Complaints from cramped commuters about the newest express buses on city streets have caused the MTA to pump the brakes on their rollout, THE CITY has learned.
The coaches, which began going into service last December, are part of a $150 million order placed by the MTA in 2019 for more than 300 buses from Prevost, a Canadian company with a manufacturing plant upstate in Plattsburgh.
So far, just over 100 buses have been put into service.
MTA officials confirmed Wednesday that the remainder of the order has been placed on hold while they work with the manufacturer to find fixes to give riders more space on buses that have not yet been assembled.
But any alterations to the design of the new buses won’t be applied to those already on the streets.
“The 120 buses we have currently will continue to operate,” Craig Cipriano, interim president of New York City Transit, told THE CITY. “New buses that are already built, we’re not going to put them in service just yet, until we have a remediation plan.”
A spokesperson for Prevost, which is a subsidiary of Volvo, said the process is in its preliminary stages.
MTA officials did not have any estimate yet for how much the refurb would might cost.
Cipriano said the buses are the same size as the ones they are replacing but added that a previous redesign resulted in less room for seats to make more room for riders using wheelchairs.
“It really was born out of a zeal to get more space for our wheelchair customers,” he said.
The new-look buses — whose features include improved driver visibility, digital information screens, WiFi, USB charging ports, exterior cameras and audible turn warnings for pedestrians — were purchased to replace 12-year-old buses in depots in The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Yonkers.
But riders, who pay $6.75 for the express trips, quickly spotted other changes.
“From the outside, I was like, ‘Ooh, snazzy, a fancy new bus,’” said Aimee Cegelka, 47, an express bus rider from Rego Park. “But the second I sat down, I realized these were completely new seats with reduced leg room.”
Cegelka, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall, said she’s had to resort to taking up extra seats to have more space for her “crushed” knees — something she’s only able to do because ridership remains at about 60% of pre-pandemic figures, according to MTA data.
“I have yet to have to sit next to someone,” she told THE CITY. “So at least I can spread between two seats or put my legs into the aisle so my knees aren’t crushed.”
Ali Fadil, who commutes on express buses between Queens and the Upper West Side, said he is not very comfortable squeezing his 6-foot-2 frame into the seats and often tries to find space near the expanded area for wheelchairs.
“I don’t have a ruler or a measuring tape on me, but you can definitely feel it,” said Fadil, 28.
Cipriano said the space issues are limited to the first seven to eight rows on the driver’s side of the bus.
Randi Weiner, who has been riding express buses between Queens and Manhattan for more than 20 years, said she also has felt a lack of space on the passenger side.
“Once people go back into the city more, potentially in January with more business coming back, they’re going to be uncomfortable,” said Weiner, who has been taking occasional bus trips into Manhattan from her home in Bayside. “If I was on a full bus, there would be so many miserable people.”
Cipriano declined to comment specifically on what changes could be considered for the buses, saying the MTA and Prevost engineers will “try and get this rectified.”
“We’re continuing to listen to our customers, we value their feedback,” he said. “We’re going to take a look at this problem and solve it.”
‘In a Sardine Can’
But Vittorio Bugatti, whose Express Bus Advocacy Group flagged the space squeeze for the MTA, said he’s proposed to agency officials that two rows be removed from the design of future buses to recover lost leg room.
“We’re going to be having these buses 13, 14,15 years and the riders have been very clear that they want that leg room,” he said.
‘When I’m waiting, I’m thinking, “Please, let this be an old bus.”’
Bugatti said “there are a lot of good things” about the new buses, but pointed to the long trips express bus riders face when traveling between Manhattan and borough neighborhoods with little access to the subway.
“We really need the buses to be situated so people don’t feel like they are in a sardine can,” he said.
Cegelka said a “tweak” of a “few more inches” would be enough to make her more comfortable on the new buses.
“Now when I’m waiting for the buses, I’m just crossing my fingers,” she said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Please, let this be an old bus.’”