Two months after Ikea opened in Red Hook, representatives of the home furnishings giant met with a group of city agencies to assess the impact of the store’s free shuttles on the surrounding community.
The meeting, which was held at Community Board 6’s 250 Baltic Street office, was part of an ongoing effort, “To take a good plan and make it even better,” said Craig Hammerman, the board’s district manager.
To that end, he said, the meeting had been attended by representatives of the 76th Precinct, New York City Transit, the city’s Department of Transportation, and CB 2, as well as by representatives of IKEA.
The meeting was not intended as a response to specific issues, but had been scheduled several months back, during planning for the store’s opening, “to assess how thing were going,” said Joseph Roth, director of public affairs for Ikea.
Ikea provides two different shuttle buses – an express between Borough Hall and the Beard Street emporium, and a shuttle between Park Slope and the store, which makes stops at the subway stations at Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street, and Seventh Avenue and Ninth Street.. Ikea also provides a water shuttle between Red Hook and Manhattan.
While he declined to provide specific ridership numbers for the shuttle services, Roth said that they have been, “Working as planned. On any day, you can go to the store, look at the parking lot and say, it’s not very busy. Then, you go in and say, this is a busy store. It’s because so many folks are taking the shuttles and public transportation.”
Customer volume at the store, Roth added, “is entirely consistent with what we expected. We definitely expected the store to be very busy and successful, and it is. Things are going very smoothly on our end, and we continue to be thrilled.”
Overall, Hammerman said, the board is supportive of store-provided transportation. “It’s something we would like to see implemented on a broad scale,” he remarked.
Regarding Ikea’s shuttles specifically, Hammerman said there had been a couple of issues that had arisen since the store opened.
For one thing, he noted, while the Ikea shuttles generally utilize city bus routes, “Where people expect to see buses, and where it make sense,…there are some areas where it may not make sense” for the shuttles to stick to established bus routes. In particular, Hammerman cited a stretch of Columbia Street, between DeGraw Street and Hamilton Avenue, that, he pointed out, “is a bus route but which has very narrow driving lanes.”
During the recent meeting, he said, there had been discussion about moving the shuttle route over to Van Brunt Street, a truck route that runs parallel to Columbia Street, for that stretch.
“We are looking at that,” confirmed Roth, adding, “It seems like it’s probably doable.”
In addition, Hammerman said, since Ikea’s opening, both CB 6 and CB 2 had received calls from residents who raised concerns about the shuttle buses.
Specifically, he told this paper, with respect to the Borough Hall shuttle, “At points along the route, there were some initial complaints about how the buses were laying over.” But, he went on, that issue had rapidly been addressed by the store.
“As soon as the issue was raised,” Roth recalled, “we acted quickly to add dispatchers” to the Borough Hall end of the route. In addition, Roth said, the company had increased its oversight of shuttle operations.
Hammerman also said there had been calls about shuttle buses running along Union Street and Fifth Avenue, a state of affairs, he noted, that turned out to have been short-lived.
“Ikea brings in a lot of employees for store openings,” Hammerman explained, “so they had a temporary situation where they had to shuttle them back and forth to a hotel on Union Street. That ended July 30th, and they have no expectation of having to do that again.”
One issue that remains unresolved is the future of the Ikea water taxi. It had originally been intended to run on weekends only, but was expanded to a seven-day-a-week service by the store, which constantly reevaluates such amenities.
The “potential” exists to scale it back, said Roth. As colder weather sets in, he said, “If it (usage) drops off significantly, does it mean we cut it out entirely, limit the hours or use smaller boats? Who knows? If no one’s riding them, we won’t have water taxis going back and forth.”
Looking ahead, Hammerman urged area residents “to continue to provide us with invaluable feedback” and said that CB6 is planning a public meeting, “probably in September,” on the subject of Ikea. “People should check the website calendar where we have meetings posted,” he advised. “It should be there by the end of the month.”
CB 6’s website is www. brooklyncb6.org.