The B express service resumed today along the Brighton Line after a two-year suspension. Instead of excitement, Sheepshead Bay’s commuters adopted a wait-and-see attitude, and station-side businesses fear the return will not be paired with the return of their clientele.
The New York Transit Authority suspended B train express service throughout Brooklyn in late September 2009, as part of a seven-station rehabilitation project spanning the length of the Brighton line. Since then, the local service has been the only subway option available to residents of Sheepshead Bay.
Statistics suggest the inconvenience during the reconstruction phase soured commuters’ opinions of the line, and rolling back the service may not roll back the damage to local businesses that depend on happy commuters.
However, hope for change returns with the express service today when approximately 125,000 riders use the restored B service.
“You could be in Manhattan in 40 minutes instead of an hour – a lot of people will be delighted,” said Theresa Scavo, chairperson of Community Board 15.
The number of riders, however, is not as large as it was two years ago. Even at stations that would presumably benefit the most from the increased frequency of local-only service – like Avenue U and Gravesend Neck Road – riders appear to have turned away from crowded trains and spurts of unreliability during the construction.
According to the MTA’s average weekly ridership records, all three stations in Sheepshead Bay have seen decreases in passengers since 2009. The sharpest drop is at Avenue U, with a decrease last year of nearly 30 percent. The current weekly riders as of 2010 are 4,101 as opposed to 7,173 just two years before.
Ali Khan, whose family has owned International News next to the Avenue U station for nearly 50 years, said the figures do not surprise him. After three years of subway construction (the line construction, in addition to a year previous for station rehabilitation) mangling his business, he is thinking of closing shop for good.
“The last few years everything has closed on the street,” he said. “[The residents] don’t know if the subway’s closed or not, so they don’t come out.”
According to Kahn, shoppers complain of cancellations and unreliable service since construction began, and weekend service is occasionally interrupted with very little warning to the community.
It doesn’t appear that Kahn is alone. Several storefronts along Avenue U now stand empty, “For Rent” signs plastered in the windows. Khan pointed to the former laundromat next door that went out of business two years ago and, he said, has been vacant since.
“Nobody wants to take it,” he said, fearing his store will be next. “We really have no choice but to close.”
Just days before the return of express service, commuters on Avenue U’s half-filled subway platforms divulge that their patience for the construction is thinning. While they look forward to less overcrowding, fewer delays, and shorter commutes with express service, they more readily display the kind of transit trauma that has pushed riders away from the line over the past two years.
“The local train is because of the construction, which I guess is necessary,” said Rafael Villa, a resident of Avenue U. “But it’s hindering the express – it’s hindering me.”
Transportation woes are nothing new to residents outside of Manhattan. A study of public transportation commissioned in 2003 by then-Congressman Anthony Weiner found that the four longest commutes in the country are all within New York. Southern Brooklyn is one of them.
The study also found that driving from Brooklyn is 18 minutes faster than any form of public transportation. If more commuters discovered this during the express service’s suspension, those riders may not return to the tracks regardless of the slightly faster ride.
And although the express reopened today, the MTA said construction on the line will continue until the end of the year.
With construction still not complete and more commuters potentially having found satisfying alternatives to the Brighton Line, business owners like Khan have less hope for the future.
“The MTA never finishes their work,” Khan lamented. “They never do anything they say.”