Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: The bus service cuts last June were devastating. No neighborhood was spared. In Sheepshead Bay, the worst change was the elimination of the eastern portion of the B4 during middays and on weekends. Privately, several people have complained to me how much they miss the B4 and how travel for them is now more inconvenient. It was an essential route, providing the only east-west access between the Brighton line and the United Artists multi-plex cinema, several nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior housing, as well as eateries such as Jordan’s Lobster Dock and TGIF.

The UA Cinemas, the only remaining movie theater in this entire portion of Brooklyn with the demise of the Kings Plaza cinemas, could only be accessed from much of Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend and Bensonhurst by the B4.  The current B4 schedule requires precision timing and luck to use it now to go to the movies.

Most people including the press did not realize the severity of these service cuts until months after they went into effect. Several communities in Manhattan, Bay Ridge, Staten Island, and the Bronx did not remain silent. They bombarded their local officials who were forced to act so that the MTA made some route restorations. Parkchester seniors in the Bronx were hit particularly hard with a senseless route cut of the Bx14 until service was replaced with the Bx4A and Bx24.

Bay Ridge

More recently, with the aid of State Senator Marty Golden, it was recently announced that the X37 and X38 will be restored as a result of a lawsuit he filed charging discrimination against the elderly and handicapped. Had B4 users complained to him, he could have easily included it in his lawsuit due to the large number of senior facilities at the Knapp Street end of the B4 since that area also is within his district.

To those unfamiliar with the X37 and X38, they were direct midtown express bus services from Bay Ridge.  Originally, part of the X27 and X28, they were renumbered as the X37 and X38 to lessen confusion. The service cuts combined midtown and downtown trips via the X27 and X28 (eliminating the X37 and X38 designations) so that Midtown passengers now had to ride an additional 20 minutes through Downtown Manhattan before arriving in Midtown. Not very “express” for $5.50.

Midtown Manhattan

Last week, the MTA announced, also due to political pressure, that it would restore weekend service to the M50 (50th Street Crosstown) eliminated last June. According to the MTA, this change will be cost neutral because in exchange the neighborhood of Turtle Bay agreed to shorten the route at all times so that it will no longer go as far south as 42nd Street on the East Side. How the MTA could even think of eliminating weekend service on this route with all the midtown tourists is beyond me.

Weekend M50 riders numbered 2,200; weekend B4 riders numbered 2,300. The difference is that M50 weekend service is returning while weekend B4 service is not. Sheepshead Bay was hit harder because an additional 2,100 midday weekday riders also lost service.

Would B4 riders also have to agree to a route shortening in order to get midday and weekend service restored? I don’t think so. The MTA could make other economies to pay for it.  (More on this later.) They do not because they are entrenched in doing business the way they have done it for a number of years.

Planning Methodology

The planning methodology the MTA uses is that any improvement in bus service must be accompanied by a service reduction preferably on the same route. This is a foolhardy way to plan because it makes any major improvements virtually impossible, e.g. extending the B4 via Knapp Street to Avenue U or Kings Plaza. You cannot do effective planning when you consider operating costs in a vacuum, not relating them to additional revenue generated by a proposed service extension and the effect on neighboring routes. For example, a B4 extension up Knapp Street would attract some current B36 riders because of a shorter walk to the bus, thereby reducing demand on that route.  At least one B36 could be shifted over time to the extended B4 reducing projected operating cost increases resulting from such an extension.

The MTA is ignoring untapped demand believing that it is fixed, which it is not. For example, a teenager without access to a car would make a discretionary bus trip to see a movie if public transportation were available and would not only make the trip when his parents are able to drive him.

How the MTA Could Pay for a B4 Service Extension

At this point you may be saying to yourself that the MTA has to deal with fiscal realities and just cannot afford to restore or extend routes like the B4 even if they wanted to.  Also, not exactly true. Here is one example how the MTA is wasting money that could be applied to the B4:

The MTA is spending loads of money providing school bus service that the city and state should be fully subsidizing but are not. To keep costs down, the MTA operates what they call “school open” and “school closed” schedules that are exactly what they sound like. Extra buses are provided only on days when school is open. In some cases, the number of extra buses are substantial, for example, at least a dozen extra buses are assigned just to Kingsborough Community College service at 3 p.m (This is not the only additional service KCC gets.). That is more than the number of buses that operate on some routes in their entirety.

Here is the problem: On Fridays, KCC has a half-day schedule.  Most of these extra buses are not needed at 3 p.m., but operate nearly empty anyway. Why couldn’t the MTA operate a Monday through Thursday school open schedule and a separate Friday school open schedule with fewer buses? They operate a special holiday schedule for Christmas, Thanksgiving and other major holidays, which is lighter than their Sunday Schedule, so there is no reason why this also could not be done, other than none of the MTA’s $100,000-plus geniuses has thought of it. If this change requires union approval, it definitely should be part of the next contract negotiations.

Who knows how many other colleges operate lighter Friday schedules and how much money could be saved if the MTA bothered to investigate and made this change system-wide? The $64,000 question is if the money saved would be reinvested in improved bus service or just be used to reduce the deficit without the MTA changing their planning methodology. What do you think?

The Need for a Better Planning Process

The planning process needs to be more transparent, so the public can determine if service cuts are indeed justified. The last round of service cuts presented data in an inadequate manner, minimized inconveniences and grouped data so that they were difficult to analyze. The MTA did not inform anyone prior to the B4 shortening that it would result in only being able to transfer between the B4 and B68 in one direction but not in the other, making the connection nearly useless. They suggested that B4 weekend riders take a long walk to the B36 instead, but later cut weekend service by 17 percent on the B36, forcing residents to choose car services. Then the MTA complains how ridership is steadily declining and how more service reductions are necessary (Other problems with the revised B4 are discussed here.).

The hearing also was held in an inaccessible location for many, and those who did attend had to wait hours to speak, some going home before it was their turn.

The Need to Speak Up

Is Sheepshead Bay complacent because it believes that speaking up will serve no purpose? If so, that is not true. There is power in numbers, as the service restorations mentioned above have shown. Even one person can make a difference. My testimony at the public hearing convinced the MTA to retain the eastern end of the B4 between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday. Original plans called for service to be discontinued at all times.

Since the service cuts, I have been attempting to convince the MTA to at least extend B4 service from Coney Island Avenue to Sheepshead Bay Station during the hours it has been cutback, restoring transfers to the B68, B49 and the Brighton Line. It would be possible to do that without spending additional money.  Buses currently lay over at Coney Island Hospital for 20 minutes, more than enough time to travel the additional distance to Sheepshead Bay Station. If extended, the time-consuming loop to the Shore Parkway service road in the westbound direction would be unnecessary, saving money and shortening trips by five minutes. My request has gone unanswered since last October.

If more people focused their energy productively by speaking up instead of complaining privately, we could get back the eliminated portion of the B4. Residents didn’t even request NYCDOT to allow parking on weekends when the bus no longer stops there, like their Marine Park neighbors did regarding the B2.  Prove that Sheepshead Bay is as politically savvy as parts of Staten Island, Parkchester, Bay Ridge and Turtle Bay who were successful in lobbying their elected officials to get the MTA to do a reversal.  It is not too late.

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).

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1048993713 Ilya Alexander Rubnich

    I’ve had an amazing love-hate relationship with this bus for the longest time, and lately I don’t bother with it much anymore. I’ve taken it from Nostrand to Narrows quite often before the cuts, and still have to regularly (it just takes 3 trains now). But if it is restored to its former glory (it was never too reliable, but it’s glory compared to now) I’d give it another chance.

    So how many people exactly does it take to make a difference? What kind of rallying call is needed? We have quite a diverse neighborhood here and very little people care to do anything as much as they tend to complain. We aren’t exactly as popular as Bay Ridge or Midtown either.

    • Allan Rosen

      As I said, all it takes is one with a very convincing argument. But a few hundred can also work miracles. All we need is one out of every 10 former riders to speak up, and that would be between 200 and 400 people. I think Martin Golden would be the best bet to approach, although I don’t think he would be willing to undertake another lawsuit.

      I don’t think popularity has anything to do with it. When an elected official is bombarded with requests to solve a particular problem, he has to do something, at least to demand a meeting, and one thing the MTA is responsive to is lawsuits because it costs them money to defend their position. You’v got nothing to lose. I would cite people like yourself who now must take three trains, or the many who are now depending on car services or relatives to pick them up at the station, wasting gas traffic congestion and air pollution.

  • Barkingspider7

    It is a horrible line. This past Friday (and on Xmas Eve), they just took the 6:34, and the 2 following buses off the line. Nothing was said about this on the news. I sprinted to Nostrand Avenue to catch the 36, and it too was delayed. I finally arrived at the station at 7:35, more than an hour since I left the house. My neighbors, who stayed at Emmons Avenue arrived 10 minutes after I did. By the way, the trains were delayed also.

    In this time, there were 6 B44s, a B49 (goes home with bus at night and drives up Emmons every day at 6:30, and 2 out of service commuter buses. They all do what they want and the MTA has the nerve to raise the fares.

    I get so ticked off with this. I write complaints to the MTA and they send non sensical replies. I hate the MTA and the B4, in general.

    • Allan Rosen

      You don’t have to tell me about non-sensical replies. I get them all the time. They feel they can say anything no matter how illogical and get away with it and they do because people accept it.

      I’m assuming the two uses they took off was a one time occurrence. There could have been a reason for it beyond their control. You need to tell them when something like this happens. The operating people do care. The problem is Downtown.

      • Barkingspider7

        The MIA Bus has happened twice over the past few months. Christmas Eve and this past Friday. A customer complained to the driver this morning and he said that there was a change and they knew that this bus would be cancelled. Also, my complaint about the B49 driving from Knapp Street up Emmons just about every weekday morning, and in the past complaints about a bus driver doing the same thing – parking on Emmons and Nostrand and coming out of Webers court at 7:00 am and putting his daughter on the school bus have been answered with a stupid email that had no relevance to the subject, and the latter was just plain out ignored. This guy on Webers Ct. did this the evening of the last snow storm. Parked his bus in front of Canda Avenue and left it there all night. The MTA has too much dead wood “working” (and I use the word loosely). I and all commuters want what we are paying for. We want quality service, no fare hikes, and polite drivers. When someone says good morning to the driver, he/she should be polite enough to respond in turn.

        • Allan Rosen

          Regardng the MIA bus, it is possible the driver was sick and had to take the day off. When this happens, they suppose to find a substitute driver, but with their focus on reducing overtime, they don’t always do that anymore which shows a total lack of concern for the passenger when a route such as the B4 has a 15 or 20 minute headway. The B49s on Knapp are authorized. It saves them a few minutes than if they drove on their regular route. I don’t have a problem with that unless it is at a time when ot makes sense for the bus to operate in service picking up passengers since they are spending money on gas and labor anyway. They figure that the people can just wait for the next bus. No problem if there is one a few minutes behind but not when you have to wait five or ten minutes for the next one.

          As far as the bus parked all night, if that happens again, get the bus number and report it. Send an e-mail to DARRYL.IRICK@NYCT.com . The operator will get in trouble.

          I’ve run into very few impolite drivers. I usually get a response.

          • Barkingspider7

            The drivers were never sick – I’m talking about this happening every day during the week. The B49s are authorized to be on Knapp St? They do not run anywhere near there. It is the Ocean Ave bus. How can that be true? It’s the same guy every day. I see him when he stops at the light on Nostrand/Emmons. There are never any passengers on the bus and he is driving in the left lane. I will get the bus #, although I did that with the guy on Webers court and nothing was done. My complaint was never acknowledged. Thank you for the info. I will take care of this asap.

          • Allan Rosen

            So you are saying the route no longer runs until the time it supposed to run and no one changed the timetable signs? That would be horrible. You can’t stay quiet about that one.

            The B49 terminal is at Fillmore and Utica Ave. Buses used to take Avenue S to OCean Avenue to get to the route where they would immediately would start to pick up passengers. In recent years te MTA is sending more of them to Kingsborough Not in Service to save a few minutes so passengers going south boarding south of Avenue S have to wait longer. They found out that by using Knapp Street they can save another five minutes so that is what some of them do when coming from and going to the depot.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    If we could people to go out and “prove” that there are patterns of use that the MTA is not taking advantage of it might give them some reason to consider changes. But would they wish to do their own survey?

    I do assume that you have already submitted data about lighter bus usage from KCC on Fridays. How long does it take for them to start considering changes based on fine-tuned information such as this?

    • Allan Rosen

      If you provide them with numbers, they probably would want to send out people to validate what you are saying. I have not submitted data regarding lighter bus usage, but will send them this article. (I have been too focused in getting them to pick up all waiting passengers along Oriental Blvd.)

      I also do not want to give them an excuse to reduce service without putting it back where it is needed. Right now we can use those extra buses as leverage. Once they are gone, they will tell you something like they would reinstitute the B4 east of Coney Island Avenue but only if you agree to let them cut it back from Voorhies and Knapp to Nostrand and Emmons at all times. I don’t want that to happen because the route needs extending not shortening.

      I did mention it to a Field Manager I met with last week about the lighter KCC loads on Fridays and the need for a special Friday school schedule and he responded that it’s not something they do. That’s why this issue needs to be brought to the attention of those on top along with the need to change their ridiculous planning methodology which prevents service improvements, since every change has to have a net zero increase in operating costs on the same route.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        I suspected that they would want to use their own people, regardless of the fact that have the qualifications to supervise surveyors and personally analyze the significance of the collected data. That will slow the down a bit, because they will do so at a time of their choosing.

        I was once informed of a long term study that MTA was doing regarding bus usuage in upper Manhattan but I turned it down because I knew I wasn’t going to have much say in the process. I got spoiled, I guess. I also knew already the results they were hoping to get, which would validate planned cuts.

        I think that we should get the data anyway, and this has to be done before the spring term is ended. This way there is a independent source of information which, if they attempted to skew numbers or impact, can be used in making an intelligent presentation to upper management, if possible, and to the media, if necessary.

        Hopefully we can this without interfering with your other projects.

        • Allan Rosen

          What data are you speaking of? Friday data to show that the buses at 3PM near the College are not well utilized?

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

            Yes, exactly, but perhaps augmented with comparative data showing usage at the same time during other weekdays. You must already have some data from a couple of months back.

          • Anonymous

            I have the data I collected at West End Avenue that I used for the article last October. I could go this Friday and try to get some. The problem with doing this at Kingsborough on any other day but Friday is that it would take at least three people, unless you do it at West End.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

            What about the data you were collecting in early March? Is that not useable?

          • Anonymous

            Not really. Although I had someone helping me, I found the data too problematic. There were just too many buses for two people to handle. I forgot to write down some of the destinations ans my friend missed a few bus numbers because I didn’t give him clear instructions. Although while I was collecting the data, I felt there was a bus every couple of minutes, when I analyzed it, I found 20 minutes without a B1 going all the way to the end of the line. I couldn’t be sure if there wasn’t one or if I screwed up on the destinations. That’s why you need at least three people. It’s easier to count at another point and just estimate the number on the bus because when three buses are loading at the same time, it’s very hard to keep track of all three.

  • winson

    Neptune Avenue residents between Ocean Parkway and Sheepshead Bay Road lost not one, but both of its bus routes (the X29 was entirely cut last June, though in my experience, it was pointless anway). i hope the MTA restores the B4 bus the way it was last year because having it run alongside the B36 from Avenue Z to whatever is ridiculous. That lawsuit over the X37/38 looked pretty lame too. Cannot always use accusation of discrimination to your advantage.

    • Allan Rosen

      Doesn’t matter how lame a lawsuit is if it works. The only reason the MTA implemented the 1978 southwest Brooklyn service changes was because of a lawsuit. A paragraph was tacked on to a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) stating that to abide by the Clean Air Act of 1970 to lessen pollution south of 59th Street in Manhattan, the MTA is required to change bus routes in southern Brooklyn. Does that make any sense? It was only put in there because someone I had previously shared office space with at the Department of City Planning left to work at the NRDC. It spurred the MTA into action which is all that is needed.

  • Brooklyn2Brooklyn

    Very Nice article. They need to restore the B4.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1048993713 Ilya Alexander Rubnich

    I’d help out any effort that may arise.

  • ajedrez

    I agree with your comment about the MTA not considering additional revenue when vetoing a route extension. Here on Staten Island for example, yesterday, my family had to take car service to get from the movie theater on Forest Avenue to get to the area around the College of Staten Island, because the alternatives were too long and circuitous. If the MTA had extended the S93 bus to this area, they would’ve easily decided to take that, providing them with some additional revenue (and since this bus would fill in an east-west gap 1.5 miles wide, I’m sure there are other people who would take it as well)

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