By Barry BenepeTwo additional encounters with the 14th Street SBS bus are also worth recounting followed by some reflections on DOT transportation policy or lack thereof. First, to understand terms, SBS refers to the equipment, not to the routes. The former buses, which loaded at the front with a metro card, have been taken out of use entirely on 14th Street and replaced with a much longer hinged vehicle with four entrances not requiring a MetroCard. Instead riders are expected to hunt for and find curbside ticket dispensers and purchase paper tickets with their MetroCards before boarding the buses at any one of the four unattended entrance/exits. Many riders have learned not to bother with purchasing tickets since inspectors seldom board buses to arrest free bees, and thus MTA is bringing about losses in revenues.
Like the former front loading single buses, the new hinged double SBS buses follow the same two mostly overlapping routes across 14th Street, M14D which runs west to Ninth Avenue, and the 14A which makes a southbound dogleg to Abingdon Square, a diversion which MTA wants to eliminate and many riders want to preserve. MTA has already eliminated a stop at Jane Street, requiring riders to walk further, often missing a bus, lengthening their trip time and adding the discomfort of additional walking.
Judith and I took the 14A eastbound from Abingndon Square, walking from Jane Street at 12:20PM to the bus stop at Bleecker Street where we purchased tickets with our MetroCards and stood waiting, leaning on a wall, until the bus soon arrived at 12:26. We arrived at our destination at Irving Place eight minutes later, great time! Return trip another matter. The SBS bus was waiting as we approached the stop near Union Square, all doors open, no one boarding. Judith ran to get tickets. I ran to get aboard to get aboard before the doors closed, finding no seats and collapsing on the floor. Many passengers offered seats, but I needed to recover first before standing and taking one of the proffered seats. Judith, holding the required tickets, joined me. The rest of the ride was pleasantly uneventful.
There seem to be only four marked driving lanes. The two center lanes, mostly pink, are marked as bus lanes on most portions of some blocks. The curb lanes are strangely unmarked, uncolored and unclear in purpose. Some had cars parked, some with Muni-Meters.
To a large extent, DOT creates its own congestion problems. First, it provides free curbside parking over much of the city, losing potential millions in parking revenue. Second, it requires cars to move from these free parking spots at least once every two days, ensuring constant traffic movements throughout the year. DOT has not banned cars on 14th Street. It has only required them to drive more often and longer to do so, creating more hazards for pedestrians at crosswalks as a consequence.
Although reduced bus travel time while retaining regular frequency is an admirable achievement, we still need more effective traffic management on 14th Street than is provided by pink paving. The curbside ticket dispensers should be replaced by on board ticket dispensers. Seats and shelters should be placed at every stop and there should be a stop at every block, especially Union Square and Fifth Avenue.