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MTA to cut bus service on major Manhattan, Brooklyn routes

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“This is a terrible mistake,” challenged Comptroller Scott Stringer

Bus lines in Manhattan and Brooklyn could see service reductions under a new MTA proposal.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Get ready for lengthier wait times for sluggish bus service.

New York City Transit aims to tweak summertime bus schedules on 19 routes to “more closely align with customer demands,” according to a MTA memo. Among the changes include potentially crippling service cuts for several schedules along the mostly Manhattan and Brooklyn bus lines.

“These changes are necessary to maintain reliability without reducing frequency (which would lead to overcrowding),” the May MTA Transit and Bus Committee memo states.

The plan would alter schedules that serve routes at different times throughout the day—during the morning and evening rush or non-peak hours, for instance. Routes facing potential changes include the B3, B24, B63, B74, M1, M2, M3, M4, M7, M55, B11, and S51, all told, transit officials aim to alter schedules on 19 routes—11 having frequency reduced and six lines having their run times tweaked but without frequency changes. Two lines—the B4 and B63—would actually see improved service, according to the MTA.

“Schedules are tweaked throughout the year to reflect actual traffic and ridership realities, to put extra buses where there’s a demand, and to make sure resources aren’t wasted due to running empty buses,” said MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek, who stressed that these changes are based on ridership patterns and street conditions. “We’re working to attract more people to buses by making bus schedules more dependable, and reducing crowding where that’s a problem.”

The bulk of some $2.8 million saved by the changes would be reinvested into those same routes geared toward making service more reliable, says the MTA. All in all, the changes would amount to an expected net savings of $81,000—a drop in the bucket considering the transit authority’s operating deficit of $510 million with some $40 billion in estimated capital needs.

If enacted, the MTA anticipates “minimal impact” for customers using the affected routes during weekday rush hours, but admits that the exception to the rule would be the M55, where service would operate every 20 minutes instead of every 15 minutes during peak morning, midday, and evening hours. Most of the frequency reductions would take place on Manhattan routes where the MTA points to ample subway service as an alternative to buses crawling through heavily congested streets along with the rest of traffic.

Conversely, run times on the B63 would see a boost, with service increasing from every nine minutes to every seven minutes during morning peak hours, from 10 to nine minutes during evening peak hours, and from 20 to 15 minutes in the evening off-peak travel times. The B4 would see service increases with buses arriving every 20 minutes on Saturday mornings instead of every 30 minutes, according to the MTA.

Transit officials would closely monitor service changes to the routes, but city Comptroller Scott Stringer says the plan would curtail progress made to improving the city’s bus service and blasted the proposal Monday as “a terrible mistake.”

“Right now, weekday ridership is on the upswing, we’re redesigning our bus network, and we’ve set a goal as a City and State of reducing congestion on our streets,” Stringer said in a statement. “Rolling back service now on eleven routes is the exact wrong way to go.”

The potential changes come as the MTA works to overhaul part of its bus network with New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s “Bus Action Plan.” The plan was unveiled in April, but city-wide improvements, including all-door bus boarding and rapid bus lane expansion, have yet to be implemented. Ben Fried, a spokesperson with advocacy group TransitCenter, says the need for such changes should be a “wake up call” for transit officials that they need to pick up the pace with rolling out city-wide improvements.

Advocates aren’t thrilled with the cuts, but say they may be a necessary evil to keep bus service running as smoothly as possible given budget shortfalls.

“Less service is never a good thing, but overall this is not as much of a loss of financial resources and of actual services,” said Fried. “I think it’s more, they have a fixed budget and they haven’t got the bus lanes and all door boarding operating yet so they’re adjusting schedules in a way that reflects a poor condition of service.”