Today’s news:

Opposition mounts to bus cuts

Local elected officials have joined residents on the warpath, opposing cuts to bus service planned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

Indeed, despite the cold, dozens of people attended a Monday morning rally planned by City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, held at the Third Avenue and 88th Street stop of the B-37 bus, carrying signs proclaiming their positions: “Don’t Abandon Us,” and “No Cuts, No Way.”

Under the MTA’s plan, the B-37, which runs along Third Avenue and terminates near Atlantic Avenue, would be totally eliminated, to help close a $400 million gap in its operating budget.

In addition, the agency plans to cut weekend service on a myriad of bus lines, including the B-4, B-16, X-27 and X-28 buses. The X-27 and X-28 provide express bus service into Manhattan. The B-4 runs between Bay Ridge and Sheepshead Bay. The B-16 runs between Bay Ridge and Flatbush.

The cuts proposed, contended Gentile, “Are just draconian, and are totally unacceptable.”

“Our neighborhood is different from many in the city,” he said during the rally. “We don’t have half a dozen subway lines within easy walking distance, we don’t have a single handicapped-accessible train in our entire community. We have seniors, commuters, disabled residents, moms, dads and students who don’t just use, but rely on buses to do everyday activities. Cutting those lines means cutting residents off from those things.

“And,” Gentile went on, “if the MTA thinks that we are going to allow them to abandon us with no good alternative, that we’re okay with being stranded and having some of our most necessary public transportation options being snatched out from under us, well we’re here today to tell them: think again.”

State Senator Marty Golden, who attended the rally, concurred.

Golden – who has launched a petition drive opposing the elimination of the B-37, as well as the elimination of weekend service on the express bus lines – said, “I just can’t figure out the MTA’s rationale in approving a substantial series of cuts that will severely impact my district and all of Brooklyn.”

A particular concern, added Gentile, is the large number of seniors who rely on the buses slated for cutbacks or elimination. “Eliminating the bus routes many seniors count on is nothing short of denying them access to fulfilling and important parts of their everyday lives,” Gentile stressed.

Both Golden and Gentile also panned the MTA’s plan to end free student MetroCards, both noting that the step “adds insult to injury.”

“We must join together, residents, merchants, students, senior citizens and all, in opposing these ridiculous cuts,” Golden urged.

How could the authority get the money it needs to avoid making the cuts, and other, similar service eliminations or cutbacks?

Gentile suggested the restoration of the commuter tax as a way of increasing revenue that could be directed to public transportation. While, he acknowledged, the move would be a hard sell for politicians representing areas outside of New York City whose constituents would be impacted by it, nonetheless, Gentile said, “We’ve got a governor who seems to be willing to make hard decisions. If it gets passed, there’s a chance he’ll sign it.”

In addition, he said, “We’re looking into the possibility of directing some federal stimulus money to the operations of the MTA as a way of avoiding draconian cuts.” While that, he added, would not be “a continuing source of revenue,” it would, he said, “At least buy us some time.”

This is something that Representative Michael McMahon has recommended. “In December,” he said in a statement read out at the rally, “I called on the MTA to use 10 percent of the federal funds they will receive from the Jobs for Main Street Act …to plug the holes in its ‘doomsday budget.’

“These proposed bus cuts,” McMahon went on, “are the best example of why the MTA needs to rethink its strategy. Already, commuters and seniors in southern Brooklyn have some of the longest waits and commutes in the city. Cuts to service will make getting to jobs, doctor’s appointments and school even harder.”

In a joint statement, Assemblymembers Janele Hyer-Spencer and Alec Brook-Krasny recommended another approach. “Instead of cutting instrumental services,” they said, “MTA officials should be cutting their own lofty salaries and benefits packages.” They could not attend the rally, they said, because they were in Albany, “meeting face-to-face with MTA officials and state leaders forcefully demanding the retention of these necessary and crucial services.”

If the scenario seems familiar, that’s because it is. It was only a year ago that the community, led by Golden and Gentile, mobilized to oppose the elimination of the B-37 and cutbacks on other routes.

“It’s almost like deja-vu all over again,” remarked Gentile.

For information on Golden’s petition drive, call 718-238-6044. Emails can be sent to golden@senate.state.ny.us.

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