The M10 is one of numerous city buses to see its route altered. (Source: New York City Transit)
In the overall scheme of the New York City public transportation landscape, buses are often considered the forgotten step child of the transit network. Because of long-standing stereotypes that unfairly label buses as an inferior means of travel that only those of the lower class use, buses have not earned much respect in New York City. We see that in the way Select Bus Service plans do not include separated routes, and we see that in the way Albany has yet to approve camera enforcement measures for bus lanes in the city. They don’t get no respect.
Yet, buses are a key component to life in New York City. Every weekday, 2.324 million New Yorkers ride the bus. Some are the elderly or handicapped, and the subway infrastructure is simply not an option. Others ride buses for the direct connections they provide between adjacent neighborhoods; others use buses to get to subway lines; and still others resort to buses because they simply have too many grocery bags to haul down to the subway and the bus is right there. A third of New York City Transit’s passengers can’t be wrong.
The bus though remain shrouded in mystery. The borough’s maps are incomprehensible. Bus routes overlap in weird and inexplicable ways, and the schedules published on bus stops are oftentimes simply wrong. If anything is indicative of the way the MTA simply sucked up private transit companies, the buses are it. And now, many of the buses are on the chopping block.
When the MTA unveiled its revised package of subway cuts on Friday afternoon, I focused on the subway service changes. Those are, after all, the sexy part of the package of cuts. Everyone likes to hear about the Chrystie St. Cut, and few really care if a bus route they’ll never ride in Eastern Queens is combined with another route they’ll never ride. Yet, the buses are bearing the brunt of the Transit cuts.
New York City Transit is cutting $77.6 million from its budget via service cuts. The subway changes we discussed on Friday will account for just $17.6 million of that savings, and changes to the city’s bus routes will account for the remaining $60 million. No borough is spared an extensive restructuring of the bus cuts, and 14 routes in total will be eliminated. Another eight routes — including Manhattan’s M8 route, subject of multiple protests in 2009 — will be cut during the weekend. In total, 41 weekday routes and 32 weekend bus lines will be partially discontinued or restructured in such a way that other bus routes will be extended to cover the same territory.
On paper, it’s hard to make sense of all of the changes. I can’t do justice to the $60 million in discontinuations, restructuring and replacements simply because I’m not as conversant in the ins and outs of the city’s rather inefficient bus map. Instead, as an example of Transit’s approach to these cuts, let’s explore how my neighborhood — Brownstone Brooklyn — will be impacted by the cuts. For those who want to see the city-wide impact, Transit’s PDF of the service changes delves in depth, and I’ll conclude this piece with some thoughts on the bus changes.
This map shows Transit’s first approach toward addressing bus redundancy issues. The agency plans to eliminate the B75 and extend the B57 to a turnaround at Smith-9th Sts. This will provide a more streamlined bus route from Carroll Gardens into Downtown Brooklyn and beyond while shuttling passengers to and from the subway. Meanwhile, the B61 will be extended from Red Hook to Windsor Terrace, replacing the B77 and parts of the B75. Generally, these shifts will improve dwell times, provide for more efficient turnarounds and better direct service. Bus frequency should remain the same as well, but fewer drivers will be needed to man the routes.
Next, Transit is looking to eliminate routes with low ridership that aren’t far from more well-traveled neighborhoods. As part of its study in Brooklyn, Transit determined that most of the riders on the B69, a route that current runs to and from Windsor Terrace along 8th Ave. and Prospect Park West are bound for the B/Q subway stop at 7th Ave. Furthermore, with just 2510 riders per weekday, this route is among the city’s lowest utilized bus.
To maintain service from Windsor Terrace to the 7th Ave. subway stop, this bus will be rerouted along 7th Ave. from Windsor Terrace to Flatbush Ave. North of the subway stop, the B69 will continue to run via Grand Army Plaza and Vanderbilt Ave. to Fort Greene while the B67 will continue to travel to Downtown Brooklyn via Flatbush Ave. Passengers along 8th Ave. and Prospect Park West will have longer walks, but those subway-bound riders will have a more direct trip with less walking on the other end.
The final approach, seen in cuts throughout the city, involves the whole-scale elimination of entire bus routes. In Brownstone Brooklyn, the B71, a bus that connects Crown Heights with Park Slope and Carroll Gardens will be eliminated, and the B37 and B71, routes that run north and south along 3rd Ave., will be discontinued as well. In Bay Ridge, other buses will replace the B37. For Transit, these cuts are simply a matter of economics. The B37 sees 3280 riders per day and costs Transit $5.29 per rider to operate. The B71 sees just 1080 riders per weekday. With other routes nearby, these extreme money-losing routes simply cannot be support in lean economic times.
For many people, these bus cuts will be devastating. It will take longer to travel from Point A to Point B, and trips will involve more walking on both ends. Residents in neighborhoods long used to the convenience of bus cuts will have to change the way they travel. But the MTA has its back to the wall. The agency has to save a lot of money, and eliminating redundant and underutilized service is the way to go.
In the end, everyone in densely-populated areas of the city will be no more than a quarter of a mile away from a transit route, and those in the eastern reaches of Queens and less densely-populated regions will be no more than a half a mile away. Furthermore, many of these bus cuts optimize bus routes, eliminate unnecessary overlap and provide more one-seat rides through some neighborhoods. Still, cuts are cuts are cuts. No one in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn or Staten Island wants to suffer through changes in their commutes, and with money tight, these changes will come. Transit should be praised for trying to minimize the pain, but when $60 million in service will disappear at the end of June, the buses will become less convenient for those 2.3 million people who ride them.