NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City’s sleek new fleet of buses began hitting the streets this past week, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted some of their features.
As WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs reported, 75 spanking new blue and yellow Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses were rolled into service this week. They will be the first of thousands, according to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast.READ MORE: New York Weather: CBS2’s 1/20 Thursday Morning Forecast
“In the next five years, over 2,000 buses,” Prendergast said. “These state of the art new buses will be added to the MTA fleet replacing 40-percent of the entire MTA fleet.”
The first seven of the $755,000 buses hit the streets on Tuesday, Cuomo’s office said. They are being delivered at a rate of four to five per day, with 75 arriving this summer for the Queens neighborhoods of Richmond Hill, South Jamaica, South Ozone Park, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale and Far Rockaway.
“I think it is a good looking bus” Cuomo said.
All 2,042 new buses will be put on the streets over the next five years, replacing nearly 40 percent of MTA’s fleet.
But as modern as the buses are, with USB charging ports and free Wi-Fi, most will still initially lack technology to address perhaps the worst safety issue with the big vehicles, hitting pedestrians while making turns.
“Amenities like Wi-Fi are welcome, and they certainly add to the experience of riding the bus, but the first priority should be on improvements to buses that save lives,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of the Transportation Alternatives advocacy group.
Nationwide, collisions between pedestrians and city buses result in roughly one pedestrian death every 10 days, according to an estimate from the Amalgamated Transit Union, which blamed blind spots stemming from how buses are designed.
Bus drivers have long complained about how the placement of large side mirrors and the thick pillar frames of the buses themselves can essentially make pedestrians disappear.
The MTA announced last year it would start testing two different safety technologies that it hopes will eventually improve safety on the vehicles: a pedestrian turn warning system and a collision avoidance system.READ MORE: Reaves, Fox Score 2 Each As Rangers Beat Maple Leafs
The warning system would be external, with speakers issuing audible warnings aimed at informing pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles that the bus was making a left or right turn. The volume would adjust based on the noise of the area. The collision system would use sensors to alert the bus driver with visual and audio alerts if a forward or side crash was imminent.
After initial small-scale evaluations, the pilot program has been expanded to 60 buses, with the goal of testing the systems on up to 300 buses this year. The MTA said implementing the technology across its entire bus fleet would cost an estimated $20 million for the pedestrian warning system and $57 million for the collision avoidance system.
“Testing these systems is part of our ongoing commitment to improving the safety of our customers, pedestrians, and bicyclists,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. “These tests will take this commercially-available technology and hopefully show that we can put it to practical use on a larger scale under New York City operating conditions.”
Other cities including Boston and Portland, Oregon, have also looked into warning systems to reduce the risk of dangerous incidents. Peter Bartek, vice president at Protran Technology, a company that makes these kinds of alert systems, said systems were in place on buses in Chicago, Los Angeles and the greater Cleveland area, among others.
New York City tolled 183 pedestrian deaths from traffic accidents of all kinds in 2013, up from 158 in 2011. That spurred Mayor Bill de Blasio to make reducing such deaths a major goal of his administration, and they did indeed decline to 136 in 2015, of which seven pedestrian fatalities and one bicycle fatality involved MTA buses. Those eight deaths included a stretch last year when three people were killed in a month.
So far in 2016, there have been 22 deaths, with 1,925 injuries. None have involved city buses.
Part of efforts to reduce traffic deaths in New York City is a Right of Way law which makes it a misdemeanor for car and other vehicle drivers to hurt pedestrians and bicyclists who have the right of way. At least 11 bus drivers have been arrested for Right of Way violations since the law took effect in August 2014, according to the New York Police Department.
That only adds to the existing necessity of getting these technologies onto buses, said J.P. Patafio, a vice president at Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents the drivers.
“It has to happen today,” he said. “We need this technology to compensate for the blind spots on the bus.”
In addition to the new buses, the MTA is also launching its new eTix app, allowing touchscreen purchases for Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road customers.MORE NEWS: Nets Hold Off Wizards' Rally, Beat Washington
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)