THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, we discussed why it is too late to change the proposed B44 Select Bus Service (SBS). In Part 2, we discussed why the B44 SBS is different from the other SBS routes. In this final part we will answer the question posed above. It is not such a simple question to find an answer for.

If you go to the MTA home page on the weekend, you first have to find and click on the “MTA Home” tab. It is in small print in the upper right hand corner in dark grey on a black background and not very obvious. During the rest of the week this step is not necessary. Next, you must click on the tab “MTA Info” in the top center. Then you click on “Planning Studies” on the left side of the page. Following that, you click on “Select Bus Service.” Then, on “Current and Planned SBS Routes.” And finally, on “Nostrand Ave SBS.” That’s six transfers. Couldn’t the MTA have made finding information about SBS on the web a bit easier instead of it being so cryptic?

But wait. We still do not have an answer. On the Current & Planned SBS Routes page, the MTA states “Service to begin in 2013.” The Nostrand Avenue SBS tab states the “latter half of 2013.” Clicking on the FAQ tab states the service will start in “mid 2013.” Also, the last link on the Current & Planned SBS Routes page, directs you to the NYCDOT website for further information and that link is broken.

There are also links to outdated documents without any indications that the date has changed since the document was produced. The link to the Introduction to Bus Rapid Transit Phase II report on the Select Bus Service Main Page shows 2011 as the start date on Page 46.

If you manage to find the SBS page on the DOT website in spite of the broken link, you will also get conflicting information. I will not take you through the steps, but only say that it is a bit easier to navigate than the MTA site. This document gives fall 2013 as the start date. If you rely on attached PDFs such as this one you will still see fall 2012 as the start date. Only if you download the latest DOT newsletter on the Nostrand Avenue page do you get the latest date of spring 2014, which might still change again.

That means all the dates on the MTA website — 2013, latter half of 2013, mid-2013, and even 2011 — are all wrong. DOT states the start date as fall 2012, fall 2013 and spring 2014. That’s a total of seven different dates, with only one being correct.

Yet, the start date is not the only error. If you click on Nostrand Making the Case on the MTA website, it shows an outdated map without the Newkirk / Avenue D stop that was added later. The document was never updated.


We have three agencies involved and one does not seem to know what the other is doing. NYMTC is in charge of obtaining the funding while NYCDOT and the MTA are in charge of implementation. NYMTC is seeking public comments to proceed with an engineering study to proceed in a corridor (Woodhaven Boulevard) that the MTA does not even recognize on its website as a potential SBS corridor.

Finding information on Select Bus Service on the internet is difficult and the information provided is conflicting and some of it is out of date. If you use the search function, you are provided with an assortment of documents and may have to check more than one to find the information you seek and when you find it, you cannot be sure that it is the latest information available.

We know that the data collected to evaluate existing SBS routes has been deficient and incomplete, designed to show a pre-determined conclusion that all SBS routes have been very successful, when the degree of success, in fact, varies from route to route.

According to MTA statistics, on page 19 of this report, 99 percent of M15 SBS riders are satisfied with the service provided. The MTA does not tell us how they arrived at that number, but if their bus satisfaction surveys provide a clue, we can infer the following: Since riders were asked to rate their satisfaction level on a score of 1 through 10, with 10 being the highest level of satisfaction, someone only rating the service a six would believe his trip is delayed 40 percent of the time. Since the MTA considers all ratings above a five to be satisfactory, that individual would be counted as part of the 99 percent of satisfied SBS riders.

In other words, you should only expect to arrive on time slightly more than half the time, to be a satisfied rider. When I went to school, a 75 grade was considered a passing grade; 51 percent was a miserably failing grade. Only ratings of eight, nine, or 10 should be considered satisfactory because good service means you only experience a significant delay no more than 20 percent of the time — not 49 percent of the time.

The B44 SBS will be plagued with a host of problems that may or not be addressed after implementation, depending on how vocal bus riders are. The MTA will simply dismiss these as growing pains when in fact many could be avoided through better planning.

No matter if the B44 SBS is a success or failure, or no matter how many riders are inconvenienced with slower trips, increased walks, and increased fares, and no matter how dissatisfied the riders are, rest assured that the MTA will only focus on the resulting improved bus speeds. They will hail the SBS as a huge success, ignoring all negative factors such as the impact to cars, trucks and the local B44 non-SBS bus riders. They will fail to measure traffic increases on neighboring streets and on alternative travel routes, some of which are not that obvious.

Cars making left turns during the peak hours in the peak direction between Avenue X and Emmons Avenue, after the exclusive bus lane goes into effect, will delay the only moving lane of traffic that will be required to come to a stop until opposing traffic clears. This may necessitate the banning of left turns at some intersections, further inconveniencing drivers and encouraging them onto neighboring residential side streets instead.

If the MTA and DOT cannot even agree on a single proposed start date instead of posting seven different start dates on their web pages, and post conflicting maps regarding SBS stops and future SBS corridors, how good could the SBS planning process have been in the first place?

The poor planning is already becoming apparent. As Sheepshead Bites reported on Friday, construction of a bus bulb will occupy the former bus stop at Emmons Avenue and Nostrand Avenue. That means that the buses will now stop in the former outside lane, leaving only one lane for moving traffic. Since the bus stop is right before a turn, buses will have two options: wait for traffic to clear in the only moving traffic lane to be able to clear the turn as the bus will swing out when making its turn, or not permit other traffic to go around the bus as it waits in the bus stop, similar to what happens under the 86th Street El, delaying all traffic.

Finally, the MTA promised that bus bulbs would only be constructed at the heaviest bus stop locations, not locations where no more than 10 passengers board at a time. Larger sidewalks are not needed where they restrict traffic movement. Let’s just hope they do not construct a bus bulb on Knapp Street, delaying traffic entering the Belt Parkway.

The planning process treated the B44 in isolation rather than as part of a complete transit system and without regard to negative effects on traffic.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA / NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • sonicboy678

    Apparently, the disservice will start when it starts; if I had a say, it would start when pigs fly.

  • fdtutf

    “Since riders were asked to rate their satisfaction level on a score of 1 through 10, with 10 being the highest level of satisfaction, someone only rating the service a six would believe his trip is delayed 40 percent of the time.”

    Why are we assuming that bus riders only consider on-time performance when rating their satisfaction with a bus line? That doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Allan Rosen

      Because how long you have to wait for a bus is what bothers people the most. It is even more important than one’s ability to get a seat. Years ago, air-conditioning was an important factor in the summertime, but since now all buses are air-conditioned and it is working nearly 100% of the time when it is hot, it is no longer an issue. Other issues that once bothered passengers a lot like rude bus drivers, or buses that don’t kneel or drivers that don’t pull up to the curbs, are also problems no longer. Significant improvements have been made in those areas and most people feel safe on the bus. However, bus reliability still eludes us.

      The fact that SBS makes buses go faster improves passenger satisfaction levels. But if someone has to wait a very long time for an SBS bus, the time savings advantage is lost. So that’s why reliability is still the most important issue and what riders consider the most when rating satisfaction. Can you think of something else more important?

      • fdtutf

        Even if on-time performance is the *most significant* factor people think of when rating a bus line, that doesn’t mean it’s the *only* one, nor that satisfaction ratings can be directly interpreted as a measure of on-time performance (“someone only rating the service a six would believe his trip is delayed 40 percent of the time”). That’s quite a leap of logic.

        That’s without even considering the pitfalls of assuming that a sample of riders could accurately reflect the on-time performance of the line as a whole, given the possibility of both sampling and non-sampling errors.

        Additionally, assuming (because I have no reason not to) the truth of your assertion that the MTA considers any rating of six or higher a “satisfied” rating, you’ve told us that 99% of riders rate the M15 a six or higher. That’s really pretty damn good. But it also tells us nothing about the distribution of responses between the values 6-10. For all we know, the bulk of the responses could be nines and tens. (You may say that that’s not likely, and I would agree, but the point is that we don’t *know*.)

        • Allan Rosen

          If the bulk were nines or tens, the MTA would definitely tell us that. And we can’t even be sure that the same scale was used here as in past satisfaction surveys. Let’s say I am wrong and most passengers think the reliability is better than I’m claiming it is, do you think it is responsible of the MTA to only have two paragraphs about customer satisfaction in a 24 page report giving only a percentage, with no raw numbers or sample size, and not to disclose the methodology used?

          It certainly is very suspicious especially when you claim a 99% satisfaction and provide no further details. That alone makes everything suspect. The results presented lack any semblance of professionalism. But who are we to question the MTA? They would never attempt to mislead us, or would they?

          • fdtutf

            Having scanned through the report, I can’t really call the two paragraphs about customer satisfaction irresponsible. Would it be better to report the survey parameters? Of course. Was there room for that in this report? Since I didn’t prepare it and don’t know what directives the person or team who prepared it was given, I can’t say. There’s a LOT of material in that report, and while you may feel that customer satisfaction was given short shrift, someone using the report for a different purpose would probably disagree.

            And again, while I agree that it’s unlikely that the bulk of the responses were nines and tens, *we don’t know*, so it’s actually irresponsible of you to draw conclusions based on the material presented.

            And certainly there’s no need to use passenger satisfaction as some kind of proxy for on-time performance when this paragraph and an associated figure are available in the report:

            “Overall, SBS has led to marked improvements in reliability relative to the Limited service it replaced. NYCT measures service reliability by conducting a wait assessment twice each year. As shown in Figure 8, implementation of SBS led to an improvement in reliability of over 10 percentage points. The wait

            assessment results refer to the percentage of the observed intervals between buses which are no more than the scheduled interval plus 3 minutes during peak (7 AM – 9 AM, 4 PM – 7 PM) and plus 5 minutes during off-peak (9 AM – 4 PM, 7 PM – 12 AM). Thus, the first half of 2011, 87% of the observed M15

            SBS trips arrived within this interval.”

          • Allan Rosen

            Not disclosing survey parameters is irresponsible. I was taught that you would never give percentages without raw numbers and that you always disclose sample size. Otherwise you coud survey two people and claim 50% and be correct. The date, time, and weather are also important. You should also tend to stay away from Mondays and Fridays, as they tend not to be typical. You disclose all of that to build credibility, and boy does the MTA need some credibility. You can’t just make a blanket statement that 99% are satisfied without explaining yourself. No one else does that. The additional information has to be made available. Space limitations are no excuse. There is much superfluous less important information that they chose to include. A half page or a page about how the service has been received is certainly not asking to much. That would only amount to less than 4% of the report.

            If they don’t want people to speculate, they should have presented the required information. Regarding reliability, you can also ask if two assessments per year is adequate to determine reliability for 365 days. You also need to give more information like stating which two days and also saying that nothing special was going on during any of those days like a Presidential visit, severe weather, etc that may have affected the results. It all comes down to a matter of trust and if the MTA can be trusted. I recall my community once making a complaint about summer service and the MTA’s numbers seemed too low so they were asked when their survey was taken and the response was “in March”.

          • fdtutf

            “It all comes down to a matter of trust and if the MTA can be trusted.”

            Indeed. And if that fundamental trust isn’t there, then there’s not much point in trying to persuade someone. You’re not going to trust anything the MTA says no matter how much information they provide, so I will “good you bidet,” as a radio satire program once said.

          • Allan Rosen

            Not true. I’m just asking what is fair and reasonable. I also stick up for the MTA when I hear people make statements like MTA employees are all lazy and don’t care.

  • Allan Rosen

    Good news! For once I am happy to report that Sheepsheadbites was wrong. No bus bulb was installed at Emmons and Nostrand that would delay and block traffic. The work now appears to be complete and what DOT installed was a bus pad, or concrete strip to keep the pavement from wearing out due to the increased numbers of buses at the stop. I just wondered if it is possible that DOT changed their plans after reading my criticism in Sheepsheadbites. Nah!

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