‘Not fare!’ say kids, seniors, merchants of plan to cut M8


By Jefferson Siegel

The river-to-river Eighth St. cross-town bus has been targeted in a scenario of sweeping transit service cuts and fare hikes.

At a public meeting last Thursday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials outlined a sweeping package of cutbacks that includes permanently axing the route.

“This proposal is a recommendation that the M.T.A. achieve savings through the elimination of the M8 bus route,” authority spokesperson Aaron Donovan said. If there was a glimmer of hope, Donovan said that all cuts are in the proposal stage. However, if the route is eliminated at a Dec. 17 vote, as appears likely, “it would be a permanent action,” Donovan added.

News of the proposal came as a surprise to many of the M8’s regular riders. Just after 3 p.m. last Friday, students poured out of the Village Community School at W. 10th and Greenwich Sts. The young scholars and their guardians lined up to board an eastbound bus that quickly became standing room only.

“It would have a serious negative impact on our daily routine,” said Eric Hopper, who lives in Union Square and was picking up his son from kindergarten. Riding the bus on a daily basis, the pair have come to know some of the bus drivers. Hopper said their only alternative would be taking the 14th St. cross-town bus to Abingdon Square and then walking several blocks, “walking slowly with his short legs,” Hopper noted.

“It’s awful,” said Asher Dwoskin, 6, who commutes to V.C.S. from Kips Bay in the East 30s. “We would have to take the M21 to Pier 40 and then walk [six blocks],” he explained, adding, “Or we’re going to have to take a taxi, and that’s going to waste our snack money.”

East Village resident Deb Chisolm works near Greenwich St. and walks when possible but, without the bus, “I would have to walk up to 14th St. to the L train. It would add to my travel time, and it wouldn’t work so well in the cold weather.”

Community leaders and elected officials were quick to condemn the proposal. Community Board 2 passed an emergency resolution on Thursday, urging the M.T.A. to reconsider.

“We demand input into this decision before it is finalized,” said C.B. 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman. “The M8 is the Village’s lifeline for businesses and residents alike — especially those of us who are physically challenged, including seniors and families with young kids.”

Dirk McCall, executive director of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, slammed the M.T.A.’s plan.

“Discontinuation of the Eighth St. cross-town bus would have a negative impact on local businesses,” McCall said. “Many seniors and people with disabilities utilize this line to access the shops on Eighth St., putting money back into our local economy. Elimination of this service would reduce the number of shoppers and further hurt businesses already pinched by this economic downturn.”

Village businesses, both east and west, also expressed concern and dismay.

Robert Mooney, manager of the Wings Theater Co. on Christopher St., has been riding the line for 10 years. He said his troupe had distributed thousands of free tickets to seniors who ride the M8 to the theater’s front door.

“The seniors can’t walk far,” Mooney said. “They come from Chelsea and the Hudson Guild Senior Center. It will impact the theater in terms of the service we provide to the community. It would be a shame to lose the bus,” he said as the M8 approached Greenwich Ave. and he rang the bell to get off.

From Greenwich Ave., the bus turns toward Sixth Ave. and it passes in front of The NY Fire Store, which sells an assortment of fire- and police-themed accessories. The store’s owner, Noam Freedman, believes losing the M8 would make an already bad business climate worse.

“Eighth St., which was once a densely populated shopping area, has a dramatically lower number of visitors,” Freedman said, having recently counted 13 vacant stores on the block of Eighth St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves.

“Stopping the bus service will likely contribute to an additional drop in the number of people coming to Eighth St.,” he added.

On Ninth St. near Second Ave., the westbound M8 passes Dinosaur Hill, which has sold imaginative children’s toys to the community for 25 years. Owner Pam Pier is a frequent rider.

“For over 100 years, these have been back-and-forth streets,” she said of the cross-town route, “so obviously it’s an important traffic way.

“People always tell me they see the store [while riding past] and say they decided to come in,” she added. Pier worries that losing the M8 would leave the Village with no cross-town service between Houston and 14th Sts.

Once the news broke, elected officials gathered to denounce the cuts. Thursday night at Astor Place, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, State Senator-elect Dan Squadron and State Senator Tom Duane stood near the M8 bus stop to speak against the cutbacks.

Admitting the M.T.A. had “tough choices” to make, Squadron urged the authority “to work with the community, with local elected officials, with community boards and community leaders to make sure that any cutbacks that we have are done in a comprehensive way.”

Duane was perturbed to learn of the cutbacks in news reports, rather than from the M.T.A. directly.

“This may not be the most prudent idea to eliminate the M8 bus,” the state senator said. “We have to balance the fiscal needs with the needs of the riders.” Duane noted regular riders included seniors, the disabled and mothers with children who depend on a local bus route.

“This is an economy that’s not going to recover if we cut critical services,” said Kavanagh. “This is, for many people, the only viable way to get across town.”

Duane suggested the bus line could run at peak hours or use smaller vehicles.

“It’s an economic engine for this part of the city,” he pointed out. “Why would we negatively impact that, because that brings revenue to our city and our state?”

The cross-town bus runs eastbound on W. 10th and Eighth Sts. to Avenue D. Westbound it travels along Ninth and Christopher Sts. to West St.

The route dates back to a horsedrawn trolley line started in 1873. According to the Village Crosstown Trolley Coalition, during the 19th century, up to 46 streetcars an hour traversed the route, a far cry from today’s three to six buses per hour.

Eighth St.’s streetcars were discontinued in 1936.

Several other bus lines have been targeted for decreased service or outright elimination, while some subway lines will see fewer trips. In addition, the M.T.A. reportedly plans to raise fares from the current $2 to at least $2.50 as early as next June.