Slated for a late-June elimination, Staten Island’s S60 bus route is a questionable one in any economy. (Source: NYC Transit’s PDF of planned service changes)
Staten Island’s S60 bus is a very curious route. It runs between Sunnyside and Grymes Hill with stops at St. John’s University and Wagner College. It operates during the week from 6:15 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Notable about this route, though, is how no one rides this bus. Average weekday ridership is just 210 passengers per day, and Saturday and Sunday combined see just 90 total riders. It is nearly a private bus for those who get on.
For the MTA, operating the S60 for its 1140 passengers a week — or fewer passengers than all but seven buses see during an average weekday — isn’t cheap. Systemwide, the total cost per ride to the MTA is $2.73, but for the weekday S60 runs, the total cost per rider is $12.98. Over the weekend, the bus costs $25.69 to operate. Even in a good economy, I’d have to question the need for or wisdom behind this bus route.
So then it is more than a little strange to hear transit rider advocates speak about the elimination of this route — the city’s least used and most expensive local bus — as though it will be missed. In a statement about how “the cuts still stink,” Gene Russianoff and the Straphangers Campaign used the S60 to highlight how the bus cuts will impact New Yorkers.
“As for bus service, go through your own 150-page list of cuts,” the group said in a statement. “Thousands of your bus riders will be forced to walk many minutes to a different bus line, make extra transfers, suffer longer waits or have go out of their way to get to their destination. Take, for example, the S-60 that goes to the top of Staten Island’s Grymes Hill. Your accompanying text says that it will be eliminated and ‘customers would be required to walk 12 to 20 minutes’ to a different route.”
This is a rather egregious example of a service cut for anyone to highlight and few should, as I mentioned, object to this cut. Furthermore, the 12 to 20 minutes of estimated increased walking time are the highest in the book. Most other bus riders would have to walk approximately five to 10 minutes out of their way, and many would suffer through longer wait times rather than longer walks. Make no mistake about it: The service cuts are going to slam bus riders, but the S60 makes a mountain of a mole hill that houses just 1140 riders every seven days.
To circle back around to the title on the post, I often wonder against whom or for whom the city’s more vocal transit advocates and politicians are fighting. In its release yesterday, the Straphangers Campaign spent five paragraphs highlighting the ways in which we the commuting public will suffer and one paragraph calling upon the MTA to shift stimulus funds to cover the operating deficit (a plan with which I disagree). At the same time as the group is fighting against the MTA, it is also trying to fight for the MTA, and they’re not alone in this odd dance.
In Brooklyn, Assembly representative Joan Millman engaged in the same two-headed attack-and-support effort. She first called upon the MTA to save the Carroll Garden bus routes. “We are urging the MTA to abandon its plans to cut bus service to this neighborhood and keep our full service,” she said. At the same time, she is trying to drum up support in Albany for a restoration of the commuter tax that would generate $300 million or a parking permit program that would funnel money to the MTA. She is one of many who control the purse strings, and if she’s serious about stopping the cuts, getting more money to the agency would do the trick.
In the end, politicians and advocates simply cannot have both ways. They cannot slam the MTA for passing cuts when the authority’s back is to the wall and then turn around to propose another fee-based funding mechanism. Rather, these politicians and advocates need to attack the route of the problem — a broken political system in Albany that leaves the MTA perennially underfunded and looking for handouts. Only then will the MTA enjoy the support it needs. Only then will the MTA be able to offer more service with more money instead of cutting service to save ever penny.