WOODLAWN — Bus riders who have been coping with the loss of weekend Bx34 service for the last two years got a reprieve recently with the start of a temporary van service connecting busy Katonah Avenue to the No. 4 Woodlawn train station.
The group rides program began operating last Saturday, and local officials and community groups hope it will see heavy use, and prove the importance of the Bx34 line. Ultimately, they hope to convince the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to restore full service along the bus route.
The new van service, operated by Bronx transit company Dorcal Inc., will run back and forth from Katonah Avenue on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The vans hold up to 14 passengers and will run riders $2 a pop.
The Bx34 bus route snakes down Katonah Avenue from East 242nd Street, shoots west along East 233rd Street, south on Bainbridge Avenue all the way down to Fordham Road, then back up again on Valentine Avenue. The route connects Woodlawn in the far north Bronx to important hubs like the No. 4 train station, Montefiore Medical Center and shopping on Fordham Road.
The 2010 service cuts stranded seniors and those who work on weekends, officials said. The walk from Katonah Avenue to the Woodlawn train station is over a mile away, and at least a 20-minute hike.
"It doesn't make any sense that there's no weekend service," said Woodlawn resident Jerome Campbell, 44. "Who wants to walk 15 or 20 minutes on their way to work, or on their way home from work?"
Bronx state Sen. Jeff Klein helped initiate the new program, working with local community groups and the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
“When the MTA cancelled this vital service to Woodlawn, I was just as outraged as my constituents," Klein said. “That’s why this pilot program is so important. First, it restores part of the service Woodlawn workers and seniors rely on. Second, by utilizing this service, it provides a way for us to prove to the MTA that a need restoring the Bx34 bus still exists."
Klein says his office intends to track ridership numbers for the van service and will send periodic updates to the MTA. The agency cut weekend service on the Bx34 line as a cost-saving measure back in 2010, after it deemed the route "low-performing."
According to MTA statistics, the bus line ranked 138th for weekday ridership in 2011, out of 177 local and 23 express buses.
"Overnight and weekend service on the Bx34 were discontinued due to relatively low ridership and funding constraints," MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in an e-mailed statement. "Some riders have shifted over to the Bx16."
"I can take the 16, but that never runs on time," lamented 72-year-old Woodlawn resident Timothy Cronin, who says he rides the Bx34 bus almost daily from his home near McLean Avenue to Bainbridge Avenue further south.
"I do most of my shopping down there. There's not a lot of shopping on McLean," Cronin said.
Cronin said he might take the shuttle vans, but thinks they're still no replacement for the Bx34 on weekends.
"There's no transfer, so if I take it to the train, I have to pay the fare twice," he said.