A Fight We Can't Lose

Diane J. Savino

January 17, 2010

By Staten Island Advance Editorial
January 17, 2010, 4:32AM


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority can always be counted on to produce bad news about fare and toll increases and/or service cuts pretty much every year at this time, even when the economy is flourishing.

So in the midst of a lingering recession, it’s not surprising that the always fiscally challenged MTA is talking about significant reductions in subway and bus service.

Last year it was the threat of a “Doomsday Budget.” More modest fare and toll hikes than the MTA first proposed were negotiated, along with an enormous state bailout. But last year, the service cuts were taken off the table as part of the bargain.

Now they’re back on the table — in a big way.

Nor is it surprising that Staten Island could be targeted for a disproportionate share of the cuts as the authority tries to close a $400-million budget deficit.

The MTA’s institutional mentality is that it is always preferable to cut — or refuse to provide — service here in order to avoid having to cut service in its operations elsewhere. With few exceptions, short-changing this borough has been the consistent, unofficial policy of MTA officials for decades.

And the fact is the MTA never wanted to get into the express bus service business, reasoning that such long-range routes are too expensive to operate, despite the steep fare. The authority seizes upon any excuse to drop express bus service — especially on Staten Island.

So along with eliminating free MetroCards for students and scaling back Access-a-Ride service for seniors, the MTA is talking about cutting express bus routes which Staten Islanders rely on to commute to and from Manhattan, according to reports.

State Sen. Diane Savino has been leading the charge in opposition to this proposal.

In a statement last week, she hit every key point in making her argument: “No other form of inter-borough conductivity exists between Staten Island and Manhattan except for the ferry.”

And the ferry is a long way from where most Staten Islanders live.

She added, “Twenty four express bus lines serve 33,000 Islanders daily; express buses are a lifeline for tens of thousands of Staten Island commuters, especially in areas far flung from the ferry terminal. There is simply no mass transit alternative.”

Exactly. But what is truly galling, as Ms. Savino points out, is that the MTA is considering even deeper service cuts on express bus routes that serve Staten Island in order to save local service in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Mr. Savino notes that the routes of two of the local lines the MTA wants to protect, the Bx20 and the Bx7, are pretty much the same as another bus route, the Bx10, and the No. 1 subway line is not far away.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the MTA plans to save the B25 bus at the expense of express bus service on Staten Island. But the B25 travels the same route through Brooklyn as the A subway train.

Ms. Savino rightly calls the MTA plan to save redundant bus routes in other boroughs while jettisoning express bus routes Staten Islanders depend upon as their only realistic mass transit option, “nonsensical.”

It’s worse than that. Effectively stranding thousands of already hard-pressed commuters on Staten Island in order to preserve the luxury of multiple transit choices to commuters in Brooklyn and the Bronx is outrageous.

When the MTA provides direct rail service between this borough and Manhattan — as all the other boroughs enjoy — then we can talk about eliminating express bus routes.

The MTA will ultimately have to get state approval for its final budget plan. And if the plan includes these misbegotten proposed express bus cuts, Ms. Savino pledged, “Any reduction in service on Staten Island will not be tolerated and is DOA should it hit the Senate floor.”

We trust she’ll have the full and vocal support of other Staten Island state lawmakers and other elected officials here. This is a fight Staten Island can’t afford to lose.

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