Downtowners feel a Connection, but B.P.C. board debates bus service

Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer The Battery Park City Authority board is looking into cutting off financial support for the free Downtown Connection bus service.
Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
The Battery Park City Authority board is looking into cutting off financial support for the free Downtown Connection bus service.

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | “Whatever happened with the bus service that was costing us a fortune?” asked Fernando Mateo, a member of the Battery Park City Authority board of directors at the board’s April meeting.

“I didn’t know that was an issue,” replied Dennis Mehiel, the board’s chairperson.

“The issue was that we are providing free transportation to all these corporate employees that work here and I felt that we should call the corporate accounts and ask them to contribute so that it’s not all coming out of the Authority’s pocket,” Mateo said.

Mateo and Mehiel were talking about the Downtown Connection bus service, which is free and is run by the Downtown Alliance, a business improvement district that takes in much of Lower Manhattan south of Chambers St. It does not include Battery Park City, however, although the bus route goes through Battery Park City on its way between Water St. in the South St. Seaport and Broadway near City Hall.

The B.P.C.A. has a contract with the Alliance that expires in August for the shuttle and other services at a cost of $632,000 a year.

“The corporate entities that are here take the position that they are not part of the BID, therefore they are not in a position to be tolled for that service,” said B.P.C.A. president Demetri Boutris.

The Connection bus service runs daily between 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Because of its starting time, not many people would be able to take it to work in the morning, though it is used when it’s time to go home — but not usually by people employed by corporations with offices in Battery Park City.

One recent afternoon, for instance, Mike Morrissey checked the Downtown Connection bus app on his iPhone and saw that the next bus would be on his corner at Greenwich and Murray Sts. in four minutes. Closing the computer in his office, he hurried downstairs to catch the bus to his home at the southern end of Battery Park City.

“It’s a great service!” he said. “My wife and I use it almost every day — half the time for business and half the time for social reasons like shopping or going out to dinner.”

Sitting across from him, Eunice Becker was also taking the bus to go from her office on Broadway to her home in Battery Park City. She said that her son, who is in college now, used to use the bus all the time to come home from athletic practice, especially in winter when it was cold.

As Morrissey got off, Sharon Steinbach got on. She takes the Connection bus frequently, she said, to go from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City where she works, to Wall and Water Sts., where she catches a van to take her to the Upper East Side, where she lives.

The Connection service debuted in 2003. Ever since then, ridership has steadily increased said Dwayne Jacobs, director of transportation services for the Alliance. Weekdays, the Alliance runs seven buses on the route. On weekends, there are five buses. The round trip from the South Street Seaport and back again takes around 55 minutes, depending on traffic.

Starting around 2:30 in the afternoon, the bus is full of school kids and their caretakers, Jacobs said. Around 3:30 p.m., people begin to leave their offices along Water Street and at the other end of the route, on Broadway, heading for trains, buses and ferries that will take them home.

Steve Bezares, a dog walker in Battery Park City, said that he takes the Connection bus around three times a week to go from one end of Battery Park City to the other. “I see lots of children on the bus,” he said, “and lots of seniors.”

Miles Greenblatt, 13, said he uses the bus every Monday to go from Battery Park City, where he lives, to Hebrew school in Tribeca.

Several people who live in Battery Park City said that they use the bus to shop at Whole Foods or to take their children to after-school activities in Tribeca.

In addition, there are the tourists. “A great number of them use the bus,” said Jacobs. “You can’t imagine how word of mouth travels.”

At the Battery Park City Authority board of directors meeting where the issue of whether the authority should support the shuttle was being discussed, Martha Gallo, who heads the B.P.C.A.’s Audit Committee, said, “I think we’ll need a full review of this question.”

Mehiel asked the staff to put together the history of the B.P.C.A.’s contribution to the Connection bus, the current situation, the actual costs, the total cost and what portion is being borne by the authority.

He said he wanted to “get down to the micro details and see if the policy is one we want to support or one we want to change.”

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