It has been two and a half months since the B44 Select Bus Service (SBS) arrived on Nostrand Avenue to connect Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburg with a super-express bus option, and residents and business owners continue either to love or hate it, registering complaints with local elected officials and civic groups about increased traffic congestion, stranded commuters, and all-around inefficiency and inconvenience.
One problem, according to long-time resident and Democratic District Leader Ed Powell, is wait time. “I have seen individuals, including school-aged children and elderly people, waiting at bus stops along the B44 bus route in below-freezing temperatures, while almost empty Select Service buses pass them by,” he said. “If it does not affect you or your bus service yet, it very likely will in the future.”
That is why Powell, along with former Community Board 17 Treasurer Rickie Tulloch and Assemblymember Rhoda Jacobs are collecting signatures on a petition spearheaded by Tulloch, asking the MTA to conduct an “in-depth assessment” of the impact of the B44 SBS line on traffic congestion, ridership, efficiency and public safety.
“When you hear people complain, you have to take it seriously,” stressed Tulloch. “When agencies like the MTA see that folks are concerned [via petitioning], and their service is not bettering and benefiting the consumers, it has to pique their interest. Service is their business and if they’re not delivering the goods, then obviously there’s something wrong. Ridership is key to any public transportation system.”
“Since the new service took effect, local riders have been contacting my office in growing numbers to communicate their concerns,” wrote Jacobs to the MTA. The most common complaints, said Jacobs, include the elimination of Limited bus stops, very long waits for the bus, overcrowding on Local buses while SBS buses fly by nearly empty, a lack of Local buses, buses “bunching” together instead of arriving on time, and riders not being able to use SBS tickets on Local buses, resulting in them waiting longer or having to pay their fare twice.
As of January 3, the MTA was “in the process of monitoring this new service to evaluate any changes that need to be made, [but] has no plans to alter the route at this time,” said Jacobs.
That is not acceptable, according to Jacobs and Councilmember Jumaane Williams.
“We have heard from scores of residents in our community regarding the loss of stops along the B44 line,” said Williams. “While the implementation of the new SBS service may be well-intentioned, it is clear that residents of the communities we represent have lost critical stops along the B44 line, including at Nostrand and Avenue L, which has increased commute times for many. . . We encourage residents to let the MTA know if there are other critical stops along the B44 line that severely disadvantage residents.”
In addition to requiring passengers to pay their fare before boarding—using Munimeter-like machines instead—the new SBS route jumps to stops at major intersections such as Williamsburg Plaza, Flushing Avenue, Empire Boulevard, Church Avenue, the Junction and Avenue U. Commuters at other stops must rely on the Local bus to get to an SBS stop.
For students and staff at schools located at former B44 Limited stops such as Avenue L [where Hudde Intermediate School is located], which are now considered only Local, this results in longer wait times and difficult transfer situations.
“My granddaughter is 15 and we have to take her to school because [when the new bus first started,] she stood there at the bus stop for 40 minutes and the bus never came,” said Jose Bernhard. “This happened to a neighbor on Avenue U, too. [Taking] her to school every day is hard because my son also goes to work with the car.”