Selecting Right Approach To Select Bus Service
Like many residents of Woodhaven, I take public transportation to work, and I think it’s the most efficient and cost-effective way to get from southern Queens to downtown Manhattan.
But the winter months ahead—with the ice patches and frozen rails they bring—will slow down auto traffic and elevated subways. And back-to-school traffic has already congested many thoroughfares. It is a good reminder that we must continue to think of ideas about how to improve public transportation in New York City.
One much-discussed possibility is Select Bus Service (SBS). It is a good idea with the potential to dramatically improve the lives of many Queens’ residents—or significantly worsen them, depending on planning and execution.
The premise of SBS is simple: modify a bus route along a heavily traveled main thoroughfare so that more commuters take the bus instead of their cars. This is done by adding a new, or modifying an existing, route to make limited stops at primary crossroads along the highly traveled thoroughfare. That will give the greatest number of potential commuters access to the route while also making the minimum number of stops.
SBS is unique because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has made it possible to pre-pay before entering an SBS bus by installing ticketing kiosks at their stops.
What that means is that while you are waiting for your bus at the stop, you can take your MetroCard, slip it in the kiosk ticketing machine, pre-pay your fare, and take your receipt. When the bus arrives, all you need to do is step in and step back. Spotchecks for kiosk receipts, plus hefty fines for fare-beaters, keep commuters honest.
In theory, this system will reduce the amount of time a bus spends at the stop and get you to your destination more quickly. Studies cited by the MTA indicate that commuting times can be reduced by up to 18 percent.
The corridor along Cross Bay Boulevard and Woodhaven Boulevard is one of the most congested in the entire city. As a commuter along this corridor, I look forward to the possibility of SBS. But as Council Member Eric Ulrich has observed at multiple Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association Town Hall meetings, Queens is the only borough that does not yet have a single SBS route. The light may be at the end of the tunnel, however, as the MTA discusses plans to add Queens’ first SBS route along Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards..
Residents along the corridor have legitimate concerns about SBS that the MTA must address before we become comfortable with the concept: loss of parking spaces, dedicated SBS lanes leaving fewer lanes for other traffic, and proposed curb cutouts, to name a few. A personal experience case-in-point involves my morning commute on the QM15 Express Bus to Park Avenue and 34th Street. For four months there has been construction on the SBS curb-cut at this bus stop, with little progress. If it takes more than four months in the heart of Manhattan to build a simple bus stop, how can we in the forgotten borough expect that proper attention will be paid to the unforeseen SBS problems that pop up here?
Unfortunately, the primary voices being heard in the debate are those of SBS advocates. This is not enough. The MTA has conducted SBS workshops in the community, but those sessions have not covered essential topics. For example, has the MTA conducted follow-up surveys in communities where SBS was previously rolled out? If so, what did they learn from them?
In addition, the MTA has already begun implementation based on findings from a 2008 study, which makes the current gathering of community input seem like a hollow exercise.
I ask the MTA to communicate directly and honestly with the communities along the proposed SBS corridor about what painpoints they can expect based on past SBS roll-outs. This will go a long way in winning my support—and those of other affected residents—for a potentially good solution to a current traffic nightmare.
Editor’s note: The next Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting is tonight, Thurs., Sept. 18, 7 p.m. at the American Legion Hall, located at 89-02 91st St. Barbour is a director of the WRBA. For additional information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhavennyc.org.