Manhattan Community Board 6 has adopted a resolution in support of a state law to bring back flashing blue lights on Select Bus Service buses. The reso also urges the MTA to explore options to restore the lights in lieu of legislative action.
SBS buses went into service in 2008. The buses and their flashing blue lights — which help riders distinguish between SBS and local buses — operated without incident for four and a half years, until the MTA brought SBS service to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard. Last January, the lights were switched off after City Council Member Vincent Ignizio complained that motorists, himself included, were confusing SBS buses with emergency vehicles.
Though an obscure state law limits the use of flashing blue lights to volunteer firefighters, no legal action was taken to get the MTA to stop using the SBS lights. A 2010 Daily News story about the regulation provoked no official response. No bus driver was ever ticketed for using the lights. An MTA spokesperson told Transportation Nation that the agency had received all of one complaint from the public, after the launch of the inaugural SBS line in the Bronx.
Ignizio was a leading critic of the effort to bring SBS service to Hylan Boulevard. In 2009 he co-signed a letter to NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan complaining about proposed median bus lanes and boarding platforms on the grounds that they would take away parking. In response, DOT and the MTA altered Hylan Boulevard SBS significantly, nixing the median lanes in favor of non-continuous curbside lanes. Ignizio purportedly approved of the watered down version of Hylan Boulevard SBS, which launched last August.
According to Ignizio himself, his argument against SBS lights amounted to anecdotes and the support of 100 people on Facebook. Ignizio told Transportation Nation that he personally asked then-MTA chief Joe Lhota, currently a Republican candidate for mayor, to have the lights turned off. In January the MTA issued this statement:
Reacting to specific concerns, MTA New York City Transit has agreed to turn off the flashing blue lights that have served to alert riders to the arrival of Select Bus Service buses (SBS) since the speedier service was introduced. This measure is being taken to eliminate the possibility of confusing the vehicles with volunteer emergency vehicles, which are entitled by law to use the blue lights. We are currently in the process of developing an alternate means of identifying SBS buses.