UPPER EAST SIDE — A fleet of 79 new MTA buses will roll out by the end of this year, replacing old buses that break down and cause long wait times — including the notoriously slow M15 local service, officials announced Thursday.
Three to five new buses with free Wi-Fi, USB charging, and digital information screens will be added to the M14, M15, M101, M102, and M103 bus routes per week, and will eventually replace the slower ones that have caused bunching along the route, according to city officials.
By the end of the year, all express buses will also be upgraded with bus driver partitions, security cameras, new safety features, and retrofitted with Wi-Fi and charging ports.
There will be roughly 35 to 55 charging ports on each bus, depending on the make and model.
A number of East Side politicians, including Councilman Ben Kallos, Sen. Liz Krueger, and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, along with the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, petitioned the MTA for the new buses after receiving a slew of complaints from commuters who wait long periods of time for their bus to come.
"Bus service on the East Side is about to get better with brand new buses that won’t cause disruptions in service from breaking down as often,” said Kallos. “Residents complain about poor bus service every day, but after years of advocacy, we are getting the new buses we need."
The new buses will eventually phase out the older buses, which is the primary cause of "missing buses," according to Kallos.
The buses that run on all five routes come out of the Tuskeegee Bus Depot in Harlem and are some of the oldest, Kallos said.
"When local buses end up 'missing' that further compounds the problems," he said. "The M15 had the oldest fleet in the city. This is great news for M15 riders."
Locals and politicians on both the Upper and Lower East Side have for years been asking the MTA to fix the slow local M15 service or add additional Select Bus Service stops on the route.
Upper East Side residents have pushed for more local M15 buses or at least the addition of a Select Bus Service stop at East 72nd Street since the local bus takes too long to arrive.
"You can stand there for 25 to 35 minutes and see three Select Bus Service buses go by," said Valerie Mason, president of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association, last year. "In the last six years, local service has deteriorated greatly."
Thousands of residents signed a petition in support of an SBS stop there, but the MTA shot down their request earlier this year, saying there isn't enough ridership to support it.
Mason said she's glad there are new buses, but believes her neighborhood still needs M15 SBS service.
"It's really great to have new buses, but its service isn't going to improve...it's not going to help anybody," she told DNAinfo New York on Thursday. "We need an SBS stop at 72nd Street. If somebody tells me the new buses will mean the frequency of stops at the local 72nd Street bus stop is substantially improved, great. If not, the new buses are meaningless."
Meanwhile, Lower East Side residents — particularly those who are elderly or disabled — have complained they are forced to either wait up to half an hour for one of the lagging local buses or trek farther to the nearest SBS stop. Councilwoman Margaret Chin for roughly two years has been pushing the MTA to add two extra stops on the SBS line for those constituents.
Chin recognized the need for the new local buses, but said she will continue to demand the additional SBS stops she feels will benefit her constituents.
A resident who uses a walker said she is hopeful the new local buses will provide some relief, but also said she hopes the MTA will ultimately decide to grant them the much-needed SBS stops.
"We do need more buses, we do need more, because there aren't many local," said Elaine Hoffman, a tenant representative and resident of the Two Bridges Tower at 82 Rutgers Slip, who has said the bus network in her neighborhood is so bad she will cancel plans during bad weather instead of braving the sub-par service.
"Something is better than nothing," she added.
The addition of these new buses is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $1.3 billion plan to replace about 40 percent of the MTA's current fleet by the end of this year and have more than 2,040 Wi-Fi enabled buses within five years.