When Will Select Bus Service Get Its Flashing Lights Back?

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the program included blue flashing lights on the front of each bus to help riders distinguish the service from local buses. This is particularly important for Select Bus Service, since most SBS routes require riders to pay their fare at a machine before boarding. The flashing lights help riders know whether they’re boarding an SBS bus, with its special payment system, or a local bus.

The lights have been turned off since last January, thanks to Staten Island legislators. This year, bills to restore the lights have been stuck in committee in Albany, though Manhattan Community Board 6 is trying to generate some momentum with a resolution in support of the lights.

A bus at the 2008 launch event for the city’s first Select Bus Service line, with flashing blue lights. Photo: Brad Aaron

When SBS expanded to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard in 2012, Council Member Vincent Ignizio, who badgered the city into watering down the Hylan route until it no longer included median bus lanes, began complaining about the lights, claiming that drivers could get confused between a bus and an emergency vehicle. Citing a state law that reserves the use of flashing blue lights for emergency vehicles, Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza got the MTA to shut the lights off in January 2013.

Seeking a solution, legislators in Albany drafted a bill to bring the lights back after the DMV designated purple as the only option for the buses. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner even crafted their bills to exclude the Hylan SBS route, the only one in the city without pay-before-boarding fare machines.

Lanza and Ignizio scoffed. “At first I thought they were joking,” Lanza told the Times. “This is the best you come back with? Flashing purple?” The bill failed to clear committees in either chamber last year. “You don’t need a flashing light,” Lanza told MTA chairman Tom Prendergast at his confirmation hearing last June.

Representatives of other areas with Select Bus Service think otherwise. Last year, Council Members Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito sent a letter to the MTA urging for the lights to return. Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution asking the state legislature to bring back the blue lights.

On Monday, CB 6’s transportation committee advanced another resolution asking the legislature to pass a bill allowing purple lights. The resolution passed the full board yesterday [PDF]. The Klein and Kellner bills were reintroduced in January, but haven’t advanced passed committee. Will Albany take this small, painless step to make life less stressful for bus riders?

This post has been modified to correctly characterize the resolutions passed by CB 6.

  • BBnet3000

    The Hylan SBS doesnt have offboard fare payment? wtf? Somehow I missed that one…

  • Wi Cho

    Ridership is not at the level of M15 or M34 lines.

    They might as well remove the S79 SBS and turn into a Limited-Stops service. The rest of the SBS lines can get back to blinking the blue lights.

  • Clarence

    As many people would probably guess, Streetfilms loves purple flashing lights.

  • Andres Dee

    > The lights have been turned off since last January, thanks to Staten Island legislators.

    No. The lights have been turned off because the police and MTA don’t have the cojones to tell Lanza and Ignizio to go f— themselves and that no bus driver will be prosecuted for flashing lights. It’s a common practice in Brooklyn (and I’d guess Staten Island) for non-emergency vehicles to have sirens used to “confuse” people and clear traffic. Are Lanza and Ignizio going after them?

  • snobum

    Why do they need a law to use purple lights? Is there a law against it?

  • TomG

    I haven’t had any good experiences with SBS. I’ve tried the 1st Avenue, 2nd Ave and the 34th St SBS and they are no faster than a regular express bus according to my observation. Boarding is faster, yes, but that’s maybe a minute or two tops, usually less. The buses still sit in traffic forever and cars still park in the bus lane all over the place, forcing them to move in and out of traffic. Until they upgrade that aspect, to me, it’s just not worth it to take those buses except late at night when traffic is reduced… and in those cases, you’re not waiting long to board anyway. Does anyone know if there are any plans for improving SBS or is this the best it will get?

  • Mark

    If the MTA didn’t use ridiculously brighter lights on the S79, this never would have been an issue in the first place. The lights they implemented on the Hylan route WERE extremely distracting to everyone else on the road, and looked nothing like the ones on the M34.

    I fully admit that this is based on my own observation rather than hard data, so there could be other factors in play, but the S79 lights as they were did not work.

  • Mark

    Yes. There are fairly specific laws regulating what lights vehicles may have. Essentially, non-emergency vehicles are limited to the standard lights you see on a passenger car, and they have to be wired to operate in the standard way. Most modifications are illegal, especially changes to the standard colors (red, white, amber)

  • Mark

    Insert just about any other law here and let me know if you still think that’s a good precedent to set.

  • qrt145

    Can we outlaw sociopathic high-intensity discharge headlamps then, please? 🙂 Whoever came up with that monstrosity must have thought “yes, let me see better even if I blind everyone else on the road. Brilliant!”

  • Ian Turner

    Select Bus Service is 15-20% faster: http://web.mta.info/nyct/sbs/

    Much of the improvement is in dwell times, which take over 25% of travel time for normal bus routes.

    Sad to say your experience does not seem to match the data.

  • Joe R.

    Most of the HID lights you see which blind people aren’t factory installed. Rather, they’re done by car owners to make their cars look “kewl”. The worst ones use HID lamps in headlights designed for regular incandescent lamps. Of course, the optical requirements for both differ, so these mods throw glaring light all over the place. Stock factory lamps, whether HID or incandescent or LED, have to meet certain guidelines in their spatial intensity distribution so as not to blind other road users.

  • Mark

    I definitely agree with banning the poorly aimed, owner installed ones.
    Factory HIDs usually aren’t an issue, but people who install their own usually don’t follow the regulations for brightness and aim. Existing laws would allow for ticketing most of them.

  • Wi Cho

    It is still slow mainly the traffic and boarding and de-boarding process.

  • Andres Dee

    Here are a few laws that the city “de facto” does not seem to enforce:
    – Yield to pedestrian in crosswalk before turning
    – No honking, except for emergency
    – Using car alarms and personal sirens to clear traffic for non-emergencies

  • Emmily_Litella

    Interestink. I had not heard that one before.


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