Residents of Red Hook, Brooklyn, have long complained that their community is underserved by the New York City transit system. They say things got a lot worse in 2010, when the MTA cut the B77 bus line, which ran from Red Hook to Park Slope, where the people of this changing post-industrial community could transfer to the subway.
Residents, the Red Hook West and East Tenants Associations, Red Hook Civic Associations and drivers from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 have teamed up to form the campaign, “Bring Back Our Bus,” with help from City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Sarah M. Gonzales.
Click to enlarge images and read riders and residents’ thoughts on the B77 and B61:
All images courtesy of Samantha Grace Lewis
When IKEA came to Red Hook in 2008, it signaled that the neighborhood, once a hub for Brooklyn shipyard workers, had come a long way since 1990, when LIFE called the area “the worst neighborhood in New York City.” Although IKEA added a shuttle and water taxi to reduce traffic into and out of the area, residents said they still saw an influx in transit riders.
In 2010 the B77 was cut along with three other bus lines in southern Brooklyn. The MTA rerouted the B61 bus to circle the neighborhood as well as areas served by those three other buses. Then, in June, 2011, the closest subway station at Smith Street and 9th Street was closed for renovations, forcing even more people onto the B61.
Red Hook straphangers say the rerouted bus is constantly overcrowded and wait times are frequently very long.
“The neighborhood is underserved and we’ve been looking at transportation as a civil right and as an essential service that most working poor and working class people need,” said JP Patafio, an organizer with the TWU. “On the union side, we’ve been getting a lot of assaults on operators, who are stressed out because the buses are overcrowded and people get on the buses all pissed off and angry.”
In 2011, the New York Daily News reported that assaults on bus drivers had risen 16 percent from the year before.
Residents of Red Hook Houses, the largest public housing project in Brooklyn with 5,000 residents, now have to walk much further to get to the bus. Bus drivers say that the increase in wait times and longer commutes have caused frustration among riders, and resulted in a number of violent assaults.
In November 2011, Lander released a study, “Next Bus Please,” which found that 81 percent of B61 passengers surveyed at the Fourth Ave.-9th Street F and G train stop — the closest stop to Red Hook, which is about a 15-minute walk from the New York City Housing Authority’s Red Hook Houses — used the bus to commute to and from Red Hook.
The study also found that the bus arrived on schedule 43 percent of the time, but before the cuts took place at the end of 2010, the MTA said the B61 arrived on schedule 64 percent of the time.
Deirdre Parker, a spokesperson for the MTA, said that the MTA will soon add the BusTime GPS tracking system — allowing mobile device users to see where the next bus is — to the B61.
“We realize that the B61 has had some reliability issues and that the rehabilitation of the Smith-9th Streets subway station has had an adverse impact on the route as well. Still, we believe that by eliminating the B77 and extending the B61, we are giving customers better options by offering a single route from Downtown Brooklyn to Windsor Terrace via Red Hook,” said Parker in a written message to MetroFocus. She added, “We will continue to monitor and evaluate the service but there are currently no plans to restore the B77.”
Still, it doesn’t seem too likely that BusTime will appease bus riders who lack mobile devices.
“It used to take me 45 minutes to get to work, but now it takes an hour and a half!” said one B61 passenger who was traveling from his job in Manhattan to Red Hook.