MTA’s SBS Bus Service Is A Big Step In The Wrong Direction

MTA Ticket Machines for Limited Buses in New York City.

The M15 limited bus is one of the new SBS buses in New York City.  It uses a new system where you buy a ticket from one of the machines pictured above before you board the bus and then you can enter the bus from any of the doors, rather than just the front door where the driver is.  It’s also supposed to have a dedicated bus lane and, though I have no clue how this works, priority at traffic lights.

The problem I see with this is that it doesn’t really save time at all and it wasn’t advertised enough.  I’ve only been back in the city for a little while, so it’s really no surprise that I hadn’t heard of this before having to figure it out firsthand, but other commuters seemed just as confused by the thing as I did, including my mother, who was born here and, after some time away, moved back 17 years ago.  She watches the news regularly but had never heard of this change and it wound up causing an incident on the bus we took this afternoon, the M15 at 1st Avenue and 14th Street.

You see, we showed up at the bus stop and boarded the bus just like any other bus.  The driver sat there and watched us come in through the front door.  He watched my mom dip her MetroCard into the machine and saw that it deducted the transit fare.  Then as she started to walk away, he called her back and told her she needed a ticket from one of the machines outside.  After she had already paid.  To get a ticket from the machine she would have to pay again.  We wound up having to get off the bus.

My question is this: why did the driver watch my mother dip her card and deduct a fare when he knew that wasn’t the appropriate method for boarding the bus?  Why is the card reader even on the bus in the first place if it’s not used for these limited buses?  And what recourse does my mother have now to recover the money taken from her?  None.

The driver gave my mom one of those paper transfer cards and told her to try that in the ticket machine, but it didn’t work, and of course he drove off right away rather than having to continue dealing with the problem.  Not that he could wait around forever of course, with a bus full of passengers, but it still feels like he was trying to evade the problem.

So, in the end, my mom got shorted one fare today.  One fare may not sound like much to some people, but every dollar counts and it’s not just the amount, it’s the principle.  The NYC MTA stole money from my mother today.  That’s bullshit.

Getting back to what I was saying about the process not being any faster, like SBS claims, I believe that it’s all a trick to make things seem faster.  The only faster part about it is getting on the bus.  It still takes just as long for people to get off the bus.  It also takes quite a while to get a ticket.  I haven’t been there during the morning rush hour but we spoke to one lady who said that in the morning there are long lines of people waiting to use the machine to get a ticket, and while you’re standing there in line waiting, you’re missing buses that go by.  So, how is it really making it faster for passengers to start at point A and reach point B?  I also don’t recall the bus using any special lane on 1st avenue, or having some sort of special privilege at the traffic lights.

This whole system just makes things more confusing than they have to be, and it feels like a step backward rather than a step forward.  Seriously MTA, paper tickets?  You know that’s what they do in third world countries, right?  Everyone else in the world is moving towards a permanent prepaid card that you use indefinitely.  You don’t even scan, slide or dip it.  You simply tap it on a panel that reads the chip in the card to do the fare deduction.  You don’t even have to take it out of your wallet.  That’s easy and faster.  Imagine getting on the bus and dragging your purse over a pad to make your payment, or bumping your wallet against a pad before tucking it back into your pocket.  No more fumbling with getting a card in and out of your purse/wallet/pocket.  And you know how the secret inspectors verify that you’ve paid?  They have a handheld device that reads passengers’ cards to show when they last used them and for what bus.  They don’t walk around asking for paper tickets.

One last thing I’d like to mention is the extra costs involved in this venture.  The SBS signs on the buses point out how they use less energy because the buses are at the stops for a shorter amount of time.  That’s all well and good, but what about the cost of all of the ticket machines?  And how is it greener to print paper tickets for every single person for every single ride!!!!!!????  One of the simplest concepts in ‘going green’ is to reduce the use of paper to save forests, not increase it unnecessarily.

The money that’s been wasted on this project should have been used to replace buses with newer, more fuel efficient models, or to upgrade the system to permanent, prepaid tap cards.  As far as this goes, though, it’s a step towards the third world in a city that’s supposed to be the best.

Getting Around In Singapore (Transportation)

One of the first thing a person wants to know when they move somewhere is how they’re going to get around.  Singapore’s got you covered on that one.  It has one of the best public transportation systems I’ve ever seen and there are sidewalks and walking bridges everywhere.  Here are some details:

The Bus:

The most common method of public transportation in Singapore is one we’re all familiar with.  There are two types of buses in Singapore.  There are the regular buses, and then there are double-decker buses like the one the above photo was taken in.  I love those double-decker buses.  When you get a good seat up towards the front of one, every short trip feels like a tour!  You can get a good view of what’s around you while you’re traveling, unless you get on one that has an advertisement covering the front glass.  That’s a bit annoying.  Of course, the view isn’t the only thing that’s great about the buses in Singapore.  They also have piped in television.  The shows that are playing are usually interesting and the audio is pretty clear, unless it’s rush hour and the passengers on the bus are talking.  One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that people on buses (and trains) in Singapore are fairly quiet compared to other places I’ve lived.  In fact, there is often a subdued atmosphere.

The Train:

The train system in Singapore is very efficient.  There are quite a few lines that cover the island.  In fact, there are very few places in Singapore that are outside of walking distance to the nearest MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) station.  Here’s a map:


(Note: The Pioneer and Joo Koon stations on the East West Line are now complete. A portion of the Circle Line in the Serangoon area is also now complete.)

As you can see, the train system is extensive, with more lines being constructed.

The trains themselves are well kept and clean.  There isn’t any piped in TV like on the bus, but it’s usually a short ride.  For example, you could ride the East West Line from one end of the island to the other in about an hour.  One of the interesting things about the trains here is that the wallspace, floorspace, windowspace, and any other space that can be covered by an ad can and often is.  As you can see in the image above, the entire interior of the train was decorated with an advertisement for Baron’s beer.  The outside sported a similar design as well.  At least they did a good job and it’s interesting.

Payment

Before I move on I wanted to mention how you pay for your rides.  On the bus you can either use exact change or a transit card called an EZ-Link card.  It’s a smarter move to go for the card because if you pay cash you have to pay more for the ride. I think it has to do with fees the banks charge to process coin deposits, but that’s just a wild guess.  As for the EZ-Link cards you can buy them at the MRT stations.  when you buy one there is an initial cost that I can’t remember, but it’s minimal and the card comes pre-loaded with (I think) a 10 SGD credit.  After that, you can deposit more money to it through a window teller, or one of the automated machines in the MRT stations.  The EZ-Link card is a smart card.  You don’t even have to take it out of your wallet when you make a payment with it.  As you enter and leave the bus or train station you tap your card on a pad that registers the entry or exit.  The fare is based on the distance you traveled, which is more fair than a flate rate in my opinion.

Other Methods To Get Around:

Though I don’t recommend riding 3 persons to a bicycle, like this lovely bunch above, it is a great way to get around here.  I don’t own a bicycle myself, but I’ve been considering making the investment.  Singapore has a lot of great, wide sidewalks and in some cases dedicated bicycle paths.  Located at most MRT stations there are racks designed for locking bicycles, and even when there isn’t people lock their bicycles to anything they can find.  A cheap bicycle can be bought for around 75 – 100 SGD and at that price you can usually talk a store owner into throwing in a free bell and basket.  From what I’ve seen, helmets aren’t required here, but I think it’s a finable offense if you don’t use your bell to warn pedestrians on the sidewalk that you’re coming.

Last but not least, if you want some fresh air, you could do this: