Park Slope

MTA president lends an ear to Park Slope residents about failing transit system

May 31, 2018 By Esther Shittu Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A proposed route for the B71 bus from last November. Courtesy of the Park Slope Civic Council

MTA President Andy Byford listened and responded to concerns presented to him by the public at a town hall meeting on Tuesday night. The meeting was hosted by District 44 Assemblymember Robert Carroll. The two main concerns vocalized at the gathering were about the accessibility of the subway and bus system for those with disabilities and bringing back the B71 bus line.

“We cannot be proud of our traffic system unless it is available to all New Yorkers,” Byford said.

The town hall was held a week after Byford presented his Fast Forward plan, which seeks to modernize the New York City Transit system. The plan promises that more than 50 new subway stations will be accessible in the first five years so that subway riders are never more than two stops from an accessible station. It also promises a redesign of bus routes in all five boroughs and 2,800 new buses. Byford said that the new plan has three themes: customer service and communication, transparency and accountability, and safety and security.

Phil Beder, a member of Disabled in Action of Metropolitan NY, said he attended the town hall because of his organization’s support of the new plan.  “We have been fighting for better MTA service for years,” Beder said. “The President of my organization, Edith Prentiss, is very pleased with Mr. Byford’s plan for accessibility. She said it’s the best plan she’s seen ever.”

Others attended to give Byford examples of the lack of accessibility in the transit system. Rebecca Kostyuchenko and her 13-year-old daughter live in Park Slope. Her daughter uses a disability scooter. Kostyechenko said her neighborhood lacks accessible subways.

“If we have accessible subways, then that will change things,” Kostyuchenko said. She added that she would like to put her daughter on public buses, but she doesn’t trust that the buses are safe. “I’d really like to see bus drivers trained much better in the way they interact with people with disabilities.”

In response to Kostyuchenko, Byford said that an immediate part of the Fast Forward plan is to train New York City transit workers on how they interact with people with disabilities. Byford added that he plans on appointing an accessibility manager in 2018, a position that he says will be a first for MTA.

Attendees of the meeting also asked Byford to bring the B71 bus line back. The B71 bus line was eliminated in 2010 after MTA made system-wide budget cuts. At Tuesday’s meeting, community members said that without the B71, many students have to take a bus and train just to get to the ferry.

“Children that go to school on this side have to take a bus and a train to the ferry just to get to school when they can just take the B71 to the city and hop on the ferry,” a community member said to Byford. “We need the B71 bus back.”

District 39 Councilmember Brad Lander,  a supporter of the B71 bus and a part of the B71+ coalition, attended Tuesday’s town hall. The coalition asks for a new B71+ that will provide a direct connection to Lower Manhattan from Red Hook. Lander said he appreciated Byford’s new plan, which will lead to a complete redesign of every bus route. However, he urged the MTA president for a meeting.

“If we could sit down with you and some of your senior staff and look at what it will take to make the B71 route work, it will really mean a lot to us,” Lander said.

Residents also asked Byford for better communication regarding broken elevators and route changes. Others raised concerns about the lack of bathrooms for customers and priority seating for the elderly.

Despite the widespread support of the Fast Forward plan, the elephant in the room was funding. Byford said his job is to speak the truth and give advice to the politicians who make decisions about funding. 

“I’m on the customer’s team,” he said.

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