Why The Bay Needs Better Bus Service

Flier for our Town Hall meeting this Thursday. Come and make a difference!

THE COMMUTE: I have been planning bus routes for my entire professional life, 10 years of which was in some type of official capacity. It is what I most enjoy doing. However, this article is not about me. It is about you. It is about how Sheepshead Bay, Gerritsen Beach, Marine Park, Bensonhurst, and Brighton Beach can get better bus service by having fewer transfers and shorter walks with little added costs.

I developed a set of bus route proposals, including a few routing changes, some extensions, one new route, and elimination of another. It would involve a small investment in our bus system, which is why the MTA will say it cannot be done since their policy is to only implement zero cost changes. They want to reduce the size of our bus system to encourage more subway use even if those trips are indirect and cause much inconvenience. They are not interested in increasing bus connections to make bus service more convenient.

You can show support for these ideas, which I will explain tomorrow and Wednesday, or any others you may have to improve bus service, at Thursday’s Town Hall (click here for details).

If we stick together as a community and work with our neighboring communities and our elected officials, the MTA will have to hear and listen to us. Communities in the past have rarely initiated bus routing changes. They just sat back and merely accepted whatever the MTA has doled out. The only time they speak up is to oppose a change the MTA is proposing. That is not the way it has to be. Now is the time to be proactive instead of reactive.

The Problems

Sheepshead Bay and Plumb Beach: Our area and surrounding neighborhoods suffer from many bus routing deficiencies. In 2010, we lost the B4 in Sheepshead Bay and Plumb Beach on middays and weekends, cutting off service to a half dozen senior citizen homes, rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities, the United Artists (UA) multiplex theaters (the only ones remaining in southern Brooklyn since the closing of the Kings Plaza cinemas}, many restaurants and 3,000 residents. Trips now require up to a three-quarter mile walk to the B36, at least one change of buses and sometimes an additional fare. It is a real hardship for Plumb Beach residents without access to an automobile, especially the elderly and infirm, of which there are many, who cannot afford the high cost of frequent car service rides.

The B4, and its predecessor the B21, never operated more frequently than at 15- to 20-minute scheduled headways. That often meant you really waited 30 to 40 minutes for a bus, which was why they were so lightly utilized. In order to justify east-west service in Plumb Beach that more riders would want to use, it is necessary that buses operate at 10-minute intervals. However, for that to happen, new service areas would have to be identified. I believe I have found a way to justify additional bus service to Plumb Beach.

Gerritsen Beach and Mill Basin: The next problem has always existed since bus service in Brooklyn began. Gerritsen Beach and Mill Basin are the most isolated neighborhoods in the entire borough, having direct access only to the Brighton line. All other trips that cannot be reached directly by the B31 or B100, respectively, require a change to the subway, or at least one change to another local bus, or an express bus at a premium fare. Trips which cannot be completed with two buses or a bus and train(s) — and there are many — require a second fare for those who cannot afford unlimited MetroCards. The B31 and B100 get seated loads in rush hours picking up additional passengers once they leave these neighborhoods. Other times, ridership is very light since they are only feeders to the subway. B31 usage was so light during overnight hours (probably not carrying a single passenger to or from Gerritsen Beach) that service was entirely eliminated after 1:00 a.m. as part of the 2010 service cuts. That left an entire neighborhood completely stranded without a single bus route and was unprecedented for a route operated by New York City Transit.

Marine Park: Marine Park also suffered as a result of the 2010 service cuts with B2 weekend service eliminated. Several years ago, the B2 lost its overnight service, a move that was completely unnecessary. The MTA could have extended the B46 (Utica Avenue bus) from Avenue S overnights via the B2 route to Kings Highway Station, and continued to have supplied hourly service with no additional labor costs, and only the cost of gas, since no one is going to Kings Plaza after midnight. They did not do this because it was not their policy at the time to operate a different service during late night hours. (They have since changed that policy by extending the B8 late nights from the VA Hospital to the “R” 95th Street station when the B70 does not serve the station. They could do the same with the B46 if they want to.)

I previously have written about the B2 and explained why this route will eventually be eliminated, resulting in longer walks to a bus and additional inconvenience for Marine Park residents. The reason is that the MTA is continually facing a budget crisis and, like the B31 and B100, the B2 is also lightly utilized outside of rush hours. In recent years, with a general decline in bus usage, B2 patronage has declined further. One option is to extend it at both ends to increase the number of connections, giving it additional purposes other than just serving the subway. It could be rerouted and combined with the B100, improving access within Marine Park and without really inconveniencing Mill Basin residents who will also benefit from a westward extension. Maintaining both the B2 and the B100, only one block apart in most areas, has always been wasteful. The MTA’s probable decision to eliminate the B2 and serve Marine Park with just the B100, with its current route and stops, is unacceptable and harmful to the community.

Brighton Beach: Since the removal of the B4 from Neptune Avenue, bus service has worsened for Brighton Beach residents. They used to have a direct bus to the UA Theater. Now the trip takes three buses and two fares, precisely the type of trip I was trying to eliminate when I made the Southwest Brooklyn bus changes in 1978.

Many cannot simply walk a few blocks to the B36 because of the Belt Parkway, as the MTA stated in the documents, justifying the cuts. They seemed to think it was possible to fly over the Belt Parkway when it first proposed eliminating Neptune Avenue service in Brighton Beach. The truth is that crossing the Belt Parkway is only possible at limited avenues requiring an extra half-mile walk. Their conclusion that B4 riders could easily switch to the B36 proved erroneous when statistics showed that B36 ridership dropped after the B4 was cut, rather than increased.

Although there are only two extras blocks to walk to the B1 from Neptune Avenue if you need to go to Bensonhurst, as the MTA also stated, you also need to walk further once you arrive there, or transfer to another bus, which the MTA neglected to mention. Those who could have easily used the B1 before the B4 was eliminated from Neptune Avenue would have been doing it already prior to the service cuts if it were their best option. Inconveniencing bus riders does not build ridership.

You cannot plan merely by looking at numbers and consulting a map as MTA planners seem to do. You need to learn passenger habits and use the system to see how it operates in reality before making decisions that negatively affect people’s lives. This is why we have to attend this town hall — to educate our elected officials and the MTA as to our needs. We cannot accept business as usual, which is more service cuts in the future. The time to start asking for improvements is now. When you start to believe the situation is hopeless, then you are defeated. Don’t become defeated.

Tuesday and Wednesday: My proposed routing improvements. Be sure to come back.

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).