What Can We Learn From The B4 Experience?

THE COMMUTE: Ned heard my name for the first time when I emailed him in March 2010 with my testimony opposing the Brooklyn bus service cuts at the public hearing held in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. That was shortly after I discovered Sheepshead Bites. He quoted a significant portion of my testimony for a story and ultimately asked me to become a regular contributor. At that hearing, I was the only person who spoke out against the B4’s proposed elimination, at all times, east of Coney Island Hospital.

Fewer than half the speakers even discussed any of the proposed bus route changes. Most were only concerned about the proposed elimination of half-fare student passes. That was the hot issue and the MTA knew that. They rightly thought that by proposing it at the same time as the bus service cuts, they could quietly slip in the largest bus service cuts in history, by merely posting a single flier in the buses announcing one public hearing in each borough. Each poster briefly listed which routes would be changed or eliminated.

The flier listed the route numbers that would be modified, eliminated, or truncated with a simple title, such as “Public Hearing for Service Changes.” Most of the flier was in 12 point font, too small to even read while the bus was moving. It listed Brooklyn changes to “Routes B1, B2, B4, B8, B12, B22, B23, B24, B31, B37, B39, B48, B51, B57, B61, B64, B67, B69, B70, B71, B75, and B77” without describing them. Most riders ignored the flier, probably not realizing these were permanent changes rather than temporary reroutes, which account for most of the service advisories.

The media and elected officials didn’t help either, by only publicizing the proposed elimination of the student half fare passes, which was later rescinded. At the Brooklyn public hearing, Channel 11 was the only station to send a reporter to provide television coverage, which only showed the few students who were arrested when they caused a disturbance.

Not a single word was mentioned about the specific service cuts.

Over the next few months, there were a handful of newspaper stories covering the specific cuts. Courier-Life did a full-page spread, only after I sent a letter to the editor asking how they could simply ignore the largest bus service cuts in history. Virtually no one, other than a few others and myself, realized the extent of these cuts and the amount of hardship they would cause. I even asked Ned to ride the B4 in May 2010 to determine how many B4 riders even knew about the proposed service elimination in Sheepshead Bay.

In March 2010, I counted 35 riders on a B4 bus at Neptune Avenue and Ocean Parkway going eastbound, and 25 riders in a bus going westbound, at 2:30 p.m., and that was not even during rush hour. I wrote to Operations Planning (OP), the New York City Transit department, which devised the service cuts at the instructions of the Office of Management and Budget, to annually cut $68 million in service due to Albany’s reduction in MTA funding.

I advised OP, via email, regarding the number of riders I saw and when I saw them. The proposed cuts were later modified as a result of the public hearings. The B4 service cut was revised from all times to middays, from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, and on weekends. The director of OP told me personally, when I saw him at an event shortly thereafter, that it was my email that caused them to reverse their decision to not eliminate the B4 in Sheepshead Bay at all times.

Nevertheless, the cut was still devastating, especially to Plumb Beach residents who were deprived of all east-west bus service accessing Sheepshead Bay station during middays, evenings and weekends. Residents were forced to walk up to three-quarters of a mile to the B36. Most only found out about the reduction in B4 service, and that the bus would no longer be stopping there, when signs were posted at the bus stops, several days before the changes took effect. Even two years later, riders boarding the B4 at 2:00 p.m. did not know they were on the first bus since 9:00 a.m.

Virtually none of the elected officials tried to get service restored before the changes took effect. They only became active after they were bombarded with complaints from the public. The media finally started paying some scant attention and the MTA was pressured into making a few givebacks in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island during the past two years.

Sheepshead Bites was there all this time, fighting for us, and even organized a Transit Town Hall with the help of Transportation Alternatives, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, and other local elected officials. You now know the results of our efforts.

During the past two years, I wrote six articles specifically on the B4. I stated that the MTA has to listen to the will of the people and they did. We won this battle but we have not yet won the war to get transit service where it should be. The MTA deserves credit for listening to us, and Chairman Joe Lhota deserves credit for starting to turn the MTA in the right direction — by making these service restorations and delaying the proposed fare hike by two months.

There were many skeptics who thought our efforts would be fruitless. They were wrong. I am glad that attempts to wake up the people and spur them into action worked. And did I mention? We also got back the B64.

So to answer the question I posed in the headline: The lesson to learn is to never give up when you see an injustice and you know you are right. Our elected officials are there to serve us if we are loud enough for them hear us. Special thanks to Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz for agreeing to co-sponsor the Transit Town Hall and for sending the MTA that letter. Thanks to the Plumb Beach Civic Association for collecting 2,000 petition signatures. And thanks to State Senator Marty Golden for working behind the scenes to secure the return of the B2 on weekends. I don’t think Marine Park really needs those extra parking spaces, anyway.

And remember: The MTA will listen to the will of the people.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.