By Sabina Mollot
Last Thursday, NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives bestowed their annual dubious award of “Schleppie” for the most unreliable bus line in the city to the M15, including its Select Bus Service (SBS) option.
The Schleppie, which is represented by two lumbering elephants on a pedestal, was given to the First and Second Avenue Manhattan line because of its tendency towards bus bunching as well as major gaps in service.
The award, which has been given since 2006, goes to any route with an average “wait assessment” greater than 20 percent. This determination is based on official “wait assessments” for “42 high-volume routes,” chosen by Transit. Wait assessment measures how closely a line sticks to scheduled intervals for arrival. Wait assessment becomes poorer the more buses arrive in bunches or with major gaps in service.
Still, the NYPIRG had some words of encouragement for the route, acknowledging that in 2013, the M15 was the most utilized route out of nearly 200 local routes in the entire city. The local and SBS together move 54,310 riders on an average weekday. The report also said Transportation Alternatives was optimistic things would improve once the city implements SBS routes.
“New Yorkers know from bitter daily experience that bus service is slow and unreliable,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “But there is real hope for dramatic improvement in Mayor de Blasio’s plan to build a rapid network of 20 ‘Select Bus Service/Bus Rapid Transit’ routes.”
The report also went on to say that based on its findings, SBS routes were living up to the expectation of being speedier than locals, while also performing “modestly” better in terms of reliability.
On Monday afternoon, this reporter headed to the M15 stop on First Avenue in front of Stuyvesant Town to get riders’ perspective on the bus service. The stop is between 14th and 15th Streets with the local stopping closer to 14th Street, and the SBS closer to 15th Street. After waiting a few minutes, two local M15s arrived together, and then, four minutes later, three more buses also arrived, one right behind the other. Two were locals, the other an SBS.
Before the SBS he needed had arrived, East Village resident Brandon Abreu said he didn’t think the M15 was too bad.
“It takes me to work and it’s pretty fast while you’re on it,” said Abreu. But, he added, “When it comes it comes. That’s the only thing I would say, but besides that it’s pretty good. It gets crowded a lot of the time when kids get out of school, but besides that it’s pretty empty not during rush hour.”
Another regular rider, NYU Langone OB-GYN Elizabeth Fernandez, had fewer kind words for the M15.
“It’s never on time,” she said. “And when it does come, everyone crowds onto it.” Often, she ends up waiting for another bus since the first one she’ll see gets too jammed with riders. Another problem, she said, is related to the SBS’s pre-boarding ticket system. “Normally I’ll go to get a ticket and by the time I get a ticket, the bus has gone or they’ve closed the door in my face.”
In response to the report, the MTA echoed White’s sentiment about how the routes are expected to improve with more SBS buses.
In a written statement, agency spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said, “MTA NYC Transit always appreciates the Straphangers’ and their insightful reports, and in this case, their acknowledgment of improved service along routes where we have implemented Select Bus Service (SBS). More bus customers are benefitting from speedier and more efficient service as additional SBS routes are rolled out across the City.
“Aside from the seven current SBS routes, plans are currently underway for the roll-out of SBS service along four other corridors, including an additional crosstown route. We are also continuing to work with the New York City Department of Transportation to increase the number of bus lanes and locations where buses would have traffic signal priority. While traffic plays the most significant role in bus speeds, we have increased dispatching efforts and are using our GPS-enabled bus fleet to monitor real time bus performance in order to make scheduling adjustments when possible. We will continue to explore other ways to create more even spacing between buses along these routes.”
In previous years, the Schleppie went to the M1 in both 2006 and 2007, to the M101/2/3 in 2008, the B44 in 2009, the Bx41 in 2010, the M101/2/3 in 2011, the M4 in 2012, and again to the M101/2/3 in 2013.
Local bus routes this year managed to escape being given a “Pokey” (represented with a snail on a pedestal) for slowest bus in the city. This time that honor went to the M79, a crosstown that travels crosstown on 79th and 81st Streets between East End Avenue and the 79th Street Boat Basin. Local route the M14A was a winner in 2006 though and the M23 held the Pokey award twice, once in 2003 and again in 2007.