Over one-third of SBS riders dissatisfied with slow and unreliable service, grading SBS a “C” or below

SBS program shows minimal improvement on glacial local bus routes, and poor on-time performance rates

An analysis of bus lane and bus stop violations identified 17,309 individual vehicles with 5+ infractions in the last 18 months alone

(New York, NY) — New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer today released a disturbing analysis showing that the City consistently fails to enforce bus lanes, which has led to persistently slow and unreliable SBS routes and contributed to significant rider dissatisfaction with service, according to a new report and survey of SBS riders. Despite the intent of Select Bus Service to offer efficient and modernized bus routes, the Comptroller’s analysis found SBS upgrades barely improve on local bus service with average speeds only slightly faster than local routes (8.9 m.p.h. versus 7.4 m.p.h.) and on-time performance identical to local routes – a paltry 62 percent. As a result, SBS ridership remains flat and the Comptroller’s SBS rider survey exposes how widespread deficiencies leave riders frustrated. Comptroller Stringer’s survey found that nearly forty percent of riders graded SBS service a “C” or worse.

“Select Bus Service was a first step toward modernizing the city’s bus system. But the City and the MTA are failing those who depend on its service. New Yorkers deserve fast, frequent, and reliable public transit, and for that to happen, the status quo must change,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “If we’re going to build a real and rapid bus transit system in New York City, we need to do it right. No more half measures and cutting corners. Right now, service is unacceptable, we need to do better – and our survey shows riders agree.”

SBS Performance No Better Than Local Bus Routes

Select Bus Service was first introduced to New York City in 2008 to increase the speed, reliability, and appeal of bus service through the implementation of dedicated bus lanes, off-board fare collection, reduced stops, and Transit Signal Priority (technology which links approaching buses with traffic signals). Thus far, the City DOT and MTA have converted local routes to Select Bus Service along fifteen corridors throughout the five boroughs. Yet despite these upgrades, SBS routes perform little better than local routes and offer riders little in the way of relief.

Performance and Speed of SBS Routes Slow and Unreliable

SBS Route Average Speed (mph) On-Time Performance
B44 SBS 8.3 65%
B46 SBS 7.9 64%
BX6 SBS 6.6 75%
BX12 SBS 9.3 65%
BX41 SBS 8.1 47%
M15 SBS 6.4 38%
M23 SBS 4.3 60%
M34A SBS 4.3 67%
M34 SBS 4.3 71%
M60 SBS 10.3 37%
M79 SBS 4.8 62%
M86 SBS 4.9 74%
Q44 SBS 8.7 54%
Q70 SBS 11.3 62%
S79 SBS 14.5 70%
SBS Average 8.9 62%
Local Bus Average 7.4 62%

The problem, according to the Comptroller’s analysis, is that many of the basic features of Select Bus Service are only available on a limited basis.

Modernization Efforts are Happening at a Snail’s Pace

  • As of July 2017, Transit Signal Priority (TSP) was installed along the entirety of only three SBS routes and on small sections of two more, leaving the DOT ill-prepared for its 2020 roadmap to expand TSP.
  • The City’s TSP expansion goals are not ambitious enough. Even if the City hits its 2020 target, it would still be three years and two-thirds behind the current progress of cities like London.
  • In addition, many design features that could help protect SBS routes from general traffic have been poorly implemented or insufficiently enforced. As a consequence, cars, cabs, and delivery vehicles frequently and unlawfully drive and park in “exclusive” lanes—forcing SBS buses to slow-down, merge back into traffic, and contend with an endless stream of obstructions.

Survey identifies significant service issues causing SBS delays and contributing to lackluster ridership

In April of 2018, the Comptroller’s Office polled 115 riders along 12 of the City’s 15 SBS corridors. Beyond the overall grades cited above, among those surveyed:

  • 70 percent flagged “traffic congestion on streets” as a key factor for SBS delays;
  • 28 percent credited “vehicles blocking the bus lane/stop,” and
  • 23 percent noted that “buses get stuck at multiple traffic lights.”
  • As a result of these widespread issues detracting from SBS performance, ridership has fallen on five of the nine SBS routes introduced prior to 2016.

SBS ridership

Route Year Launched Ridership the Year Prior to Launch 2016
Ridership Change
M34/M34A 2011 18,092 14,901 -18%
M15 2010 53,073 44,797 -16%
B44 2013 39,661 37,418 -6%
M60 2014 17,013 16,751 -2%
Q44 2015 28,139 27,712 -2%
M86 2015 23,846 24,746 4%
Bx12 2008 42,219 48,124 14%
Bx41 2013 18,947 23,558 24%
S79 2012 8,969 11,378 27%
Total   249,959 249,385 -0.2%


Widespread Traffic Obstruction in Bus Lanes and Bus Stops

The Comptroller’s report provides an extensive analysis of bus lane and bus stop violations in the last 18 months. During that period:

  • Over 683,000 tickets were issued for bus lane and bus stop obstructions.
  • The analysis found that traffic officers issued 447,269 tickets for standing in a bus stop and 32,101 for standing in a bus lane in the last 18 months.
  • Traffic cameras, which are only authorized on a handful of routes, issued an additional 203,892 tickets for bus lane violations.
  • A full 28 percent of all violations were committed by vehicles with five or more infractions – proving the city is falling short at counteracting repeat offenders.
  • In only the last 18 months, a whopping 1,015 vehicles had between 25 and 49 bus stop and bus lane violations, 405 vehicles had between 50 and 99, and 185 received 100 tickets or more.
  • At the top of the list, one commercial vehicle had a stunning 870 violations in the last eighteen months, all for bus stop obstructions.

Bus Lane and Bus Stop Violations, Repeat Offenders

Number of Violations Type of Vehicle Grand Total
Passenger Commercial Taxi/FHV Other
5-9 4,395 2,402 509 521 7,827
10-24 1,684 1,413 71 293 3,461
25-49 380 524 1 110 1,015
50-99 125 241 3 36 405
100+ 39 132 0 14 185
Total 5+ 6,623 4,712 584 974 12,893

While delivery trucks and other commercial vehicles received only 20 percent of bus lane and bus stop tickets, they were the most likely to be high-frequency offenders. Among those vehicles that received 25 or more violations, 56 percent had commercial licenses.

To effectively improve traffic enforcement and ensure a modern bus system with faster and more reliable bus service, the Comptroller offered the following recommendations:

  • The City should dramatically improve bus stop and bus lane enforcement;
  • The State should authorize fixed-location traffic cameras along more routes in order to increase the enforcement of bus lanes;
  • The City DOT should upgrade the design of bus lanes;
  • The City DOT should expedite the implementation of Transit Signal Priority;
  • The City and MTA should take a more holistic approach to bus enhancements citywide. High-frequency peak and off-peak service, all-door boarding, transit signal priority, curb extensions, efficient stop-spacing, and well designed, enforced, and strategically-located bus lanes should be characteristic of every local bus route, not just select bus service.

Chronic Problems with SBS Fare Payment Machines

Apart from the report, Comptroller Stringer sent a letter to Darryl C. Irick, President of MTA Bus Operations. The letter focused on the functionality of SBS fare payment machines and Reduced-Fare MetroCards.

The Comptroller’s survey of SBS riders found that 40 percent experienced difficulty obtaining a ticket at a fare payment machine in the last year. Among these riders, 77 percent reported that their Reduced-Fare MetroCard had not worked on multiple occasions and over 15 percent reported issues on more than five occasions.

In order to better understand these mounting challenges and ensure future improvements, the Comptroller’s Office requested that the MTA provide the following information: 1) the maintenance protocol for SBS fare payment machines, 2) a full inventory of SBS fare payment machines and the length of time each was out-of-service in the last year, and 3) a list of customer complaints and general issues that have been identified regarding Reduced-Fare MetroCards.

To read the full report, click here.

To read Comptroller Stringer’s letter to the MTA Bus Division, click here.