Statement of the New York City Transit Riders Council to the
Committee on Transportation of the New York City Council
on the Impact of the Proposed MTA Service Cuts
February 25, 2010
My name is William Henderson and I serve as Executive Director of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC). The NYCTRC, which was established in 1981, is the legislatively mandated representative of New York City Transit riders, created by the State Legislature in 1981 to represent the users of the New York City Transit system. The Council consists of fifteen volunteer members appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Mayor, the Public Advocate and the five Borough Presidents.
The title of this hearing is “Will the MTA Service Cuts Strand Riders?” The simple answer to that question is “yes,” but the impacts of these proposed reductions go far beyond stranding some riders.
Bus riders will be particularly hard hit. The proposed cuts will end weekday service on 14 bus routes, end weekend service on 22 routes, end overnight service on 18 routes, and restructure or replace in part bus service on 41 weekday, 32 weekend, and 9 overnight routes. In terms of express buses, the cuts will eliminate 8 weekday express bus routes, consolidate 13 other routes, and eliminate 2 weekend express bus routes.
Some of these cuts will serve to isolate neighborhoods. On Staten Island the elimination of the S60 line would leave Grimes Hill residents with a walk of up to 20 minutes up a steep hillside to reach their homes from the nearest remaining bus lines. In Brooklyn, the discontinuation of B4 service east of Coney Island Avenue would remove a vital east-west link from the Sheepshead’s Bay community. In the Bronx, the elimination of the Bx14 is justified by a restructured Bx8 bus with, in the words of NYC Transit, “more direct routing.” That appears to be another way of saying “bus stops that are not near me.
Still other bus reroutings and eliminations are justified by the proximity of parts of the discontinued routes to subway stations. The flaw here is that many bus customers are not able to use our subways that, while a great system, remain largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Thankfully, NYC Transit has substantially retreated from its prior position that subways and buses operating in the same corridor provide duplicate service, but there is still reliance on subways to replace discontinued bus service. This will work for some riders, but not for all.
This doesn’t mean that subway riders will be spared. The MTA’s proposals would eliminate W service, which currently operates between Astoria, Queens and Lower Manhattan on weekdays. To compensate, NYC Transit would operate the N train, which currently runs express in Manhattan as a local train in Manhattan. And extend the Q train to Astoria on weekdays. This will result in crowding of trains, longer travel times for N riders and less service below Canal Street, since Canal is the southernmost Manhattan stop for N trains not operating in late night hours. The proposal would also end M service, partially replacing it with V service, which would be extended to provide service to northern Brooklyn and southern Queens. Service between downtown Manhattan and south Brooklyn would be lost. Because of shorter platforms on the former M line, V trains would also shrink from 600 to 480 feet.
Add to this cuts in service on the weekend and evening G train service, where Queens Boulevard stations would no longer be served, increases in off-peak loading guidelines that establish 25 percent more riders than seats as an acceptable occupancy level and would reduce service to create this level of crowding, and additional cuts in weekend service on most lettered lines and the 1 train, and we have a much more crowded and much less convenient system.
Much has been said about the students who will be stranded if the MTA goes through with plans to eliminate free student transportation in the NYC Transit and MTA Bus system. We agree with the position that paying for student transportation should not be the responsibility of the MTA, but neither should it fall to students and their families. That said, we believe that the MTA’s proposal is not the proper means of relieving the MTA of this burden. The State and City are properly responsible for these costs and should find the resources needed to fulfill these responsibilities.
Also, let’s not forget the New York City riders of the Long Island Rail Road. The LIRR is proposing to cut non-peak hour service on the Port Washington line in half, increasing the wait between trains from 30 minutes to one hour. Many of the riders of this line are City residents. Many recently arrived residents chose this area in large part because of the frequent train service that is available and the short ride to Penn Station. The ridership and frequency on this line is almost that of some subway lines, and this proposal represents a major degradation of public transportation service in northeastern Queens.
On the question of whether Access-A-Ride users will be stranded, I have to say that the jury is still out whether the changes that are proposed will strand a large number of riders. There is, however, great cause for concern. NYC Transit proposes three major initiatives in this area: replacing door to door service with feeder service to fixed route transit, determining eligibility for service for some customers on a trip by trip basis, and relying more heavily on vouchers that allow clients to use taxicabs and car services. At the very least, these changes will increase the uncertainty and insecurity associated with Access-A-Ride service, which is already greater than it should be, and we find it hard to see how at least some riders subject to these new initiatives would not fall through the cracks and in fact become stranded.
Finally, we are distressed that for all of the pain that these proposed cuts inflict, they make such a small dent in the MTA’s budget deficit. The total value of subway service reductions is less than $18 million, while bus service reductions improve the MTA financial position by only $60 million. Access-A-Ride service cuts would save just over $16 million. Port Washington Line off-peak service cuts save only about one half million dollars on weekdays and less than three quarters of a million dollars on weekends. These sums are overwhelmed by $143 million in State funding cuts in the Governor’s Deficit Reduction Program and shortfalls of $229 million and $378 million in 2009 and 2010 tax receipts. If the service being provided were excessive, these cuts would be easy to bear, but these reductions are not a matter of cutting the fat, they are getting into muscle and bone. I do not wish to minimize the importance of making the system more efficient, but the MTA’s financial crisis is not the product of providing too much service. There is a purpose and demand for each of the services that is being eliminated, and we need to look carefully at what is being gained and what is being lost.
Another point that we should keep in mind is that if these are the relatively easy decisions on cutting service, the potential service cuts that will follow will be nightmarish. We need to remember that the MTA’s projected deficit for this year is three quarters of a billion dollars. To date, there has been no viable solution proposed for filling this gap and the major actions that the MTA can take on their own is to raise fares or cut service. It should go without saying that filling this gap through service cuts is unacceptable.
The MTA has work to do, but the City and State must play a part in saving the system as well. The City must reevaluate its support for Access-A-Ride service, which is at level lower than the support for paratransit provided by most American cities, and together with the State, fulfill its responsibilities for funding student transportation. In the longer term, the package of funding that supports the MTA needs to be overhauled to make it more stable and reliable and less subject to violent swings related to economic conditions. Riders already pay more of the cost of their ride than in any large transit system in the nation, but they need to be able to rely upon the remaining funding sources that support the system.