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New Bus Lanes and Fare Machines Expected to Speed Up Travel on East Side

By DNAinfo Staff on June 7, 2010 7:58am  | Updated on June 7, 2010 2:08pm

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN EAST — Bus ride times on the Upper East Side could be reduced up to 20 percent with the installation of exclusive new bus lanes and pre-pay machines on First and Second Avenues, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday.

The $60 million Select Bus Service project is set to drastically transform bus travel on the M15 bus line, one of the slowest routes in the city.

The plan is part of a growing effort to reduce the traffic congestion that plagues the East Side, including new bike lanes and a slowly building subway line.

Next week, city workers will begin painting terracotta-colored bus-only lanes along First and Second avenues between Houston and 125th streets. The city will also be installing new sidewalk fare machines where passengers will be able to purchase tickets before boarding to help speed up trips.

Taking the bus 8.5 miles from South Ferry to 125th Street currently takes up to 90 minutes — longer than a flight to Cleveland or a train ride to Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out at a press conference Monday announcing the initiative.

"Luckily we're going to pick up that snail's pace dramatically," said Bloomberg, flanked by transit officials, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and local city council members.

In addition to eliminating the time it takes to dip metro cards, the new buses will also have three doors to speed boarding and disembarking, and passengers will be able to enter through rear and front doors.

Payment will work on an honor system, with MTA crews hunting for fare evaders and slapping them with hefty fines.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said that initiatives like this are exactly what the city needs to speed up buses, which she described as the "slugs" of the transit system.

"We can take a huge bite out of delays in service today," she said smiling.

The new system is based on the Select Bus Service program already up and running along Fordham Road in the Bronx. The service has been credited with boosting ridership along the route by 30 percent.

"We've tried this before.... It has worked very well," Bloomberg said.

While the mayor acknowledged that fare evasion is a concern, he said that the anticipated ridership increases should make up for any lost fares.

Fare evasion has not been a serious problem in the Bronx and is not expected to be one on the East Side, Ted Orosz, director of long range bus planning for the MTA, told DNAinfo.

"These are New Yorkers," Bloomberg assured. "Most people are honest."

An artist's rendering of what First and Second Avenues will look like with their new bus lanes.
An artist's rendering of what First and Second Avenues will look like with their new bus lanes.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

In addition to speeding travel, the mayor said he also hopes the project will make streets safer for pedestrians along the avenues.

City Council Member Daniel Garodnick praised the initiative, saying that the East Side is desperate for transit solutions.

"Bus service today is a headache and we hope this will ease the pain," he said.

Stringer agreed.

"Everybody knows that the M15 is the life line on the East Side," he said. "We need to think of new and innovative ways to keep things moving."

The new buses are scheduled to be up and running in October.

Cars making right-hand turns will continue being able to merge into the bus lane at intersections, and taxis will be allowed to pick up and drop off passengers.

The section of Second Avenue where subway construction is affecting street traffic will not be included in the initial roll-out, Sadik-Khan said.