By Kieran K. Meadows
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority revealed yesterday that its budget shortfall is almost $2 billion due to $650 million in declining real estate tax and fare revenues. A decrease in ridership in January also contributed to the agency’s financial problems. The MTA has proposed wide-ranging service cuts and fare increases to take effect in late spring, but now the cuts may be deeper than previously thought, even if the agency receives bailout money from the state.
The likelihood of bus service cuts is devastating to some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, where at least five routes could be eliminated. The MTA has been trying to get the word out by posting signs onboard buses to announce public hearings about the cuts.
Still, the news hasn’t yet reached some of the people who would be most affected.
“I didn’t hear about that,” said J Roberts, of Flatbush, seated at the back of the B77 bus with her 8-year-old son, Trévon. Roberts uses two routes that would be affected by the cuts, the B77 and the B75, to take her son to the YMCA on Ninth Street on weekends.
The B77 and the B75 serve Red Hook, an isolated neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn known for its lack of convenient access to public transportation. The B75, which stops at the edge of the neighborhood, is used by Red Hook residents to go downtown and also to Park Slope and Kensington in the other direction. This route is slated be eliminated altogether.
“I need this bus. I take it all the time,” said Shaneeka Trammell, a Red Hook Houses resident, as she waited for the B75 at the corner of Smith and Ninth Street.
“My daughter goes to the clinic up there,” she said, pointing up the long steady hill toward Methodist Hospital in Park Slope.
Red Hook’s nearest subway station, where the F and G train stop, is at Smith-Ninth Street, the same corner where the B75 stops. The station is at least a 15-minute walk – across a multi-lane highway – from the center of the neighborhood. The B77, which also stops at this corner and then winds its way around the neighborhood, could lose late night service under the MTA’s plan.
Four other bus routes in Brooklyn – the B23, B25, B37, B39 – are slated to be completely eliminated. In its plan, the MTA argues that the bus routes on the chopping block, including the B75 “duplicate the subway.”
“How are they going to cut service?” said Dee Brooks, of the Red Hook Houses East, as she stood at the corner of Smith-Ninth Street with a friend waiting for the B75.
“For instance, this weekend the train isn’t running well,” she said, referring to service changes due to construction. “Sometimes the train skips Smith-Ninth Street.”
At a contentious public hearing held by the authority two weeks ago at the Marriott Hotel at the Brooklyn Bridge, Assemblywoman Joan Millman said that the MTA’s rationale was disingenuous.
“Seniors and people who are disabled depend on buses because subways are not accessible,” Millman said. In her testimony to the board she said that even subway stations that have elevators or escalators require riders to climb stairs.
Assemblywoman Millman was one of hundreds of Brooklyn commuters who voiced their opposition to the proposed cuts at the public hearing. More than 200 people registered to speak to voice their concerns. The first was Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
“It would be a slap in the face to the riders,” said Markowitz, whose opposition to cuts was met with applause from the crowd that filled the ballroom. Some in the crowd held signs that said: “Bail out the Riders, Not the Banks.” Speaker after speaker lambasted the MTA board.
“We’re in the position where we have to balance the budget, so we have to make some tough choices,” said Jeremy Soffin, an MTA spokesman. He added that information announcing the cuts is posted in buses, subway stations and on the authority’s Web site.
The MTA’s bus service is not the only bus service that is being cut in the area. Last month, the Swedish home furnishing store Ikea, which is located along the Red Hook waterfront, trimmed back its free shuttle bus and ferry service for the second time since the store opened seven months ago. Riders using the shuttle bus weekdays from the Borough Hall, Smith-Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue subway stations now have three fewer hours to ride to the store, from 3 to 8 p.m. Weekend service has been cut by two hours and now operates from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. As part of the deal that brought Ikea there last summer, the store had promised a free shuttle to help reduce car traffic on the neighborhood’s quiet streets.
In a telephone call to the store, a representative said that Ikea Corporate USA would have to be contacted. When contacted, a request for comment was forwarded to customer service voicemail.
Shoppers unable to catch the shuttle to Ikea can now take the B77, which runs by the store, and also to the other big box store in the neighborhood, the supermarket Fairway.
Terrick Odom, a Fairway employee, of Sunset Park, said he was concerned about the proposed cut to the B77’s late night service because he works the evening shift.
“I’d have to walk all the way from the back,” said Odom, referring to the waterfront area where Fairway is located. “The walk is over twenty minutes. It would be devastating, especially in the winter.”