By Lindsay A. Lazarski
Every Sunday morning for more than 10 years Zena Charin has taken the Bx 4 along Westchester Avenue to attend religious services at the Vishnu Mandir Temple; one of only four Hindu temples in the Bronx.
But she may not have that option any more – the Bx 4 is on the chopping block in the latest round of MTA budget cuts.
Charin, 68, is one of thousands of Bx 4 passengers who would have to climb about 40 steps to the elevated subway platform or find an alternative route if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority follows through with its doomsday plan of service cuts and fare increases to close a $1.2 billion deficit.
With access to only three elevators along the bus and subway routes Charin travels, she worries how she will get to her place of worship, fill her prescriptions at the drug store, and shop at Westchester Square.
“My knees are bothering me and I don’t like to climb up the steps,” said Charin.
The Bx 4 bus is just one of 14 bus lines in the Bronx that will either be completely eliminated or face severe service reductions to help fill the deficit accumulated by the MTA.
The MTA warns that riders will pay more for worse service. Fares will raise an average of 23 percent.
A single ride on the subway or bus would cost $2.50 rather than the current price of $2. A passenger who buys a 30-Day Unlimited Metro Card would pay $103 per month instead of $81.
Melrose resident Aida Mendes, 39, said she already has trouble paying for her reduced-rate Metro Card and her son’s weekly unlimited card.
“I live on a fixed income and have a disability,” she said at a recent community meeting on the fare hikes. “No, this is too much.”
Bx 4 bus driver Eduardo Roman worries about what alternative options his passengers will have if service cuts go into effect.
“The seniors are the ones who will really get hit. They all depend on this bus,” said Roman, who sees a lot of passengers in wheel chairs. “They struggle to get up the two steps on the bus. Imagine them climbing up the stairs for the train,” he said.
“If they are thinking of eliminating a line, the MTA is not going to spend money on elevators.”
To avoid large fare increases and cuts to services, the Commission on Metropolitan Transportation Authority Financing, headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch devised an alternative plan that would ease the pockets of straphangers.
Instead of a 23 percent fare hike, riders would pay an 8 percent increase. Regional employers would face a new payroll tax. And the MTA would collect tolls on East River and Harlem River bridges. The Ravitch plan must be approved in Albany.
According to the Tri State Transportation Campaign, a coalition of advocates backing the Ravitch plan, only 5.7 percent of Bronx workers would be affected by the new tolls on bridges.
The service cuts are scheduled to take affect next month, and the fare hikes to take hold in June, according the MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan.
“The ball is now in Albany’s court,” Donovan said. “We are strongly lobbying for Albany to act,” he said.
As for the Bx 4 riders, Donovan said the bus route was being eliminated because ridership is low. He said commutes may be longer and riders may have to transfer more frequently but other routes are available.