led by State Senator Bill Perkins, protested. Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who represent West Harlem, have pressed DOT to revive the original plan. Espaillat’s office said today that it hopes the popularity of SBS once it starts service will build momentum for completing the bus lanes. Levine’s office said it has been meeting with “all the parties involved” and hopes the bus lanes will be extended west by this fall.

Unlike most other SBS routes, bus lanes on 125th Street will not be camera-enforced. The state legislation allowing bus lane cameras restricts them to six routes: Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, Hylan Boulevard, 34th Street, Nostrand Avenue, and an undesignated route in Queens. (The borough’s first SBS route, being planned now, is slated for Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards.) It’s up to NYPD precincts to keep drivers out of bus lanes along Webster Avenue, 125th Street, and anywhere else the city sets aside street space for buses.

Another feature that would really help bus riders on 125th Street is flashing lights on SBS buses. There are four lines that will use 125th Street’s new bus lanes. The M60 is the one line that will receive limited-stop and off-board fare payment upgrades. With so many local buses running alongside the M60 SBS, many riders will have to figure out whether to pay before boarding an M60 or wait and swipe their MetroCards onboard a local bus.

Flashing lights on SBS buses helped distinguish them from local buses, but have been turned off since Staten Island legislators exploited a little-known state law in 2012. Efforts to bring the lights back have since stalled in Albany.

DOT said last October that 125th Street SBS would launch this month. The city’s latest PlaNYC progress report says the route will launch in May, but yesterday, DOT did not offer a specific date, saying only that it will start service later this spring.

  • Boris Kaganovich

    Brilliant!

  • BBnet3000

    The camera thing is a disaster. I really cannot believe we need state permission for that.

  • cc

    “With so many local buses running alongside the M60 SBS, many riders will have to figure out whether to pay before boarding an M60 or wait and swipe their MetroCards onboard a local bus.”

    I don’t understand. If you have an unlimited Metrocard, why can’t you just use that as proof of payment if checked on an SBS bus? Why do you need to buy an SBS ticket when it costs you nothing anyways? Seems like a waste of paper to me.

  • qrt145

    Maybe because fare inspectors are not equipped with portable Metrocard readers that would let them know if your Metrocard is actually valid and unlimited?

  • Bolwerk

    Some people argue there is a good reason for this (I’m skeptical), but they neither want to make portable readers or to put the receipt TVMs on the buses.

    Personally, I suspect the TVMs on the buses is likely worth the expense since it can speed up service and maybe can compensated for by cutting the cost of putting TVMs at minor stops.

  • kevd

    Why not equip them?

  • Andrew

    Because portable MetroCard readers simply don’t exist, and it’s not worth paying Cubic to develop and produce a brand new reader just a few years before the whole MetroCard system goes away.

  • Andrew

    Welcome to New York! You must be new here.

  • Bolwerk

    Andrew, I’m pretty sure MetroCards are readable with things like this. The data might be encoded in some proprietary way, but the hardware necessary to read and probably write the bit patterns already exists.

    I can’t speak to legal/contractual issues, but it doesn’t seem like a daunting task from a technical standpoint. At this point, I suspect the MC is going to be with us until at least the 2020s anyway.

  • AnoNYC

    “Unlike most other SBS routes, bus lanes on 125th Street will not be camera-enforced. The state legislation allowing bus lane cameras restricts them to six routes”

  • BBnet3000

    I think my problem with this is that most of the people on Streetsblog, etc are saying something like “get albany to let us have cameras on sbs buses” when id much rather “make it so that we never have to get Albany’s permission for anything like this ever again”.

    The narrowness of the first approach is already showing. We got cameras, but have to go back to ask for more.

  • chris

    i’ve thought about this too, why not just print unlimited rides in a different color, or somehow mark them to enable their use as proof.of fare payment

  • BBnet3000

    You can add an unlimited to any metrocard nowadays. This is a good thing, and I wouldnt want it to go away.

  • PQR

    Do fare checkers get on the bus? Or do they check people as they get off? What keeps someone from not buying a ticket unless and until they see an fare checker?

  • PQR

    What keeps someone from using their unlimited to buy an SBS ride for someone and then offering up their different colored unlimited metro card as proof of payment once they get on the bus if they’re asked?

  • Andrew

    I don’t think any of us prefer the second approach over the first.

    This was the outcome of a typical New York political deal, not of any sort of rational process.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/06/21/albanys-bus-lane-cam-deal-only-covers-five-select-bus-service-routes/ – and don’t miss the comments (including two of mine).

  • Andrew

    Because MetroCard Vending Machines have only one stack of MetroCards, not two separate stacks.

    Because the MetroCard system was deliberately designed so that unlimited cards would not be visually distinguishable from pay-per-ride cards, to deter theft of the high-value unlimiteds.

    Because a single card can hold both value and unlimited time now.

    Because color can’t indicate dates of validity.

    What you suggest might not be a bad idea for a new fare payment system being designed from scratch, but SBS had to work with the system that was already in place.

  • Andrew

    Both. If you try to get off the bus when you see an inspector, you’re going to be asked for your receipt at the door.

  • Andrew

    If only it were so simple.

  • Bolwerk

    What’s to stop the inspector from seeing you beeline to the TVM?

  • Bolwerk

    What complication do you see? That there isn’t a big technical challenge seems pretty abundantly obvious.

    Contractual? Is Cubic gonna take several pounds of flesh? I could see that.

  • Andrew

    http://www.villagevoice.com/2000-10-10/news/the-390-million-metrocard/full/

    (Yes, from 2000, but MetroCard hasn’t changed.)

  • cc

    Doesn’t it say right on the Metrocard the date it is valid until, and whether or not it is unlimited or pay per use? I can’t recall myself.

  • Andrew

    No. The expiration date printed on the card is for the physical card itself, not for the 7-day or 30-day period. There is no visible indication of whether a card is loaded with an unlimited or not, or if so when it expires.

  • Wi Cho

    May 25, 2014 is the tentative date.

  • Wi Cho

    No, they don’t exist. Even asking Cubic to develop a MetroCard portable reader. MTA won’t pay.

  • Wi Cho

    You can blame the NIMBYs who holding up the M60 SBS start date in the first place and could have add the cams to the list when it passed the law.

  • Andrew

    No, not for this. The law authorizing bus lane cameras has been in place since 2010.

  • Bolwerk

    So you’re saying Cubic can’t be trusted to not gouge us? As I said, I can believe that, but I’d be curious about a contract provision that keeps anyone else from working on the current system. Cubic doesn’t have a monopoly on reading data from cards.

    For our purposes, an Android device capable of determining whether there is a currently valid unlimited MetroCard would be sufficient.

  • Bolwerk

    The hardware exists. It’s software to read/change the data in a portable format that is missing.

  • Wi Cho

    no, the hardware of portable metrocard devices does not exist either. They never was plans at all even before SBS off payment.

  • Bolwerk

    The hardware is called a “magnetic strip reader.” I even linked to an example of one above.

  • Wi Cho

    yeah, sure. Im telling you again… the hardware of portable metrocard devices does not exist! If you want it make one… go ahead.

  • Bolwerk

    Is telling me again going to make you less wrong? The data format is proprietary, the magnetic strip is not. It’s a software problem.

    Here‘s a screen shot of some bit patterns from a PC card reader.

  • Wi Cho

    Why don’t you work for MTA and create the device that MTA will never use?

  • Bolwerk

    Just what is this bug up your ass about now? I already concurred with Andrew that there might be political or contractual or even cultural hurdles here. There just aren’t big technical ones.

  • Wi Cho

    Apparently, you too dumb to read my post.

  • Bolwerk

    Which post? The one where you first made an a claim you didn’t feel the need to substantiate? The two where you repeated it? Or that non-sequitur about working for the MTA?

    Or did you post something to a blog that’s so obscure I never heard of it?

  • Wi Cho

    You really a sad individual.

  • Bolwerk

    So did you have a point to make about something? Didn’t think so.

  • Andrew

    No, I’m simply saying that this is a proprietary system under Cubic’s control. Even if off-the-shelf card readers can physically read MetroCards, they don’t have the software to interpret what they read.

  • Bolwerk

    I agree, and I think we all knew that, but that’s still a trivial technical problem. I don’t think there is much doubt that Cubic could build the software and supply it at a pretty low cost (to Cubic).

    The question is about price then. How many pounds of flesh would Cubic expect from the MTA? That could easily make it not worth it, but I’d still be curious to know the answer.

  • Andrew

    I don’t have a more precise answer than “a lot.” It’s a money issue, not a technical issue.

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