New Q44 Select Bus Service route kicks off

By Madina Toure

Riders, elected officials and community leaders have expressed mixed reactions to the rollout of the new Q44 Select Bus Service route.

The Q44 SBS, which replaced the Q44 limited bus route from Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica to the Bronx Zoo, started Nov. 29 and serves 42,000 commuters daily.

The city Department of Transportation and the MTA have held public workshops and open houses to solicit feedback from the community.

“This newest route will connect two major transportation hubs, from Flushing to Jamaica, and improve the commute for tens of thousands of riders,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a statement.

In September, Community Board 7 voted against the SBS proposal.

“They (DOT, MTA) haven’t been working with us at all,” Gene Kelty, CB7’s chairman, said

The route includes off-board fare collection and dedicated bus lanes. Riders have to either insert their MetroCard or coins in a machine to get a ticket.

Flushing resident Una Hayes, who was waiting for the SBS at the bus stop on Main Street and 38th Avenue, said “there were so many people trying to get on but they couldn’t get on.”

Jamaica resident Denise Richardson, 60, who takes the Q44 on 165th Street and Archer Avenue daily, said there are no MTA reps at that bus stop and people were confused about the ticket process.

But she acknowledged that her trip is faster with the SBS, although she wondered about the rush-hour period.

“I know they’re just trying it for an experiment, but we’ll see,” Richardson said.

Lisa Schreibman, a bus ambassador from New York City Transit, said the SBS runs every eight minutes during weekdays.

“We’ve got lots of customers who are using (SBS) and the bus drivers are cooperative,” Schreibman said.

As part of the project, the DOT resurfaced 3.5 lane miles of Main Street and will build pedestrian medians throughout the route.

The DOT also has a bus lane camera program to keep the bus lane free of other vehicles for riders, but there is a 60-day warning period for new camera installations.

In a Nov. 24 letter, Borough President Melinda Katz asked for clarity on the bus-lane camera program before it is implemented, noting that people may stop in lanes for legitimate reasons such as making a right turn, loading and unloading a passenger and moving into a parking space.

Her concerns included DOT staff reviewing footage and uneven enforcement of violations.

A DOT spokeswoman said camera enforcement will begin in early 2016 and that the number of violations has increased as the city has installed more bus lanes cameras.

The spokeswoman also said that at individual camera locations, violations have dropped between 33 percent and 87 percent for different routes between 2014 and 2015.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said it is unclear when drivers can use the bus lanes.

“My office is still waiting for clarification to this discrepancy, but to be safe I advise drivers to steer clear of the bus lanes unless making a right turn or parking,” Koo said.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) noted that 11 bus routes converge on Main Street from Kissena to Northern Boulevard, along with casino buses.

“This is an area where people have been injured and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse,” she said.

John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, commended the agencies for offering multi-language pamphlets but suggested loading zones for businesses.

“Flushing needs improved and upgraded transit infrastructure, so this is a good step in the right direction,” Choe said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.