Bake off: Locals rally, make pastries in opposition to B54 bus cuts

Bake off: Locals rally, make pastries in opposition to B54 bus cuts
Photo by Kevin Duggan

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority scheme to cut service to the B54 bus route drove dozens of residents and business owners to rally Thursday morning on Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill, where one straphanger said he was so upset — he made cookies!

“I’ve never been in a situation where someone takes away bus service from a thriving neighborhood. With that said, I made some cookies. Let the sweetness make up for the bitterness,” said Theo Peck, owner of Peck’s gourmet food market on Myrtle Avenue, who brought cookies featuring red and blue frosting, which read “Save the B54,” to the Aug. 8 demonstration.

Transit officials announced in July they would reduce the amount of buses running along the B54’s Myrtle Avenue route between Bushwick and Downtown Brooklyn this fall in response to low ridership numbers, forcing commuters to wait an additional one to three minutes during the morning peak, midday, and evening hours. The route will keep the same schedule as current during the evening peak times, according to documents released last month.

The MTA has pitched the service cuts as a modest inconvenience that will result in substantial savings and allow the agency to enhance service elsewhere, but the plan has drawn fierce opposition from community members, business owners, and local elected officials, who claim transit officials have underestimated the value of local transit to commuters.

“I think it’s outrageous and unacceptable,” said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D–Clinton Hill) at the protest organized by the local business booster the Myrtle Avenue Partnership at the corner of Washington Avenue. “Brooklyn is the greatest borough in the world and we need more transportation services, not less.”

Peck said he relies on the bus both personally and professionally, saying his wife, son, staff, and patrons all use the B54, and that his business will suffer as a result of the cuts.

“Basically my entire back-of-the-house staff takes the B54. Whether it’s from one place or another, the B54 gets them here, and it gets them here on time,” he said. “This is vital. This is how people earn a living.”

The demonstration was represented by small business owners, the elderly and disabled, workers and area residents, all of whom shared a reliance on the Myrtle Avenue bus route, and one local woman demanded the MTA find some other way to pinch pennies.

“We need this bus. We really need this bus to travel,” said Edna Grant. “You got people on wheelchairs and everything, they don’t need to cut it.”

But a spokeswoman for the agency said that transit honchos will push forward with the plan, claiming the cuts will streamline the route, ensuring buses remain on schedule, and increasing occupancy bus-by-bus by 22 percent.

“The B54 received minimal schedule changes of one to three minutes to align more closely with ridership and the actual travel time on the route, so buses run more on time – a priority we’ve heard from our ridership – and with fewer empty seats,” said Amanda Kwan, a spokeswoman for the MTA.

The Authority plans to take a deeper look at the entire Kings County bus network in the coming months, as part of a borough-wide effort to “modernize” bus routes, Kwan said.

Meanwhile, Kwan promised that city transit gurus will keep an eye on the B54 to ensure its service cuts render the promised results.

“We welcome customer feedback as we approach our planned redesign of the entire Brooklyn bus network in the coming months when we will re-examine the route network for the first time in decades,” she said.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kdugg[email protected]glocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Protest pastries: It wasn’t all anger and distress. Local coffee shop owner Theo Peck baked some themed cookies for the protest.
Photo by Kevin Duggan