The business owners expressed concern over the L train service cutbacks, and chided the MTA for being indifferent to their woes. Many say the weekend service cutbacks hinder their profits, and the forum aimed to seek out suggestions and, hopefully, a solution on how the MTA can improve their scheduled maintenance so that business owners in the area aren’t left stranded.
“I’ve lost profits the weekend of Small Business Saturday in November,” said Lexi Olevri, owner of Antoinette boutique on Grand Street. “My business depends on 50 percent locals and 50 percent tourists, with the L train down and my prospective buyers having to take the J or another mode, it’s a deterrent.”
Last year, the L train was out of service on key weekends for Williamsburg businesses, such as the "Taste of Williamsburg and Greenpoint" in September, and Small Business Saturday in November.
During a recent weekend shutdown, one restaurant owner said his business took an 80 percent hit.
The MTA had plans to suspend service for track work the weekend of March 9-11, coinciding with the Armory Arts Week, a citywide celebration of local art communities. But the agency moved the planned service suspension to the weekend of March 3-5 after local leaders and business owners complained.
“It would have been another special event in North Brooklyn in which the artery to and from the North Brooklyn was closed,” said Squadron.
The L train will also not run between Broadway Junction and Manhattan on February 25–26. The MTA says the shut down is needed so that transit workers can replace aging signals.
“Typically, the work is done on weekends in order to minimize the number of customers that are impacted,” Kevin Ortiz, an MTA representative, said. “We work hard to take community needs into consideration and recently announced a new program that is designed to limit impact by concentrating some construction in overnight periods during the week.”
But local leaders and businesses who gathered at Cubana Social on Thursday want the track work to occur only during the week overnight, not straddled between the weekend and weekdays.
“The idea of night work might make more sense because of the L-train ridership numbers on the weekend,” said Squadron, echoing many business owners.
Since ridership on the L line has increased by 141 percent in recent years, Squadron managed to get the agency to increase L train service this year. The MTA will add 18 additional trains on weekends by mid-2012. The improvements will seek to quell the bustling weekend congestion on a line where 90 percent of its weekday traffic also uses the train on the weekends.
But the agency also announced six new service disruptions in the coming year.
The MTA will split service at Broadway Junction in late April and close the line three more times between Lorimer Street and Broadway Junction in late September and early October, bringing back the shuttle bus to help riders get to their destination.
According to an MTA study, last year, an average of 22,912 riders passed through the Bedford Avenue station alone during the morning commute, when the L train runs at its 17-train-per-hour capacity.
And last year, an average of 95,280 riders took the L train on Saturdays and 74,972 riders used the line on Sundays, which is more than double the number of riders in 1998.
Many merchants suggested increasing the ferry service, putting a shuttle bus on Bedford Avenue, and not shutting down the L train the same days that the 7 or the G is shut down.
Tim Hudock, owner of Radegast Hall and Beirgarten, said he lost out on 50 percent of his weekly business on the Saturdays when the L train shut down service. He suggested that the MTA also do work on the holidays.
Squadron hopes that the forum can make a difference, but noted that the suggestions are just that and that business owners should not walk out of the meeting with expectations that are unattainable.
“I know how you depend on this line always working to survive,” Squadron told attendees.
District Leader Lincoln Restler hopes the MTA can make some changes.
“We are facing a real crisis in capacity of our mass transit,” he said. “Meetings such as this will go a long way in holding the MTA accountable and seeing the changes that could be made.”