Volume 80, Number 20 | October 14 - 20, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

M.T.A. employee Peggy Bostic showed a German tourist how to use a MetroCard at one of the new curbside fare boxes on the M15 Select Bus Service route.

New buses won’t wait for fares, will randomly check tix

By Terese Loeb Kreuzer

The Department of Transportation and New York City Transit no doubt scheduled the inauguration of the M15 Select Bus Service between South Ferry and 125th St. for a holiday weekend to have a gentle rollout and avoid having a pack of harried commuters, late for work. Still, there was some New York grumbling and some confusion.

As of 5 a.m. on Sun., Oct. 10, the M15 Select Bus Service replaced the M15 Limited on First and Second Aves. The M15 Select Bus Service operates daily from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. The M15 local service will continue running 24 hours a day, as usual.

What was new for most passengers using the M15 Select Bus Service were the curbside fare boxes, which accept both MetroCards and cash. Passengers must pay before boarding the bus. The fare boxes dispense a receipt, good for one hour from the time of purchase. There is no interaction with the bus driver unless the passenger has paid cash and needs a transfer.

“The whole idea is to speed up service by paying before you get on the bus,” Joseph Chiarmonte, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority transit planner, told Lower Manhattan’s Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee a few days prior to the rollout.

North of Houston St., dedicated bus lanes will also speed up service, Chiarmonte said. Drivers must stay out of the bus lanes except to turn right at the next corner or to quickly drop off or pick up passengers. Violators can incur fines of up to $150.

Transportation planners believe the trip between South Ferry and 125th St., which now takes around an hour and a half, should be 15 to 20 minutes shorter under the new system. They say it will be shorter still in 2011 or 2012 when the buses will be outfitted with technology that will cue green lights to stay on a few seconds longer, or red lights a few seconds less, to enable faster passage through intersections.

However, speed comes at a price. On the first day of the new service, some passengers saw the bus coming and dashed for it, not realizing they needed to pay first. M.T.A. employees were at each stop to head them off, explaining how the curbside fare boxes work — and at least for that day, getting the buses to wait a few moments so passengers could pay and board. As a rule, the buses won’t wait for passengers.

“During peak hours, the bus will be running every 4 to 5 minutes,” said Chiarmonte. “The idea is that it’s going to operate a lot like the subway. The subway doesn’t wait for people, and the buses won’t either. There will be another bus shortly thereafter. Between peak periods, the bus should come at 6-to-8-minute intervals.”

M.T.A. employees will be at each stop the first week. Sunday afternoon, Peggy Bostic was stationed on Water St. near Fulton St.

“Most people seem O.K. with the fare boxes,” Bostic said. “Some told me that they’re doing this in Europe and it works fine there.”

But one woman who asked not to be identified remarked, “When they do this in other countries, half the time people don’t pay. This should be interesting.”

To catch fare evaders, there will be a crew of fare inspectors who will board buses at random, asking to see receipts; anyone without a receipt can be fined up to $100.

Straphangers and C.B. 1 members alike wondered, what happens if the fare boxes break down?

“We have a crew that works full time maintaining these machines — and there are two MetroCard machines at every stop,” Chiarmonte noted. “These are brand-new machines. They have wireless communications, so if there is any sort of issue with them — if they break or run out of paper — they will send a message to our maintenance folks.”

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