What’s new will be old again.
After being hit with commuter complaints about the lack of leg room on the latest MTA express buses, the transit agency has agreed to adjust seat configurations on more than 250 of its newest coaches by reverting to a more spacious layout used by models assembled between 2012 and 2016.
The new buses, which are part of a $150 million order from Prevost, a Canadian subsidiary of Volvo, began hitting city streets in December 2020, but quickly encountered resistance from riders who suffered from the squeeze.
“I’ve been asking for years, ‘When are we getting the new buses, when are we getting the new buses?’” said Monica Antonio, 62, who commutes four days a week on express buses between Midtown Manhattan and Midwood, Brooklyn, and has arthritis in both knees. “And now we got them, and they’re horrible.”
THE CITY first reported in December that the MTA pumped the brakes on the rollout of express buses that were part of an October 2019 order from Prevost, and asked the bus manufacturer to find fixes only on those that had not yet been assembled.
Prevost will now also be required to reconfigure 132 diesel buses that have already been delivered, according to the MTA, reversing the earlier plan to limit the alterations to vehicles that hadn’t been completed yet.
Made Room for Wheelchairs
Craig Cipriano, the interim president of the MTA’s New York City Transit division, told THE CITY in December that the initial design of the new buses resulted from an effort to create more space for riders who use wheelchairs. He said loss of leg room was limited to seven or eight driver’s-side rows at the front of the bus.
But the MTA has now tweaked its plan on how many of the new buses will be reconfigured.
“As riders continue to return to public transit, the MTA is committed to improving leg-room conditions on express buses while maintaining our commitment to accessibility,” Kayla Shults, an MTA spokesperson, said Wednesday.
The reconfiguration will be done in two phases, according to the MTA.
The first, which the agency says will be completed by mid-March, involves moving seats “for immediate comfort improvements” to the area ahead of the wheelchair priority seating space.
The second phase will require buses to be taken out of service for what the MTA calls “a short maintenance window” so Prevost can reconfigure all the seats on the coaches that roll between Manhattan and neighborhoods with limited or no subway access.
Once the work is completed, 257 new express buses will have the same leg room as the older coaches had as they racked up what the MTA called more than 93 million miles of travel with “overwhelmingly positive feedback.”
‘Basic but Important’
“I didn’t think they were going to really address the problem,” said Vittorio Bugatti, whose Express Bus Advocacy Group pressed the MTA about the space crunch. “But I’m happy they have come up with an actual resolution to fix this problem and make the riders happy, because leg room is one of the most basic but important things for any service.”
Aimee Cegelka, 48, who uses express buses to travel between Rego Park, Queens, and Midtown Manhattan, said she and her husband usually sit apart from each other because of the lack of leg room.
“The squeeze on the new buses is so tight, it’s just like having my knees up my nose,” Cegelka, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall, told THE CITY. “I can barely fit a piece of paper between my knees and the seat in front of me.”
While ridership on MTA local, limited, express and Select Bus Service routes has climbed back to close to 60% of what it was prior to the pandemic, according to agency data, some riders noted space on the buses will be even more important as workers increasingly return to their offices.
“More businesses are starting back up in their offices,” said Randi Weiner, who has commuted on express buses between Queens and Manhattan for more than two decades. “At least the MTA is taking a step forward on these buses, because if they don’t, it’s going to be very, very uncomfortable.”