Home Service Cuts One year later, reflections on the service cuts

One year later, reflections on the service cuts

by Benjamin Kabak

New York City recently passed an anniversary it would rather not commemorate for it was the one-year mark of the MTA’s service cuts. On June 28, 2010, as we all know, the MTA slashed two subway lines, rerouting another and cut numerous bus routes in order to cover a substantial budget gap. It was the first time in generations that the MTA had engaged in such extreme across-the-board cuts, and as many representatives in Albany today continue to fight over transit funding, those cuts serve as a real reminder of the power of the legislative pen.

In the ensuing year, things have changed both on the periphery of transit in New York City and in the meaty center. Bus ridership has declined precipitously, and while slow boarding and sluggish surface traffic are certainly to blame, that New Yorkers must now wait longer for buses that aren’t as convenient is a major factor as well. Cut enough service and eventually, people stop showing up.

On other hand, some have had luck in pressuring the MTA to restore service. Last week, facing a lawsuit and political pressure, the MTA revived the X37 and X38, express routes that served Southern Brooklyn. The replacement lines “didn’t really perform as we had anticipated,” an authority spokesperson said.“There was crowding, traffic delays, it was like a loading imbalance, where you’d have one bus that was too crowded and another that was almost empty.” Yet, I still yearn for the B71 as I’ve grown quite familiar with the 20-minute walk from Park Slope to Bar Great Harry on Smith St.

In The Wall Street Journal yesterday, Andrew Grossman took an anecdotal look at those most impacted by the service cuts. The story he tells is a familiar one: Those with the fewest options before the cuts are the most inconvenienced today. He reports:

In the year since the bus that carried Milagros Franco across the Manhattan Bridge was eliminated, the 35-year-old has been getting home from work a different way: She drives her motorized wheelchair across the Brooklyn Bridge. “I could have said, ‘OK, well, I’m quitting my job now,'” she said. “But I get up and do what I have to do.”

…Bus ridership has dropped since the cuts, continuing a years-long trend. Some people who lost their bus lines have gone to the subways, but many have not. “People relied on those because they aren’t capable of getting into the subways,” said Bill Henderson, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council to the MTA. “They tend to be older, they tend to be poorer.”

Pamela Golinski, an attorney who lives on the Upper East Side, used to ride an express bus to her office on Wall Street. After the MTA eliminated the line, she and a fellow rider tried to help a private operator run along the route. But the city shut that down, saying the operator didn’t have the necessary licenses. Now, she either rides a shared taxi that picks up at a stand near her apartment or pays a private van service.

Lois Hecht is driving her 12-year-old Mercedes station wagon more often. Three back surgeries have made it nearly impossible for her to climb the stairs out of the subway. She used to take three buses to get from her home in Prospect Heights to Park Slope, Carroll Gardens or Manhattan to run errands and see movies. She and her husband moved to the neighborhood from the Upper East Side 5½ years ago in part because of the nearby buses. But many of them don’t exist anymore.

This piece highlights those on the fringe, and it doesn’t paint a great portrait of the accessibility of the transit system. People who are too infirm to take the subway because of the stairs at every station used to rely on buses, but now those buses are gone. Access-A-Ride costs will go up in some cases, but in many others, these riders simply won’t take transit any longer.

The ultimate conclusions from the 2010 cuts are tough to draw with only Grossman’s piece. He does note at the end that the elimination of the V and use of the M up Sixth Ave. via the Chrystie St. Cut has been a boon for real estate developers and Middle Village and Bushwick residents, and I’d like to know more about the popularity and success of that switch. From what I’ve heard, it was actually a good one, as a real estate broker said to The Journal. “Absolutely love it,” he said. “We started selling quite strongly before. The fact that they changed the M train only helped me.”

Still, the fight for funding continues, and every time a bus line is eliminated or rerouted, people lose out on options and convenience. That’s not a net positive for anyone in the city.

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IanM July 12, 2011 - 9:32 am

Sorry to harp, but… I’m not surprised the people in areas who received added train service think the M switch was “a good one”, but isn’t that only half of the equation? What about those who lost service? The R along the 4th ave corridor in Brooklyn is now often scarily overcrowded during evening rush hours, particularly between DeKalb and Union – as bad if not worse than, say, the 6 train in midtown. Any evaluation of the new arrangement should consider those consequences, shouldn’t it?

Al D July 12, 2011 - 9:46 am

That’s just such a small segment of the route that, on the whole, probably still fits in whatever ‘load guidelines’ they publish. Irrespective, crowding for a couple of stops is acceptable. My recollection is that many people let the M go anyway, at least in the morning.

pea-jay July 12, 2011 - 10:17 pm

The old M extension never looked as useful for points north of Downtown as the R. If they ever complete all four phases of the Second avenue line, just attach the southern end to the Montegue Tunnel and route the T straight through along Fourth Ave in BK.

BoerumHillScott July 12, 2011 - 3:38 pm

I have not noticed the R being any more crowded on that segment that any other train in NYC.

BrooklynBus July 12, 2011 - 10:08 pm

That’s because people don’t want to wait 10 or 15 minutes for an R train so they make the inconvenient transfer to the IRT instead making those trains more crowded. That’s what I do.

VLM July 12, 2011 - 10:13 pm

The only time you’d ever have to wait 10-15 minutes for an R train is late at night when the M didn’t run anyway. R headways are 6-8 minutes during the rush hour and usually around 8 during midday and early evening off peak. But don’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

Alex July 12, 2011 - 11:01 pm

Sorry but as a daily user of the R at Prospect Ave, I really have to disagree on this. The R has never been very good, but since the service cuts last year the 4th Ave local has been a nightmare. The M made a huge difference at rush hour. Since it was rerouted, my commute has increased by an average of 10 minutes and the I never thought I’d see the R as crowded as it is now. Sometimes I’ll walk the extra 10 blocks to the F since I can actually rely on its frequency. That’s saying a lot.

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:10 pm

The scheduled rush hour headway is 6 minutes. If you have to wait 10-15 minutes for an R train, there was a delay, and there’s probably another train right behind it.

(The midday headway is 10 minutes, not 8. But that part of the M only ran during rush hours.)

Some people transfer to the IRT, because the IRT has its stops closer to the Nassau Street line. I don’t see why that’s being construed as a problem – people are allowed to route themselves as they see fit. The IRT isn’t overcrowded at the Brooklyn end.

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:06 pm

It isn’t.

It’s more crowded than the R used to be around there, so long-time riders are seeing levels of crowding that they aren’t used to.

But compared to crowding elsewhere in the city, it isn’t bad at all.

Duke87 July 12, 2011 - 8:49 pm

Easy enough to have it both ways, though. In the future when money is available again, just extend the J/Z down 4th Avenue instead.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2011 - 12:17 pm

That’s what I told the Director of Operations Planning when they made the cut. I don’t know if service was really needed all the way to Bay Parkway, but the J,Z could definitely go to 9th Avenue at least during rush hours. But why would he listen to me?

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:18 pm

I used to ride the M south from Broad Street. I usually got a seat. I enjoyed it, but it makes no sense to run a rush hour service that can only attract a seated load. Calling it the J/Z wouldn’t change that.

Why are you so concerned about the supposed overcrowding on the R but not the supposed overcrowding on the D?

ajedrez July 14, 2011 - 5:43 pm

If the (J)(Z) both ran to Brooklyn, that would be a large increse in frequency, which would cost more money. If only one of them went to Brooklyn, you have issues with line length and delays, which could affect riders on the skip-stop section of the route.

Andrew July 14, 2011 - 10:40 pm

The span of skip-stop doesn’t really correspond with the peak period from south Brooklyn anyway.

The M south of Broad was a ghost town by NYC standards. That’s why it was cut. Replacing it with something else defeats the purpose. R trains are not routinely overcrowded. Nor is the IRT in Brooklyn.

Al D July 12, 2011 - 9:49 am

I’m not sure that they cut enough. I still see plenty of empty buses running around the city. For example, the M101/2/3 pass by GCT all but empty middays, and they crawl by in little traffic as if adhering to some schedule that demands service be slowed.

TheDude July 12, 2011 - 11:44 am

I really wish they would bring back the W and make the N express again. Its created a real bottleneck north of 42nd street and North of canal as the trains all merge and unmerge.

Ian July 12, 2011 - 2:44 pm

That was more of a problem when the W was still around as you had two trains running strictly on the local track, one train that cut-over from express to local between 34th and 42nd st, and another that stayed express, but only to 57th st. I’m not for reducing service, but as an Astoria resident, I’ve noticed little change in overall weekday service on Astoria Line trains (N/Q) since the W was eliminated. In fact, things may be a bit simpler now.

John-2 July 12, 2011 - 3:24 pm

When the Second Ave. stations are finally finished and opened, the MTA will have to consider a resumption of W service or an increase in N service to take the place of the Q trains that will be lost between Astoria and Fifth Avenue when they’re re-routed through the 63rd Street connector. That doesn’t help things now, but at least it is something likely to be addressed later this decade, unlike the South Brooklyn cutbacks, where no newly-built is going to force a re-think of service patterns.

Liz July 12, 2011 - 12:52 pm

Bus service post midnight in Manhattan is practically non-existent. I have heard (this is hearsay and could in fact be urban legend) that you can’t can’t get across town without taking a cab which is beyond the financial means of many people. What happens to people who work 4pm-midnight shifts if they don’t happen to work close by the subway?

Bolwerk July 12, 2011 - 3:11 pm

In Manhattan, most can probably walk. In the boroughs, that may be a bigger problem. Anyway, bus riders tend to know the schedules of the buses they use. I frequent the Q39 in Queens, which runs once an hour overnight at 12:55, 1:55, 2:55, 3:55, etc., from the stop I use.

Another problem might be that buses don’t keep the schedules they’re supposed to. In the case of the Q39, it’s infrequent during the day (5x/hour at peak times), but, thanks to traffic and MTA incompetence, unpredidctable too. It’s better in the evening when it drops to 2 runs/hour and even more reliable late at night where it goes down to one run/hour. Of course, drivers tend to speed and show up early.

Tsuyoshi July 13, 2011 - 1:25 am

There are several crosstown buses that run after midnight, varying from every 30 to every 60 minutes. I think most people here can walk across the island in less than 60 minutes, though…

BrooklynBus July 13, 2011 - 12:21 pm

Why do they deadhead buses at 4:30 in the morning from Manhattanville to Abingdon Square? That’s what I heard from a dispatcher. They really save a lot of time and money at that time in the morning by not stopping for passengers.

Bolwerk July 13, 2011 - 3:27 pm

If they really need the buses there (don’t know jack about the circumstances, so can’t comment), maybe. If there is only a market for 20-30 users/day at that time slot, a scheduled bus stopping for passengers that passengers know to catch should be sufficient.

If the rest stop for one or two stragglers, it’s waste – they should just get to where they’re needed ASAP.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2011 - 10:14 pm

The way I look at it is if the bus has hourly headways and this bus is coming in the middle of the time frame, it costs the MTA nothing for the headways to be 30 minutes. If only one or two people get on it doesn’t slow down the bus, and two people benefit.

The way the MTA looks at it is that they will take five minutes off the running time since the bus is out of service and they calculate an X amount of yearly savings. In reality, the bus is slowed by maybe a minute not five because there are hardly any passengers. The savings therefore is only on paper.

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:55 pm

How long does the trip take on the West Side Highway?

How long does the trip take on 9th Avenue, with the bus keeping to the right and the driver looking out for people waiting at bus stops?

It may not be much of a difference, but if the anticipated ridership is truly tiny, it’s not worth paying anything extra to accommodate it.

Bolwerk July 15, 2011 - 4:13 pm

I don’t see what good it does. Even a little bit of lost time is waste. Such trips are unscheduled and unpredictable, and a deadheading bus still might be time sensitive, because it is likely going somewhere it’s really needed.

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:24 pm

Why would you rely on hearsay when schedules and map summaries are readily available?

Bolwerk July 12, 2011 - 4:00 pm

I have an irrational emotional detachment to the old M route. I know the 6th Ave. route is much more sensible, but it’s sort of sad not having a route from northern to southern Brooklyn at all anymore. Well, except the G, which only goes barely beyond “South Brooklyn.”

pea-jay July 12, 2011 - 10:11 pm

Yeah but now we have a western Queens to western Queens (roundabout) route in its place

Bolwerk July 13, 2011 - 11:38 am

Eastern Queens to…well, Ridgewood.

Sadly, it’s so roundabout it’s nearly useless for that kind of trip. I would sooner take the Q39 bus though

BrooklynBus July 12, 2011 - 10:16 pm

Ben, you say it’s do difficult to draw conclusions from only Grossman’s piece. So why wouldn’t you link and refer to my three-part series I wrote on Sheepsheadbites http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....ts-please/ about the anniversary of the cuts?

Too critical of the MTA for you? Or is it with your North Brooklyn bias, you don’t think Southern Brooklyn is worthy enough? You won’t list even one Southern Brooklyn blog under your “Brooklyn Blogs.”

Benjamin Kabak July 12, 2011 - 10:21 pm

I haven’t updated the blogroll probably since I started this site. If you have any to suggest, feel free to contact me.

And I haven’t had a chance to read your series yet because I’ve been studying for the bar for the past six weeks. It takes priority. I’m sure you understand. From what I saw in Part 1, your conclusions seem more applicable to your neighborhood than do the city writ large though. Correct me if I’m wrong.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2011 - 12:19 am

I can think of two sites off-hand. I know there are many more. I’ll see what I can come up with and I’ll e-mail you when I have a list put together.

I just took another look at Part 1 and there is nothing local in it. The other two parts also are not local but discuss bus planning and the MTA.

In my article today, http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....y-the-b64/ I take a look at the B64, a route modified by the cuts which had such a devastating effect on ridership, that major service reductions for that route are slated for this September.

I don’t know how you can study for the bar and also run this site at the same time. You must not get any sleep.

Nathanael July 13, 2011 - 12:45 am

People who are too infirm to take the subway because of the stairs at every station used to rely on buses,

And if NYC Transit were taking the ADA seriously, the number of inaccessible stations would be going down with every rehab. But it isn’t.

daily / links for 2011-07-13 July 13, 2011 - 7:00 am

[…] One year later, reflections on the service cuts :: Second Ave. Sagas (tags: MTA subway service cuts) […]

jj July 13, 2011 - 1:14 pm

I have been riding the subways and buses in NYC for 40+ years , and I have to say that the service cuts have done nothing bad for ridership . The trains are better and clener than the previous year (s) and the swipe machines are a huge plus …The less I have to deal with snarky token booth clerks , the better

I am a huge fan of the subway system now , and feel great about its future


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