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Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The Q53 select bus, which runs along Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard.

In searching for ways to cut costs, the MTA will stop creating new Select Bus Service (SBS) routes in Queens through 2021, according to its financial plan for 2019-2022 released in July.

The budget indicates that the authority is hoping to cut NYC Transit costs by $562 million over the years laid out in the plan, including a projected $28 million saved by deferring new SBS routes to 2021. Another $11.5 million is expected to be saved by cutting back on the enforcement of fare evasion on SBS routes, according to the budget.

The budget’s effects on SBS routes — which utilize all-door boarding, off-board fare payments and traffic signal priority to increase service speeds — were first brought to light by a Wall Street Journal report that involved emails between MTA board members and senior officials. The emails point out that MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran failed to highlight the SBS changes when he presented the budget to the board, according to the report.

Despite these changes and the redeployment of other resources, MTA Communications Director Jon Weinstein noted, in a statement sent to QNS on Aug. 16, that the authority will cut its spending without laying off any employees.

“The financial plan was built with three ironclad requirements – maintenance of service levels, absolutely no layoffs, and avoidance of any unplanned fare/toll hike – all of which were accomplished,” Weinstein said. “In fact, the headcount at New York City Transit is increasing– while hitting savings targets – which is allowing us to accomplish significant amounts of badly needed repairs and maintenance work. We are fully supportive of SBS, and as part of Fast Forward, we are re-evaluating every bus route because the entire network needs to work better for riders.”

The MTA further stated that three SBS routes will have been installed in 2018 by the end of the year, and another five will be added next year. None of those are in Queens, the borough that is arguably the most starved of transportation options.

There were as many as eight new SBS routes under consideration for Queens according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Bus Forward” plan announced in 2017. That included the infamous Q58, known for being incredibly slow, as well as several new routes connecting southeast Queens to other parts of the borough.

But according to Vincent Arcuri, co-chair of the Community Board 5 Transportation Services Committee, deferring new SBS routes could ultimately be a good plan. The SBS route implemented on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards in 2017 runs along the edge of Board 5, and Arcuri pointed to the mounting evidence that it was too rushed.

For example, Arcuri said, the buses still get stuck in traffic jams because the signal timing along the route isn’t coordinated properly. Local businesses have complained of a lack of parking due to the bus lane hours, cameras for targeting bus lane violations were placed in improper locations and buses have often been seen driving outside of the designated bus lane.

In fact, Senator Joseph Addabbo wrote a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in July requesting that the agency reconsider the bus lanes’ 24-hour operation.

On top of that, the DOT is still adding changes to the route that were part of the original plan.

I don’t know where else they were expanding, but they haven’t even finished the existing lines,” Arcuri said. “Rather than expand the program, they have to fine tune whatever is existing.”

Still, the deferment is likely to be a blow to the mayor, who has provided $270 million for the SBS.

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. August 24, 2018 / 06:36PM
And I wonder why the dysfunctional MTA is still cash-strapped since the Great Recession. Not higher enough for fares and tolls? Expect to cut service due to deteriorating riderships thanks to ridehailing services.
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