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March 26, 2019

Brooklyn’s poorest residents get stuck with the MTA’s oldest buses

March 17, 2019
East New York and Brownsville in Brooklyn are served by a disproportionately high number of old, diesel-burning buses, while residents in wealthier areas in west Brooklyn are more likely to be met by newer vehicles with fancy features like phone chargers and WiFi. (Clayton Guse / New York Daily News)

The MTA sticks Brooklyn’s poorest communities with its crummiest buses.

East New York and Brownsville, neighborhoods with median household incomes of less than $40,000, are served by a disproportionately high number of old, diesel-burning buses, a Daily News analysis shows.

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Residents in wealthier areas on the western end of the borough are more likely to be met by newer vehicles with fancy features like phone chargers and WiFi, The News’s analysis shows.

An army of old buses also rolls up and down the west side of Manhattan, through some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

But in Brooklyn, the trend of poor people being met with old buses is undeniable, The News’s analysis shows.

Seventeen bus routes serve East New York or Brownsville, and the average age of the vehicles running on nine of those lines is more than 10 years.

Park Slope, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, whose residents’ incomes average twice that of people on the eastern end of Brooklyn, also have 17 bus routes within their borders. Just three routes in those neighborhoods have buses 10 years old or older.

The average age of NYC Transit buses is 9.2 years. That average does not count express buses, which are typically older.

Individual buses are not assigned to individual routes. The vehicles are housed in one of the MTA’s 29 depots in and around the city, and are dispatched to different lines affiliated with each depot.

If a depot is stuck with a higher portion of old buses, so are the routes that operate out of it.

The MTA’s service standards say the average age of buses assigned to each depot and division should be between six and seven-and-a-half years. That standard is not met at the East New York and Flatbush bus depots, which service routes in some of Brooklyn’s neediest areas.

The agency’s standards also say that the depots with the oldest buses should be the first to get new ones — but that is far from the case in Brooklyn.

The 11-year average age of buses serving local lines from the East New York depot and the 11 ½-year average age of local buses running from the Flatbush depot is inflated by an unusually high number of 21-year-old diesel buses, the RTS-06s.

These bruisers, built by Volvo, blast strong heat and exhaust out the back and are the next on the MTA’s replacement list.

The 214 RTS-06s make up about 4% of NYC Transit’s total fleet — but on local routes running out of the East New York or Flatbush depots, they make up 20% of the buses in service.

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While the trend of nicer buses rolling through wealthier neighborhoods does not persist citywide, The News’ findings paint a jarring picture for Brooklyn (pictured here).
While the trend of nicer buses rolling through wealthier neighborhoods does not persist citywide, The News’ findings paint a jarring picture for Brooklyn (pictured here). (Mapbox)

The Jackie Gleason depot in Sunset Park and the Grand Ave depot in Maspeth, which serve lines operating in predominantly high-income neighborhoods, have none of the 21-year-old RTS buses.

Instead, local routes running out of those depots have roughly 125 recently-bought New Flyer Excelsior buses. They come with WiFi, USB ports and sport head-turning blue livery.

Fewer than five of the shiny New Flyer Excelsiors run on local routes operating out of the East New York and Flatbush depots.

“We want to charge our phones, too,” said Francisco Cabrera, 26, who lives in Brownsville and rides the B25 bus several times a week. “It’d also help if the bus just came on time.”

MTA spokesman Max Young told The News said the agency plans to replace all of the aged RTS buses at the East New York and Flatbush depots by the end of 2019.

“The age of our fleet clearly underscores the need for congestion pricing and reliable revenue to fully fund our capital plan,” said Young. “Our customers deserve a new and state of the art transit system.”

Sticking poorer communities with older buses comes with public health concerns. Diesel exhaust is linked to increased risk of heart disease and asthma.

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said the MTA should be more aggressive in its roll out of electric buses. “The electrification should start in environmental justice communities, where the transition would make the biggest difference.”

NYC Transit only has a handful of electric buses, and only the Grand Avenue depot in Maspeth, Queens is capable of charging them.

A 21-year-old RTS-06 bus pulls into the East New York bus depot in March 2019.
A 21-year-old RTS-06 bus pulls into the East New York bus depot in March 2019. (Clayton Guse / New York Daily News)

City Controller Scott Stringer — who in 2017 issued a report proposing improvement to the MTA’s bus service — said the way MTA buys buses is partially to blame.

The MTA replaces a fourth of its fleet every three years, instead of one-twelfth of the fleet every year. “New York City buses are far too old,” Stringer said.

Riders in East New York and Brownsville just want to stop feeling slighted.

“I used to live in Williamsburg, and they have much nicer buses than out here,” said a straphanger named Felicia as she boarded an RTS bus on East New York Ave. “I hope they upgrade these soon.”

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