BY JACKSON CHEN | Upper East Side residents are pressing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to upgrade the M15’s East 72nd Street local stops into Select Bus Service for the area’s senior citizen population.
With the Second Avenue Subway finally online, the MTA will restore the avenue’s bus stops out of commission due to the new line’s construction, in coming weeks. During a January 4 Community Board 8 Transportation Committee meeting, a discussion about the restoration quickly made clear that local residents’ chief complaint is the lack of Select Bus Service (SBS) at East 72nd Street’s stops on both First and Second Avenues.
The 72nd Street stops were once served by the now-retired limited-stop buses that offered expedited trips along the route by skipping some local stops. According to the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association’s vice president, Liz Patrick, the M15’s limited-stop service was converted into SBS in 2010, but the 72nd Street stops were left as local bus stops only. At the time, residents chalked up the change to expected obstructions from the impending construction of the Second Avenue Subway’s 72nd Street stop.
When discussion of restoring bus stops went before the public this past October, residents near East 72nd Street realized their stop would still have no access to SBS buses. Instead, commuters would have to walk to stops at either East 68th Street or East 79th.
“The local bus seems to come every 25 minutes and generally people will be standing there and watch at least four Select buses go by, oftentimes not full,” Patrick said. “So the people who largely rely on the bus… feel like they’ve been left behind, that there really isn’t any convenient or reliable bus service right now.”
For the area’s large senior population, particularly those using walkers or wheelchairs, a four-to-seven-block walk to the nearest SBS stop can be a significant burden, Valerie Mason, the neighborhood association’s president, said. To get the attention of CB8, elected officials, and the MTA, the association gathered nearly 3,000 signatures calling for SBS at East 72nd Street.
But the MTA is holding to its argument that the numbers aren’t there to justify adding a stop and slowing down the M15’s SBS buses.
“Fewer stops is a key component of Select Bus Service in order to increase bus speeds along busy corridors,” MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said in an email, adding that the local bus still serves the stop. “It remains our position that adding an SBS stop at 72nd Street will slow trips for all customers riding through this segment of the M15 SBS route.”
According to the MTA, ridership numbers at the 72nd Street stops suggest demand for SBS buses is less than a third of what is seen in terms of boarding and disembarking at a typical stop where such service exists.
Mason, however, argued that the numbers the MTA is looking at may be the result of a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Those burned by often waiting too long for a bus, she suggested, may no longer use the stop. With the East 72nd Street subway station now in operation, she said, the corner has become a major transportation hub and SBS buses there would provide obvious and critical connections in the MTA’s overall network.
As an alternative, CB8 Transportation Committee’s co-chair Chuck Warren said, the committee also suggested that the agency look at increasing local bus service for six months as a trial to alleviate concerns of local residents.
Even on that score, the MTA said that ridership would not justify the expanded service.
“People feel they got a double whammy,” Warren said. “There’s no SBS, then you have local service that doesn’t run enough. You got to offer some relief here. In the end, I don’t think it’s a sustainable position to say we’re not going to do SBS, and we’re not going to increase local service, either.”
With bus stops going back into service along Second Avenue, the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association is stepping up pressure on local elected officials to sound their horns on the issue of SBS service. City Councilmember Ben Kallos, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Assemblymembers Rebecca Seawright and Dan Quart jointly sent a letter to the MTA requesting that it consider an SBS stop at East 72nd Street, but have yet to receive any response.
“We are not daunted by the turndown that we received last week at the meeting,” Mason said of the posture of the MTA’s representatives on January 4. “Because we feel confident that everybody wants this and it really is important to a large population of the Upper East Side, which is the senior community.” ν