Island to MTA: No more cuts!

Diane J. Savino

March 03, 2010

By Maura Yates

March 03, 2010, 1:53AM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- There were some who believed that last night's MTA public hearing was a done deal.

There was no reason to show up; the cuts to the borough's transit system were carved in stone, the cynics said.

But Staten Islanders would have none of that.

A raucous overflow crowd of more than 1,500 borough transit riders and bus drivers -- in the spirit of yesterday's Advance editorial "Let the MTA hear you" -- showed up at the College of Staten Island to tell transit officials that, this time, there's no fat left to trim.

"Staten Island should not be the ATM for the MTA and then kicked to the curb," said Rep. Michael McMahon (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn).

Attendees waved posters and chanted, "No more cuts!"

Others were turned away at the door.Hilton Flores/Staten Island AdvanceStaten Islanders sign up to speak at the MTA hearing at CSI on the proposed bus service cuts.

About 90 took to the microphone during the six-hour meeting.

"I do not have the money for cabs," said Eleanor Abrams, who uses a wheelchair. "It would cost me $20 to go from Mariners Harbor to the ferry. Want to send me a limo?"

To illustrate the plight of disabled passengers, she flourished a list of bus routes she has taken, and wheelchair lifts that have been broken when she wanted to travel. During one ride, she said, "The ramp went up and got stuck in midair. I had to wait for the Fire Department to come get me."

Said Chris Waymer of St. George, who relies on the S42, "I take this as an attack on my family." His children, mother and siblings are also bus riders.

If the S42 is taken away, "I'm going to have to walk off the hill, leave earlier or fight for space on the bus," Waymer complained. "It's crowded enough during rush hour. I don't think they get that. Imagine an already-packed bus and sticking 200 more people on, the kind of mayhem that's going to cause. That's going to turn ugly quickly."

As one speaker noted, "The X1's so crowded, the bus driver stands."

"When you take away from Staten Island, you're taking away from the poorest people. When you take away from Manhattan, they can just walk another block [to find another bus or train]," said S42 rider Sharon Valentine of St. George.

For Mamie Anguiano of Great Kills, the S54, which no longer would run on weekends, is "a way of life for me." A nondriver, she relies on the bus to get to Hylan Boulevard.

Otherwise, "It's a long, long walk," carrying groceries or running errands.

"I understand ridership is low, but [running buses] once an hour instead of twice an hour would be better than nothing."

The proposed cuts, which include the elimination of some local and express bus routes, as well as cuts to Access-a-Ride paratransit service and the elimination of student MetroCards, are part of an effort by the MTA to suture a $750 million budget gap.

The hearing venue, the College of Staten Island's Center for the Arts, was itself a source of frustration, with a long line of traffic waiting to enter the Willowbrook campus and nowhere to park near the auditorium. The MTA had to provide a shuttle to get bus riders from the city bus stop on Victory Boulevard to the concert hall in the center of the sprawling grounds.

"It's really not the appropriate place," said City Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn). "It shows how particularly vulnerable this community is to cuts."

The meeting coincided with Albany's legislative session, so the borough's state senators and Assembly members were unable to attend.

Speakers addressed the panel of MTA officials, which included New York City Transit President Tom Prendergast, Staten Island Railway Chief John Gaul, MTA Board Members Allen Cappelli, Jeff Kay and Mitchell Pally, Corporate and Community Affairs Director Chris Boylan and Richard DeVito, Transit's chief transportation officer and head of labor relations.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726, which represents the borough's bus operators, distributed 200,000 fliers to get riders to show up for last night's hearing. "There should have been 5,000 or 10,000 people, since 15,000 people are losing their buses," said their president, Angelo Tanzi. "There should have been riots out in the street," he said.

At the same time Manhattan is looking forward to three major new subway projects, "they are shutting down bus service on Staten Island for a lot of people who need it to go to school, to work and to church," said the union's Larry Hanley.

"It's important for the people who are affected to talk to the people who make the decisions about transit," Cappelli said.

During last year's service cut hearing, a vocal crowd of bus riders who work at Sea View Rehabilitation Center and Home spoke out against cuts to two bus lines that serve the center, without which they would have had to trek up Brielle Avenue on foot. One of the two lines was spared in the current round of cuts.

This time around, Cappelli said, the hardship that will ensue for riders who live on some of the Island's steepest hills came through loud and clear: Riders of the S42 and the S60 "left an impression," he said.

But while board members professed empathy, "In my heart, I believe they're going to cut anyway," Tanzi said. "In the end, Staten Island is going to lose some of the things we need."

Tanzi said he doesn't yet know how the cuts will affect his members, but he says he thinks the situation could still get worse.

"My understanding is this is just the beginning. If things don't change in the next six to eight months, this is going to be an ongoing thing until the economy improves."