But for thousands of New Yorkers , the impact of the cuts is not modest. While most commuters might face a marginally longer commute, statistics that apply to the MTA's general bus ridership only hint at the disruption these cuts will render to the most vulnerable riders: the poor, the aged and the disabled, who advocates say, depend on the bus system in ways that others do not.
Here, City Limits looks at five bus routes where cuts are now altering commuters' lives.
The pleas came from across downtown Manhattan, from the East Village to the West. There were thousands of them of them, ranging from wonky to heart-rending, all collected on petitions in support of one cause: saving the M8 bus.
The line, which originated as a streetcar route more than 125 years ago and has run along 8th, 9th and 10th streets ever since, nearly met its end last year. Loyal riders protested, appealing to the agency for a reprieve, and their words are a testament to the special place that buses hold in many New Yorkers' lives.
An 86-year-old widow who has trouble with subway stairs said she took the bus to the doctor. A mother of two from East 7th Street called it the only way to get her children to their after-school program. A disabled man living on Avenue D said that without the M8, he would not have had the courage to return to work on Christopher Street.
In the end, their appeals brought them a victory—but only a partial one. The MTA scrapped plans to kill the line entirely, instead moving, effective June 27, to eliminate service on weekends and overnight. Some M8 riders would breathe easy; others would find themselves in precisely the position they had feared. In all, the MTA's internal figures say, the cut saves the agency $400,000 annually, a typical rider's trip increases by up to 15 minutes, and 2,360 weekend customers now have to use the M14 bus instead.
Quinn Raymond, a longtime M8 rider who ran a web site dedicated to saving the line, said the reduced service has been bad for surrounding businesses—and, by extension, for the city’s economy as a whole, at an especially bad time. Raymond, who stressed that he blames state government fiscal policies for the situation, says even a partial service cut causes damage.
“You get into a vicious cycle, where the less frequently a bus shows up, the less likely someone is to opt for that mode of transportation,” he says. “So what happens is, poor service begets low ridership, which is then used to justify further rounds of cuts.”
The B23 bus in Brooklyn, between Borough Park and Flatbush along 16th Avenue and Cortelyou Road, was eliminated entirely. About 1,580 weekday customers and 1,240 weekend customers now have to walk to other lines, a few long blocks away; a typical customer's trip is increased by 15 minutes. The MTA saves $1.2 million a year.
"Summertime is a little easier, because kids are not going to school," says Wolf Sender, district manager of Community Board 12, which represents part of the area the B23 ran through. "It's going to hit in September."
Besides offering access to several schools along 16th Avenue, the bus also connected riders to subway stops on the D, F, Q and B lines. According to "Tomorrow's Transit," a 2008 report from the Regional Plan Association (RPA), part of the B23 route ran through an area with high population density, low incomes, and no subway service within easy walking distance, making that bus-to-subway connection vital.
The 2008 RPA study recommended service improvements in such areas (another of which is on the far Lower East Side, along the M8’s route). Instead, the B23 route no longer exists. The gap is being partially filled: The city Taxi and Limousine Commission announced that in August it will begin allowing licensed commuter vans to run along five former bus routes around the city, the B23 route included.
Still, the solution has its limits. Some advocates for disabled riders criticized the vans, charging that, unlike buses, they lack accessibility.
On Staten Island, the MTA discontinued weekend service on the S54 line, which runs from the North Shore neighborhood of Livingston to the South Shore neighborhood of Great Kills. About 1,100 weekend customers now have to make their way to another bus; a typical trip is increased by 10 to 20 minutes. The MTA saves $500,000 a year.
The S54 brings some Staten Island residents to the beach, but only some of its weekend riders—before weekend service ended—were looking for fun. As in the rest of the city, many people using transit on weekends are headed to work. Many who rode the S54 on the weekend were headed to jobs at Seaview Hospital, near the center of the island.
Cuts like these hit especially hard in low-income communities, said Elena Conte, an organizer at the Pratt Center for Community Development. Besides working unusual hours that cross into the transit system's off-peak times, Conte said, people who make less money tend to have longer commutes: 64 percent of city residents with commutes over an hour make less than $35,000 a year, according to one of the center's studies. Moreover, the study showed, lower-paying jobs, such as those in retail and manual labor, tend to be scattered outside the city's central business district.
"You have a population that's dispersed getting to job centers that are also dispersed, and it makes for a lot of really treacherous commutes and difficult times," Conte said.
In the Bronx, the buses serving Co-op City, the Bx25, Bx26, Bx28 and Bx30, were trimmed and restructured. The result is that unlike before, no one bus serves the entire complex and more transfers are now required. Some riders now have to wait longer. And approximately 600 weekday customers and 500 weekend customers have to walk five minutes to complete their trip. The MTA saves $2.8 million.
What makes the transfers and longer walks feel worse in Co-op City, longtime resident and transportation advocate Arthur Taub says, is that about 8,500 of the complex's 50,000 residents are senior citizens, making it the country's largest naturally occurring retirement community. Some residents, says Taub, 75, now have to switch buses just to get from one part of the complex to another.
"Here we have thousands of senior citizens who can't even get out of the house, and they want them to walk," he adds. "There are so many electric wheelchairs around here that they would need traffic laws for them."
There was a time, Taub says, when the complex's transit options—including its express buses, which do remain—were among the more attractive features there. Now, he said, "I've been in Co-op City 40 years, and we have never had such reduced services."
"This is utter chaos," he added.
The Q75 bus in Queens, which operated on weekdays only between Jamaica and Oakland Gardens, has also been completely eliminated. The cut saves the MTA $1.1 million a year. A typical commuter's trip is increased by five to 10 minutes; most can use one of two other buses that follow much off the same route.
The exception on the Q75 route—the stretch that no other bus line covers—is in the neighborhood of Oakland Gardens, at the line's eastern end. Riders there who want bus service—or even subway service, which is reachable only by bus in this part of Queens—now have to walk to find it. For those with cars, the Long Island Expressway, which passes along the neighborhood's northern edge, may seem more appealing.
Oakdale Gardens residents probably have plenty of company in Queens. According to the Regional Plan Association report, at the time of the 2000 census only 34.7 percent of the borough's population lived within easy walking distance of the subway or express bus. Moreover, only 26 percent of residents' trips within the borough used mass transit. Queens was fourth among the boroughs in both statistics, ahead only of Staten Island.
Meanwhile, as in the rest of the region, the study found, the borough's population is projected to grow—a likelihood that transit advocates argue makes buses all the more important.
"With the subway basically maxed out on a lot of lines, and expansion taking so long and taking so much money, the only way we're going to be able to increase capacity in the transit system is by increasing bus service," says Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives. "You know, they've been building the Second Avenue Subway for 80 years, so the subways aren't going to be able to soak up all the extra people that are going to need to travel around."
The predicament facing those who live along the defunct Q75 line but don't own cars illustrates why the MTA's bus cuts, while touching fewer riders than its subway cuts, are in some ways worse.
"The subway cuts, they're sort of broader and shallower," says Bill Henderson, executive director of the New York City Transit Riders' Council. "There are a lot of people affected, but there's still a train running pretty much everywhere there was on the 23rd of June."
With the buses, he adds, "some of these cuts may not have affected a large amount of people, but for that small amount of people, there's no alternative."
This is the second part of a three-part series on the implications of recent MTA service cuts. To learn about how much more crowded some trains are going to be, click here. Part III explores the deeper causes and long-term implications of the MTA's funding crisis.