Bus riders and electeds unload on MTA officials at Clinton Hill town hall
An incensed crowd packed a meeting hall at St. Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill Wednesday night to ask why MTA officials planned to increase waiting times and crowding on two neighborhood bus routes: the B38 and B54.
The town hall was sponsored by Assemblymember Walter Mosley, who was joined by City Council member Laurie Cumbo and State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery.
Andrew Inglesby, MTA’s assistant director of the Office of Strategy and Customer Experience, said that changes to routes were ridership-driven, and that the B38 and B54 alterations were part of a routine, four-times-a-year adjustment.
“This is separate from a Brooklyn bus network redesign, which is starting in the fall and ending in the fall of 2020,” he said. The network redesign “will take a clean-slate approach.”
If MTA’s ridership figures showed a drop, it’s because people are tired of waiting for delayed buses and are finding other options, Cumbo told Inglesby.
“I take both buses,” she said. “The B54 is systemically slow. I’ll walk.”
With increased population, new schools, a large number of disabled riders, lack of subway service and close proximity of NYCHA housing and Cumberland Hospital, her district should be getting more bus service, not less, she said.
“People are taking cabs and walking rather than taking the bus,” agreed attendee Ron Foster. “When you cut service, people make decisions to fill in the gap you’re not providing.”
Riders had other complaints about the existing bus service, including “bunching” of buses, when delays cause three or four buses to come one after another, rather than spaced out properly.
“If you had just addressed bunching, that would have been a big improvement,” Cumbo said.
Inglesby agreed that was a problem, and he attributed it to factors beyond the MTA’s control — like the growing tensions between drivers and cyclists.
The city is discriminating against people with disabilities, said rider Esther Blount. “You got seniors here. Transportation Alternatives attacks cars — it’s a crime now to have a personal car. Only bikes [are allowed].”
She added, “They didn’t come in as nice neighbors. They came in as a vicious attack.”
Back door riding
Some riders said the B54 was so crowded, “the only way to get in is the back door.”
“We have a problem with fare evasion,” Inglesby began. But he was cut off by shouts from the crowd. “It’s not fare evasion, it’s lack of service. They are trying to get to work!”
One woman said bus drivers tell people to enter in the back if the bus is overcrowded.
Entering through the back door and not paying fare doesn’t help “in terms of estimating our ridership,” Inglesby said.
The B54 line, which runs from Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn along Myrtle Avenue to Palmetto Street in Bushwick, will see waits increase by up three minutes at bus stops, as well as more crowded buses, especially during the morning peak and during midday hours. Buses will go from 84 percent capacity to 94 percent during the morning rush, and from 66 to 83 percent midday.
The B38 route, which travels from Tillary Street in Downtown Brooklyn to Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood, will also have about one-minute longer wait times at rush hour. But the MTA says B38 buses are being converted to the larger articulated buses, which will “significantly increase seat capacity” on these crowded routes.
Attenuated buses too big?
One worry of riders was the ability of the much larger attenuated buses to navigate Brooklyn’s smaller streets.
A TWU member said that he has operated the B54 and B38 buses himself. The B38 route has a single lane now, shared by delivery trucks and other vehicles.
“The B38, Downtown? Forget about it,” he said. “Yesterday at the turnaround, a bus couldn’t turn around for an hour and 45 minutes — it was one of those articulated buses.”
“That’s why we said we don’t want those buses,” Montgomery said.
Inglesby said that MTA had no control over bike lanes and other lane reductions put in place by DOT.
“DOT, MTA, the right hand has got to know what the left hand is doing,” Mosley said.
Mosley said that though he was notified of the bus route alterations late in June, that left no time to arrange a public meeting to inform his constituents about the changes until now, when the deal was sealed.
Since MTA could meet on almost a daily basis with DOT, they should be able to meet with the “bosses” of DOT, the people, he said.
Mosley said that people could text “busnyc” to 52886 to ask MTA to delay the route changes.
“There’s been no outreach,” Cumbo agreed. “This practice of forcing decisions on our communities, it’s really exhausting. We fought loading zones, cars were booted and towed. Somebody has to say it’s not a good idea to force things on a community.”
“With all due respect, the assemblyman and myself will have to fight against this,” Cumbo added. “We hope you’ll really listen.”
In light of the total Brooklyn bus network redesign that MTA has planned to begin later in the fall, Montgomery said that MTA should hold off on the bus route changes.
“Why can’t we wait for the network redesign?” she asked. “Make no changes until then. You give us enough lead time, we can let our constituents know that we are going to hold these meetings.”
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Traffic is the biggest problem to bus speeds, crowding, and bunching. And yes, if we want to prioritize buses which are far more efficient and equitable than personal cars) then we need to do things like enforced bus-only lanes, loading zones, etc. We have limited space and it’s time to stop pretending that giving free reign to cars works. Step up, leaders.