HARLEM — Select Bus Service on the M60 launched Tuesday with city officials saying it will improve service and speed on the line that connects 125th Street to LaGuardia Airport for the thousands of people who use it each day.
"It's a great day for East Harlem whose transit needs have been underserved for far too long," said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito whose district lies along part of the route.
But two avenues away at Lenox Avenue and 125th Street sat disabled activist Martin Baez in his wheelchair, still sweating after rolling himself from Frederick Douglass Boulevard to demonstrate how he believes the loss of local M60 service would leave the disabled underserved.
"It's an equal opportunity issue," said Baez, explaining that the M60 now has half the stops, making it harder for the disabled to take the bus to the airport. He has filed a federal lawsuit against the plan.
Baez, 42, a community liaison for Rep. Charles Rangel, was born with spina bifida. He said the curbside payment kiosks face the street and could leave wheelchair users like him vulnerable to traffic. He's also concerned that a loss of stops will make the bus more crowded and difficult to board.
Victor Calise, commissioner for the Mayor's Office for People With Disabilities, said the SBS setup is accessible and that they plan to meet with Baez to see if they can address his concerns.
"The buses are accessible, the kiosks are accessible and we are looking at it for people with visual disabilities and people with mobility disabilities," Calise said. "We are trying to make sure those areas are addressed."
Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the M60 is the city's seventh SBS line since the express service launched on the Bronx's Bx12 in 2008.
The 125th Street launch also represents the start of an effort to add 13 additional SBS lines to bring the total to 20 city-wide.
Mayor Bill de Blasio included $90 million in the city budget for the project.
The implementation of the 125th Street SBS cost the DOT and the MTA approximately $8 million. It includes the first of several solar powered kiosks that use MTA Bus Time to give riders real time bus arrival times and 14 new or enlarged bus shelters.
"This is one of the most important corridors in the city," Trottenberg said. "It has enormous bus ridership and the ability to connect better with LaGuardia Airport which is a major employer."
The M60 is the most-used bus line on 125th Street. Approximately 9,600 of the 32,000 passengers who use the four bus lines on 125th Street use the M60 for mostly crosstown travel, with only 10 percent going to the airport, according to MTA data.
The bus is at a standstill 60 percent of the time it's on 125th Street. The SBS service could speed the 56-minute trip to LaGuardia Airport by up to 20 percent, reducing travel times by 10 minutes from Morningside Heights to the airport, the DOT said.
The line will make six stops on 125th Street and travel in dedicated, camera-enforced bus lanes from Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.
The plan has been in the works for years, and was even briefly killed when MTA and city officials could not come to a consensus with residents. The project was evetually revived.
"It's been a long process to get us to this day," Trottenberg said.
"For some of us we thought that this was not going to move forward at one point but everyone worked hard to make it happen," Mark-Viverito said.
But the plan doesn't yet seem to be in the clear.
Baez and Perkins are questioning the route based on the issue of disabled riders. Councilman Mark Levine said he hopes to have the dedicated bus lanes restored in West and Central Harlem.
"It leaves our job only half-completed," Levine said. "Right now, buses coming from the West side of 125th Street will crawl through traffic until they get to Lenox where they speed up and that's simply not fair to residents in the western part of this wonderful street."
DOT officials said they hope to continue the conversation with the community about restoring dedicated bus lanes from Morningside Avenue to Lenox Avenue.
"As more and more of these routes go up I think communities see the benefit," said Trottenberg.
"I'm not trying to eliminate Select Bus Service, I just want them to reinstate the M60 local bus," Baez said. "They need to think more of people like me when making these plans."