By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Lawmakers who held a rain-soaked rally in Bay Ridge on Sunday to call on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to restore the B37 bus, a line that was eliminated three years ago, said they’re determined to win their battle of wills with the agency.
One lawmaker, state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Brooklyn-Staten Island), indicated that she’s not above playing a little hardball with the MTA to get the B37 bus back.
Savino, whose district includes a section of Bay Ridge, told local residents at the May 19 rally that she wants to extract a promise from MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast nominee that he would restore the shuttered bus line and other transit services when he faces the state senate at his confirmation hearing in two weeks. Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated Prendergast to replace Joseph Lhota, the former MTA chairman who is now running for mayor.
“The only way to get that job is through the New York State Senate,” she said, hinting that she’ll give Prendergast a hard time if he doesn’t cooperate. “It’s time for us to get back on the bus,” Savino said.
The B37 bus ran from Bay Ridge to downtown Brooklyn until the MTA eliminated the bus line in 2010 during a major budget cutting move in which dozens of transit lines were scrapped. The B37 ran on Third Avenue for a long portion of its route and lawmakers and transit advocacy groups charged that the elimination of the bus line is a hardship for senior citizens and the physically disabled who can’t use the R train on Fourth Avenue as an alternative because they can’t navigate the subway stairs. The R train stations in Bay Ridge and Sunset Park are not equipped with elevators.
The rally, organized by Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island), took place on the corner of Third Avenue and Senator Street in a tent that was hastily erected to keep the participants dry during a downpour. Malliotakis, Savino and a bi-partisan group of elected officials that included state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn), assembly members Felix Ortiz (D-Sunset Park), Alec Brook Krasny (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Coney Island), and Joan Millman (D-Brooklyn Heights) and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), said it’s vital that Brooklyn residents get the B37 bus back.
Members of the Restore the B37 Coalition, the Transit Riders Alliance, the United Puerto Rican Organizations of Sunset Park (UPROSE), the Merchants of Third Avenue, the Bay Ridge Community Council, the AARP, and the Transport Workers Union attended the rally and expressed their frustration with the MTA.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, said it’s important for the MTA to make sure that all bus lines are operating in the event of another Hurricane Sandy type of storm. The hurricane knocked out several subways lines for days. “We need to support surface transit. It’s a matter of transportation justice,” she said. “We need this bus line, especially in weather like this,” Brook-Krasny said, pointing to the rain.
“We are sick and tired of paying more and getting less in terms of service,” Malliotakis said.
Millman, who said riders miss being able to travel from Bay Ridge to downtown Brooklyn, called the B37 “our crosstown bus.”
Ortiz charged that the lack of a Third Avenue bus was unfair to older residents. “We cannot disenfranchise our seniors,” he said.
Golden said the lack of a bus running the length of Third Avenue means that passengers who live in Bay Ridge have to make convoluted trips just to get to Lutheran Medical Center at 150 55th St. “It takes three buses to get to Lutheran Medical Center. It’s a seven minute car ride,” he said.
Golden, a member of the state’s Capital Review Board, a panel that oversees funding for the MTA’s capital projects, said restoring the B37 is a top priority of his.
Malliotakis, Savino and other speakers pointed to the fact that the MTA currently has a $40 million budget surplus as proof that the agency can afford to restore the B37 bus line. Gentile, who called the surplus “mysterious,” added “What mattress was that under?”While expressing anger at the MTA, Malliotakis also said she wanted to work closely with MTA board member Allen Cappelli to get the service cuts restored. “He is supportive of the restoration of service,” she said.
MTA spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said the agency hasn’t yet decided how the $40 million surplus would be spent or whether it would be used to restore service cuts. “We're scheduled to update our budget in July, when we'll have a better understanding of how our various revenues have come in ahead or behind plan. So it's too soon to say what will happen,” she wrote in an email to a reporter.