MTA Finds Replacement for Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the front of each bus featured two flashing blue lights to help passengers distinguish between SBS and local buses. Years after Staten Island lawmakers exploited a legal technicality, forcing the MTA to shut the lights off, the agency has figured out a solution.

With flashing blue lights no longer an option, the MTA is changing the destination displays at the top of each Select Bus Service vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

The lights are important because they help people determine whether an approaching bus is an SBS vehicle, which riders have to pay for before boarding, or if it’s a local bus with on-board fare payment. With no way to distinguish between the two, passengers take longer to board and bus trips get slowed down.

Later this summer, the MTA will change the front-facing destination displays on SBS buses to distinguish them from local buses. The new signs will likely use different colors than the MTA’s default orange or yellow signs, and they may also flash to be more visible to riders at bus stops.

The first route to receive the new lights will be the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues, according to minutes from the Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee [PDF]. CB 6 has been leading the charge to get the flashing SBS lights restored. The MTA will make a formal announcement about the change soon, said agency spokesperson Kevin Ortiz.

The original flashing blue lights operated without incident, starting in 2008. Then in 2012 SBS came to Staten Island, where local elected officials pointed to a state law limiting the use of flashing blue lights to volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders.

Even though the lights hadn’t been a problem, the Staten Island pols claimed the “partially blinding” lights confused their constituents and created “apprehension and undue distraction” for drivers, who might think an MTA bus was actually a volunteer firefighter and become “desensitized” to blue lights.

Albany could have rewritten the law to restore the flashing blue lights, but bills from State Senator Jeffrey Klein and former Assembly Member Micah Kellner stalled last year, leaving the MTA to come up with a new solution.