New Manhattan Express Bus Backfires… on the Media

m15 sbs New Manhattan Express Bus Backfires... on the MediaYesterday, the city and MTA launched Select Bus Service on First and Second Avenues, the latest expansion of a system meant to revolutionize above-ground public transit. With dedicated lanes and off-board payment, the new system is supposed to cut trips from 125th Street to the Seaport down to about 75 minutes from their current 90 — not much worse than riding the 6-Train along the same route. Now if only they could work out all the kinks.

From The Times:

When Shaunté Miller arrived at her bus stop at 125th Street and Second Avenue, a city worker told her that the only way she could take her usual ride on the M15 limited would be to pay for her ticket at a machine on the sidewalk. Even swiping a MetroCard onboard was no longer allowed.

Unfortunately for Ms. Miller, the machine in question had run out of paper: the kiosk happily deducted the $2.25 fare but spat out no receipt. The worker said not to worry, but Ms. Miller worried. “They’re not going to believe us,” she said, fretting about the enforcement agents authorized to deliver a $100 fine. When Hannah Huber tried to board at 100th Street, the driver refused her proffered MetroCard and told her to go back and get a receipt from the sidewalk machine. “I felt guilty,” she said later. “It ended up holding up the bus. I’d rather swipe my card than do all that. I think it’s asking for more problems.”

And when Laurie Barnett tried to board with a group on the Upper East Side, the workers “took 10 minutes to explain to everyone what they were doing,” she said.

“It’s going to wreak havoc now with people not knowing,” Ms. Barnett said. “This is definitely slowing things down.”

And the Voice:

Unfortunately, it seems this service was created with the belief that humans are inherently good, not to mention responsible — that they will pay for and hang onto receipts. But the New Yorkers we know are always trying to get everywhere as fast as they can, are always looking for a shortcut, and are always happy to save a couple bucks. It’s only the second day, and surely things will get smoother, but we suggest they counter some of the flaws inherent to this system…or the MTA will have to raise fares again to counteract the money they will lose, oh, wait — never mind.

WNYC gives it mixed reviews:

“It’s very nice, more convenient for the people,” said Manhattanite Salvacion Gumacal, adding that the new buses seemed to move more quickly than the old M15 Limited.

Val Hudson of the Bronx also gave the new system good reviews, but said it takes some getting used to. “[A transit worker] had to explain to me how the whole system worked,” Hudson said.

But another passenger, Mike Kidd, likes the new system for a different reason — it’s easier to beat the fare. “I’m gonna be riding the bus for free,” Kidd said. “‘Cause I don’t have to pay, I’m just gonna hop on the bus.”

Drivers on the East Side of Manhattan are also having to make adjustments. There are now bus-only lanes on First and Second Avenues. They’re painted red so drivers will notice. But so far, many motorists have flouted the change, or simply failed to take notice.

Yet Ben Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas seems to get what’s really going on here:

As with any new service, implementation won’t be easy, and those operating the buses will have to work out the kinks as travelers adjust to the changes. The media coverage could either focus on Day 1 growing pains or the promises of speed. Let’s see what the papers chose.

[...]

But of course, it’s all about change. It’s about change to routines, change to commuting patterns and change to an old system. As Aaron Naparstek said, “There is absolutely nothing newsworthy about NYers frowning over a major change to their routine.” Whether the papers say so or not, Select Bus Service will be better than the local service it is replacing, and one day soon, the people who use it will find that they like it.

mchaban [at] observer.com / @mc_nyo