New York City MTA’s Select Bus Service – A Decent Idea, Poorly Executed

SBS Should Stand for Stupid Bus System

It has been several months since the Metropolitan Transit Authority replaced Limited Stop Bus Service on First and Second Avenues in Manhattan with Select Bus Service to speed up trips.

Having used it for most weekdays since its inception in October 2010 I’m ready to offer a judgment – it still needs a lot of improvements.

Now remember, this is the MTA. This is the organization that cannot determine if it has a deficit or a surplus in a year.  They are the organization that has announcements on the subways that say, “Thank you for riding with MTA New York City Transit!” As if we have any choice but to use this bureaucratic monopoly. If they were a business entity they would be out of business or the board members would have all been fired.

So I should not expect the MTA to do much right, but foolishly I believe they will figure out the shortcomings of the SBS system by observation or complaints and make adjustments.

Apparently they will not.

Narrow Aisles

First the buses themselves.  The bus aisles were designed by a groper. The aisles are so narrow that two people cannot pass each other without rubbing into one another.  Either that or Nova Bus, a subsidiary of Volvo, hired Japanese transit designers.  From what I’ve seen of the Japanese transit system they pack them in like sardines and actually have “pushers” to  squeeze everyone into the trains (if someone did this to me I’d freak out.)

The articulated buses can supposedly hold 60 passengers. Providing that they are under 120 pounds each.

Don’t Yell Fire in Here

The buses get so crowded that I have seen people actually fight over getting on and off because no one wants to move from “their spot.” The announcement “move away from the doors” will repeat endlessly on a crowded bus, as if there is somewhere for the hapless passenger to move to.

Next stupid problem, you cannot pay when you get on the bus. Instead you purchase a ticket (receipt) from a machine at the bus stop. There are three machines. Two for metro card users and one for cash (or should I say coins because the machine does not accept dollar bills.) Most people use metro cards. The lines can get long as these are busy intersections where the select buses stop (23rd, 34th 42nd streets etc.).  While you wait on line to purchase your fare, a bus arrives and promptly leaves as you continue to wait on line.  Why the buses do not accept payment on the bus to dispense a receipt is probably done to speed up trips. But this is a ridiculous policy. You should be able to purchase your ride on the bus or at a machine.

Getting back to the machines that dispense receipts: every third day or so one of the machines is out of service. Now the lines get really long. I have encountered both metrocard machines being out of service.

No big deal right?


Because if you get on a bus without a receipt (even if you paid like I have in the past and a receipt does not come out of the machine) you will get a $100 summons for fare evasion if caught! If the machine(s) are faulty you are supposed to note the number on the machine (but you will still be ticketed, and be out the additional $2.25 you legitimately paid).  This is an insult to every honest person.

Who gives these violation tickets? MTA security inspectors. They wait at a selected stop (maybe that’s where they came up with the “Select” for Select Bus Service) and inspect everyone getting off the bus to produce their receipt. Next they board the bus from all three doors and ask each passenger to produce their receipt. Now remember SBS was supposed to make your trip up to 20% faster according to the MTA’s own propaganda. So while you wait on the bus for these inspectors to look at everyone’s receipt time is going by.

Now the MTA has three inspectors at each stop where they decide to have the random security check for fare evaders. What is the cost of these inspectors? On the M15 line in Manhattan the MTA says they have caught an average of 40 fare evaders per day.  That is $4,000 in revenue. That is if the evaders actually pay the fines. How many inspectors are on the M15 bus line and how much are they paid? I don’t know.  But it seems to me the MTA could put additional buses and drivers on the road for the money they are paying the inspectors. They wouldn’t need three inspectors if you could pay on the bus as I suggested and have random security checks.

Another problem arises because the buses will piggyback; that is arrive one right after another, even though they are not supposed to, you  may end up waiting 20 minutes or longer for a select bus because three arrived at one time.  The old limited bus service had this problem as well so this is not just an SBS problem.

Finally the stupidity of the SBS lanes and the continued assault from the city government on car owners rights in New York City. That’s right – car owners and drivers rights. This part of the article will not resonate with most people as they have been brainwashed by the anti-car faction and bad drivers who continually break traffic laws. But as a safe and courteous automobile driver, I find the bus lanes to be incredibly inefficient and contribute to worse traffic. One lane has been designated a bus lane: sometimes it is adjacent to the curb sometimes it is the lane next to where cars are allowed to park.  The fine for driving in the bus lane is $115-$150.

You may say this is good. It keeps people out of the bus lane. Except it doesn’t work that way.  First of all I have observed the buses almost never travel in the designated lanes. Why? Because they are avoiding other vehicles waiting or about to make a right hand turn.  So the buses are primarily not using their designated lane. Another highly annoying feature is that some of these lane designations at certain streets have no hours or time that they are in effect for.  Therefore they are in effect for 24 hours, 7 days a week even though SBS service is not in effect. These bus lanes are now camera enforced as well as police enforced.

You see somebody about to vacate a parking spot. Guess what, you cannot wait for the spot. You can be ticketed! Need to make that right turn? You can get into the lane from the block immediately preceding your turn. If the block is a major intersection that backs up for more than one block, too bad, you risk a ticket. Have some heavy packages or a delivery that you have to drop off or pick up? Tough luck, do it somewhere else. Elderly? Handicapped? Need to get into or out of a car for a ride? Too bad. You better make it quick or the driver will get ticketed according to the MTA’s web site.

The final thing I will point out is the ads plastered on each SBS bus with their obnoxious propaganda.  Threatening drivers, claiming efficiency and giving some lame one liners.

Here is my own one liner:

The MTA -Going their own way.

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7 thoughts on “New York City MTA’s Select Bus Service – A Decent Idea, Poorly Executed

  1. Bree11

    I personally don’t like that I can’t transfer from select bus to Regular bus. Only the other way around smh.

  2. Ben

    Thank you , such a great article. Definetly needed to read this as i was given a summons for $100 by a goon mta inspector on the SBS bus for not having a receipt. The MTA is so bogus and the public sector is so screwed and broke in reality. Sad part is of course its the people, the good taxpayer citizens who suffer because of their broken and corrupt system. As of this writing, on march 22nd the fare is going up…again. And just today, the station and the elevator reaked of bum and fecal matter…again. Its clear all this money is going to goons and crony politicians who are doing nothing productive with it, just lining their pockets.

  3. David J. Andrews

    The biggest problem with Select Bus “Service” is that the fare machines eat your MetroCard. I’ve lost three of them and it takes 5 weeks to get a replacement IF (and it’s a really big IF) you have all day to get through to an agent on the phone. Trust me, there’s a reason why those buses roll by half-empty as you stand there at a REAL bus stop waiting forever to get a bus. Let’s be honest. This idea was a loser from beginning to end. Let’s put it out of its misery.

  4. June Kaye

    1. Did you ever notice that the receipts expire in one hour. So that means if the bus is late or gets stuck in traffic you will be told that your receipt expired. It happened to me today. Also most bus routes take an hour or more from beginning to end.

    2. The route I use has a local and select bus traveling on the same route. If it is only a short ride you might want to take whichever bus comes first. You can’t do that because if you pay for the receipt you cannot use it on the local bus.

  5. Megan

    This article is so true- especially the part about how the MTA inspectors and their rude assumptions are an insult to every honest person who has paid. This past weekend I was on a select bus and the fare inspectors came on to check receipts- I didnt think twice as I pulled a receipt out of my purse and showed the officer. To my dismay, it was my receipt for an earlier trip and somehow I could not find my current receipt for the life of me. Of course, in typical New York fashion the officer made a big scene and pulled me off the bus. As I started to rummage through my pocket book to find my receipt I assured the officer that I had paid, and I have an unlimited monthly metro card that I could show him. He was extremely impatient and informed me that since I did not have my receipt immediately available he was issuing me a summons of $100 and said if I find my receipt later I can TRY and fight it. Needless to say, when I got home I emptied my pocketbook and wallet and found the receipt so I am going to court tomorrow….we will see how it goes.

    1. B.P. Post author

      Thanks for your comment.

      Shouldn’t the presumption by the inspectors be that passengers are honest and may need some time to find their ticket, instead of treating people as convicted criminals? It shouldn’t matter if you needed 15 minutes to go through your belongings to find and show your proof. Where does it say you have a time limit in their rules?

      Unfortunately a waste of your day to have to go to court. If the hearing is honest, you should of course beat that ticket. Best of luck.

  6. April

    Another thing I personally don’t like about the select buses is the blue lighting inside the bus. It hurts my eyes.


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