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MTA’s Select Bus Service has failed to increase ridership: report

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A report released by City Comptroller Scott Stringer notes that the SBS has failed to deliver on its core goal

The MTA’s bus service has been declining over the years and now, a new report released by city Comptroller Scott Stringer reveals that the agency’s Select Bus Service, introduced in 2008 as a rapid bus transit option, is only slightly better than standard bus service.

The primary aim of the Select Bus Service (SBS) is to increase speed and reliability through the creation of dedicated bus lanes, allowing passengers to pay at dedicated bus stops before boarding, and by implementing Transit Signal Priority—which station traffic lights along SBS routes that remain green for longer periods of time to prioritize bus transit. However, Stringer’s report claims that SBS has “failed to deliver on its core goal: increased bus ridership,” and the reason can be linked back to its failure to implement its key components.

The report, named “Improving Select Bus Service: Putting the Rapid in Bus Rapid Transit,” notes that five out of the nine SBS routes introduced prior to 2016 have experienced a ridership decline, when compared to the year prior to implementation. Overall ridership on those nine lines dipped by 0.2 percent, which isn’t terrible compared to the five percent that overall local bus ridership has dropped between 2013 and 2016.

An April 2018 poll of 115 SBS riders revealed that while 64 percent of commuters are generally satisfied with SBS service, giving it an A or a B rating, 38 percent noticed that SBS routes run behind schedule at least half of the time. In fact, Select buses were found to travel at average speeds that were only slightly faster than local routes (8.9 m.p.h. versus 7.4 m.p.h.) and on-time performance sits at just 62 percent for both SBS and local bus service.

The key factors behind delayed SBS buses are traffic congestion, bus lane obstruction, multiple traffic lights, and “bus bunching” (or, buses running too close together). Many of the routes do not have exclusive bus lanes for the entirety of their route, causing buses to have to merge with congested lanes and even for those that do, vehicles frequently drive and park in exclusive bus lanes. The under-enforcement of bus stop violations makes it difficult to prevent drivers from repeatedly offending.

Stringer concludes that the Department of Transportation and the MTA must work together to help improve SBS service by improving bus stops and bus lane enforcement; upgrading the design of bus lanes, and expediting the implementation of Transit Priority Signals.

You can read the report in its entirety here.