Planned bus cuts will throw ridership into ‘death spiral’: riders and officials
MTA’s service cuts to bus routes in Brooklyn will bring ridership down even further and will hit lower-income residents the hardest, riders and elected officials said at a rally in Downtown Brooklyn on Thursday.
Cuts to the B38 and B54 bus routes don’t make sense given the upcoming comprehensive redesign of the Brooklyn bus network, speakers said, and will instead throw ridership into a “death spiral.”
“It would be premature to make service changes while so much is up in the air — like the upcoming MTA board meeting, the borough’s bus network redesign and the implementation of congestion pricing,” Borough President Eric Adams told reporters and members of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, which organized the rally.
He warned that service cuts would drive further ridership losses, and ultimately lower revenue — causing a bus service “death spiral.”
With longer waits between buses and “bunching” when buses do come (when buses come back-to-back instead of on their normal, spaced-out schedule), “People don’t trust the system anymore,” Adams said. “If the city wants people to stop driving cars, we need to have a first-rate system.”
Pedro Valdez-Rivera Jr., who rides the B38 from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Downtown Brooklyn on a regular basis, said bus route was unreliable.
“I usually have to wait 30 minutes, so I add an hour to be sure. This means I spend less time helping at home, or I just don’t go,” Valdez-Rivera, a member of Riders Alliance, said.
Reducing bus service is not the answer, he said. “Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to invest more in subway and bus service.”
Assemblymember Walter Mosley said that MTA’s deficit should not be passed on to the riders.
“We passed congestion pricing, we decided to invest a billion dollars in transit. Now we need to take subway and bus riders out of the equation,” Mosley said. He called on his colleagues to “force the governor’s hand.”
Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, Councilmember Daneek Miller and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz were also at the rally.
An MTA spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle following the event, “It’s no secret that the MTA is in a dire financial situation, and we are required to balance our operating budget. Today we announced that we’re increasing service on routes that benefit tens of thousands of riders in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, while saving money. Who wouldn’t be in favor of that?”
MTA said that it plans to enhance service in January on five bus routes, two of which are in Brooklyn. The agency said these were normal quarterly adjustments based on usage.
Longer 60-foot articulated buses will replace 40-foot standard buses on the B46 Select Bus Service route, increasing capacity from 85 customers per bus to up to 115 customers per bus.
Service will be added to the S53 during weekday evening peak hours and to the S93 during weekday morning peak hours, reducing wait times for both by a minute during those intervals. These two routes run between Staten Island and Brooklyn over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.
Two routes in Queens are also being adjusted.
The MTA denied that the B38 and B54 lines had received cuts, calling them the same type of quarterly adjustments.
The B38 cutback is just one example, Riders Alliance Campaign Manager Stephanie-Burgos Veras told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“They’re trying to slip it under the rug. We’re saying, ‘We see you.’ This is not the time. It’s up to the governor to commit budget money to fund the MTA.”
On Sept. 4, incensed Clinton Hill riders unloaded on MTA officials about the planned increase in waiting times and crowding on the B38 and B54 routes.
Andrew Inglesby, MTA’s assistant director of the Office of Strategy and Customer Experience, told residents at that time 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.”
Riders at the meeting countered that if ridership figures showed a drop, it is because people are tired of waiting for delayed buses and are finding other options.
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.
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. MTA says B38 buses are being converted to the larger articulated buses, which will “significantly increase seat capacity” on these crowded routes.
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