Supposedly Cash-Strapped MTA Halts Expansion of Select Bus Service

SBS is a joint venture between the city and the state-run authority, but DOT says the MTA made the decision without consulting the city.

Select Bus Service -- pictured here on the Bx6 in the Bronx -- is getting tossed aside while the MTA works on its bus action plan. Photo: TransitCenter
Select Bus Service -- pictured here on the Bx6 in the Bronx -- is getting tossed aside while the MTA works on its bus action plan. Photo: TransitCenter

The MTA will create no new Select Bus Service routes for three years, temporarily abandoning a popular and successful program to save a tiny portion of the $562 million the authority says it needs to trim, according to financial plans presented to the MTA board last month [PDF].

The program will be suspended until 2021 once the B82-SBS launches in southern Brooklyn this fall, the documents show. Temporary SBS routes already planned for the L-train shutdown will still be instituted as planned next year.

All told, five SBS routes — the agency would not say which ones — will not be created until the program resumes, a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story. The agency says the move — which will affect tens of thousands of bus riders — will save $28 million over the next four years. It comes less than a year after the de Blasio administration pledged millions of dollars to create 21 new SBS routes in the city.

Select Bus Service involves tight cooperation between the MTA, a $17-billion-a-year agency that operates the buses, and DOT, which creates routes, dedicated bus lanes and other infrastructure to speed buses on their way. Bus travel times often improve by double-digits. But DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel said MTA did “no consultation whatsoever” with DOT about plans to suspend the SBS program.

In coordination with DOT, the MTA has used the SBS program as its main vehicle for rolling out bus service improvements. But the program is 10 years old, and advocates are clamoring for the city and MTA to bring key elements of the SBS toolkit — such as bus lanes, all-door boarding, and balanced bus stop spacing — to every route in the city.

“If you have all-door boarding and more bus lanes, you sort of SBS-ize the whole system,” said TransitCenter’s Jon Orcutt.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s bus action plan aims to do just that. The MTA is spending $15.7 million on the plan through 2022, and hiring 42 staffers to work on the project.

“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that we’ve giveth with one hand through the Subway Action Plan, and we’ve taketh away, to some extent, through these service cuts,” MTA board member Carl Weisbrod, a de Blasio appointee, told fellow board members and senior MTA officials in a letter, the Journal reported.

A redesigned bus map will not go live until 2021, but riders will get some service changes this year, when the MTA increases off-peak service on certain routes. The introduction of the new fare payment system will speed all-door boarding. And the MTA plans to equip 100 buses on the M14 and M15 lines with bus lane enforcement cameras.

Meanwhile, DOT can continue to roll out bus lanes and move forward in its effort to equip more routes with transit signal priority, which speeds up service by holding green lights for buses.

But the failure of the NYPD to crack down on parking in bus lanes continues to be a problem for SBS service.

  • AnoNYC

    If there’s no more SBS expansion for some time, will a continued expansion of camera enforced bus lanes be a thing?

    SBS might be unnecessary once we get the route redesigns, all door boarding, signal priority, and more bus lanes.

  • Fool

    Privatize the whole thing.

    Only the MTA could claim that someone else (the city) improving their right of way is a money looser.

    Give the system to MTR or Japan Central.

  • J

    Seriously? They want to cut the one program at MTA that was attracting new riders?

  • ortcutt

    Putting three fare machines at every bus stop doesn’t seem all that economical. Let’s hope that a new fare system will make a more rational system available.

  • Joe R.

    $28 million is what percentage of the total MTA budget? I’m sure they cut more by getting rid of the unnecessary executive positions at 130 Livingston Street. Shows where their priorities lie.

  • Andrew

    Wait, when did the MTA hire Allan Rosen back?

  • Vincent Howland

    “And the MTA plans to equip 100 buses on the M14 and M15 lines with bus lane enforcement cameras.”

    Any details on this? Pilot program? Hadn’t heard about it before today.

  • kevd

    are those the lines that will use 14th street during the L train shutdown?

  • kevd

    “SBS” is really just what normal buses are in the first world.
    Except there, one need not print out a receipt if one possesses a valid ticket / pass.

  • Vincent Howland

    oh so less pilot program than notable exception. thanks.

  • J

    And will NYPD receive tickets when they block the lanes? Cause they will block the lane.

  • ohnonononono

    The M15 is the 1st/2nd Ave SBS route. It doesn’t use 14th Street. Although I guess maybe the thought is that it’ll be more heavily used during the L shutdown.

  • snrvlakk

    This is just nuts! The SBS system works. And works way better at moving people quickly than conventional bus service. And SBS is INCREASING bus ridership, which I would think at least implies increased revenue generation. So OF COURSE, the decision is to suspend new SBS route implementation. GEEZ LOUISE!

  • BtBB

    I thought Byford was going to make a difference, but instead he’s canceling the only thing that they’ve done right by bus customers for as long as I can remember. Careful, he may cut the wifi in stations next to save a few bucks. I don’t understand why it has to be either/or. SBS is typically on the high ridership routes. Why can’t they redesign they keep doing SBS on those at the same time of redesigning the rest of the system? This really makes zero sense.

  • newkai

    I was on a B62 yesterday that had next stop signage and announcements. Great for riders who aren’t familiar with a line. Also 10-20 years late.

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Dk5rPIuW4AAeBt-.jpg

  • Rick Horan

    Too bad this moratorium comes too late for the misguided SBS boondoggle on Woodhaven Blvd. in Queens. Maybe we can find funding to get rid of SBS there and take advantage of an existing right-of-way by reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch, AKA QueensRail. Expanding our existing subway system by replacing this vital link between south Queens and Midtown, will reduce congestion on both Woodhaven Blvd and Van Wyck, not increase it as SBS has predictably done.

  • Rick Horan

    What studies have you been reading? Everything I have heard has ridership falling and average speeds dropping on most SBS routes.

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