UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan — It's a transportation system that's helped hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers get to where they're going, faster. Still, the select bus system, or SBS, is the target of complaints by some passengers on the super express system who say that problems related to ticket-buying for the buses could potentially cost them a lot, through no fault of their own.
The problem can be summed up in three words that appear on a variety of ticket machines for the buses: out of service.
The buses, which require passengers to buy tickets on the sidewalk while waiting for the bus, rather than waste time buying tickets on board, have reduced travel times. Since the buses debuted in 2008, commutes have been reduced by 18 percent, according to the MTA. That means that formerly 30-minute rides are now typically 25 minutes.
The problem is related to the curbside ticket purchasing.
"One time they caught me," said Rosalie Ray, about MTA inspectors, who randomly board select buses, or SBS, to check to ensure passengers have paid. Ray had been waiting for a select bus on the Upper West Side. "I said that [the ticket machine] was broken, and they let me get off" and buy another ticket, she told PIX11 News.
Ray, who was waiting for the M86, was one of many passengers concerned about getting penalized for not having a receipt showing they'd paid their fare prior to boarding.
Not having proof of purchase results in a $100 fine. However, a variety of people have told PIX11 News that they're concerned about being fined without justification.
"On the other side of town, all the machines were broken, and the sign [at the bus stop] said, 'Get a ticket when you're leaving the bus,'" Gloria Goldberg said on the Upper West Side as she waited for an SBS to go across town. "Get your ticket when you get off the bus? Who is going to do that?"
Marlene Charlemagne sent a message to PIX11 News via Facebook: "MetroCard machines have been broken since last week" at 86th and Central Park West, she wrote.
It was there that PIX11 News on Tuesday afternoon observed an MTA worker repairing a broken machine.
For its part, the MTA can point to scenes like that. It regularly repairs broken machines, but some riders expressed frustration that the machines along SBS routes break down too frequently.
Also in the MTA's defense, the SBS machines, unlike similar MetroCard machines in the subway, are completely exposed to the elements. That can compromise their performance.
Still, SBS passenger Tom Curtis, said he's never seen a machine down.
PIX11 News pointed out an SBS MetroCard machine next to him that was inoperable. Appearing on its digital screen were the three fateful words: "Out of Service."
"Then that's my first time" Curtis said about seeing a broken SBS ticket machine.
PIX11 News is awaiting further comment from the MTA about this issue.