UPPER WEST SIDE — The city plans to make service along Manhattan's busiest crosstown bus line, the M86, more streamlined next year by converting it to Select Bus Service, which allows riders to pre-pay before boarding.
"It’s a heavily used route with slow trips,” said Joseph Chiarmonte, a senior projects manager for the MTA, Tuesday at a Community Board 7 meeting to discuss the changes.
The route — which runs the span of 86th Street, from West End to York avenues and through Central Park — serves more than 25,000 passengers daily, he said. It is the busiest crosstown bus in Manhattan, noted MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.
With Select Bus Service, the MTA will line the route with pay stations at each stop so that passengers can buy their ticket ahead of time, rather than having to line up and pay one-by-one, as they do now, said Chiarmonte.
All doors of the bus open and people can simply step on, turning a process that can take five or 10 minutes into one similar to loading a subway car, he explained. Travel times are expected to be 15 to 20 minutes faster as a result, officials said.
"It’s really a vast difference," Chiarmonte noted.
Staff will be scattered along the line to randomly check tickets and dole out $100 fines for fare evasion, he said. Along the seven other SBS lines across the city, including a new one along 125th Street, fare evasion has actually decreased since the the service was introduced, he said.
Unlike other SBS routes that have a reduction in stops so that they can run like an express subway line, the M86 will not include a major change in stops.
"There might be one or two stops that we might have to remove. Probably nine out of 10 stops will be there," said Robert Thompson, a manager overseeing bus services at the MTA.
The DOT will help make the boarding process easier and swifter by smoothing the curb between the sidewalk and the street at certain stops. However, the route is too narrow for the bus to have its own dedicated lane, said Chiarmonte.
In addition, the buses could have equipment installed that allows them to communicate their position to traffic lights, meaning that if a bus is just shy of getting through a light and continuing on its route, the light will wait to change to red.
"It would be a couple of seconds. No naked eye would ever be able to see it," said Aaron Sugiura, a DOT senior projects manager.
At some stops, kiosks will also be programmed to tell riders when the next bus is arriving, he said.
"This is very exciting," noted CB7 board member Ken Coughlin.
Representatives from MTA and the DOT said they were pleased the board welcomed the service changes and added that the line would be up and running by mid-2015.
"Godspeed in putting this into effect," said board member Andrew Albert, who, along with other members, hoped the M86 Select Bus Service would arrive quickly.