Yesterday, the MTA introduced its new, reportedly speedier “Select Bus Service,” in which the M15 buses use exclusive red bus lanes to go between Houston and 125th Street. The biggest change to the system is the “pay before boarding” policy the service uses — new machines at each stop on the line accept a MetroCard swipe or $2.25 in change for a proof-of-pay receipt that you flash to the driver as you get on the new low-floor (for easier on-and-off) buses. Sounds easy enough, right? We sent intern Myles to check it out.
I walked up to the 23rd Street stop (going downtown) just as the bus was pulling up, but I couldn’t rush onto the bus and swipe my card as I normally would’ve been able to do. I had to first get in a line of eight people and wait my turn to buy a receipt. Then the bus pulled away before I got my turn at the receipt machine. Argh.
Once at the machine, I realized I didn’t have enough money on my MetroCard or $2.25 in change. I had to leave and go back to the subway to buy a new card so I could purchase a receipt, as the machine won’t let you simply add money to a MetroCard — or even buy a new card.
At each stop today, there was an MTA attendant explaining how to use the receipt machines to the endless number of confused passengers. An attendant at 23rd Street told a guy about to take over her shift, “The big guys [MTA officials, most likely] are coming around today checking up on us.” She said they watched her work for “40 minutes” and warned him not to be on his phone, “’cause they’re looking for that.”
Once we were all on the bus, the receipts seemed to be on everyone’s mind. Strangers commented back and forth about “how stupid” and how much of a waste of time it was. The trip from 23rd Street to South Ferry took 29 minutes (about the same as it would to get there by subway). After being surrounded by annoyed people, and slightly annoyed myself, I decided I didn’t want to have to pay for the bus again to get back uptown.
I flashed my receipt from the downtown bus to get onto the uptown bus, and the bus driver didn’t bother to check which way I was going. All of the passengers got on at South Ferry through the back door with receipts in hand (though no one bothered to check if they had receipts in the first place).
An MTA brochure I acquired from an attendant says, “Fare inspectors randomly check for [the receipts],” and that “Anyone who cannot produce a valid receipt could be subject to a summons.” Hm, how likely is that?
Unfortunately, it seems this service was created with the belief that humans are inherently good, not to mention responsible — that they will pay for and hang onto receipts. But the New Yorkers we know are always trying to get everywhere as fast as they can, are always looking for a shortcut, and are always happy to save a couple bucks. It’s only the second day, and surely things will get smoother, but we suggest they counter some of the flaws inherent to this system…or the MTA will have to raise fares again to counteract the money they will lose, oh, wait — never mind.