Suit Claims City, DOT ‘Strangling’ Private Bus Lines
Two City Councilmembers agree with private bus company owners who have charged in a suit filed last week that the Bloomberg mayoral administration and the city Department of Transportation are engaged in a deliberate pattern designed to financially strangle the companies and drive them out of business.
The bus companies’ lawyer, Jerry Cooper, alleges the city, which wants the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to take over their businesses, is not negotiating in good faith and wants to drive the companies out of business to avoid expensive condemnation proceedings and other costs that would be incurred if the city simply terminated its relationship with the companies.
"To put it simply," Cooper said, "the city has purposefully undertaken a strategy to destroy our companies."
Cooper is chairman of the Transit Alliance, comprised of Green Bus, Triboro Coach and Jamaica Buses, which operate in Queens, and Command Bus from Brooklyn.
The companies are seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief in the federal court suit, as well as unspecified monetary damages from the city.
Because of what they call the city’s "chokehold" over their operations, the companies say they will be forced to begin service cuts in coming weeks.
Councilmember John Liu (D–Flushing) commented that he has serious concerns about possible reductions in service for riders who rely on private bus companies for their transportation needs.
Liu, who chairs the council Transportation Committee, said little information has been available about MTA negotiations to take over the private bus lines and announced his committee will hold hearings on the matter on Friday, October 10.
Another lawmaker, Councilmember Tony Avella (D–Bayside), agreed with the bus companies that the MTA and Department of Transportation have not been dealing fairly with them.
"Unfortunately, the city and DOT have not been negotiating fairly with these companies. If the city doesn’t want them to continue operating, then [it should] deal properly and fairly with them if it wants to acquire them," Avella said.
Avella, who has had dealings with the private bus companies as chairman of the Franchise Committee, also criticized the DOT for not giving them the resources to operate properly.
The city pays the private bus companies $100 million a year in subsidies. They, in turn, operate 725 buses to serve approximately 69 million riders in Queens and Brooklyn. They employ 1,700 workers.
After filing the suit, Jerry Cooper noted the companies have been operating in the city for 70 years, but the city has engaged in a wide range of corrosive financial actions against them.
He stated, "The city’s actions are coordinated, deliberate, and destructive. The city is making arbitrary funding decisions and refusing to reimburse us for costly repairs made on the ever-aging, city-owned bus fleet. The DOT is systematically putting up as many roadblocks as possible, making it impossible for us to operate.
"The principal victims are our employees and the bus riders of Queens and Brooklyn. And we want our riders to know that these service cuts are absolutely avoidable."
Responding for the Bloomberg administration, mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz stated, "The allegations in their lawsuit are scurrilous and without merit."
He said an MTA takeover would result in better service and greater value for New York taxpayers.
Cooper said as a result of the damaging actions taken by the city, the following service cuts would be taken:
Green Bus—reductions in its peak fleet for Fall 2003 to 184 buses, compared to 199 buses last year.
Triboro Coach—a proposed peak-hour bus fleet of 174 buses this fall, a reduction of 43 buses from last year. On some lines, such as the Q 12 and Q 24, this will mean peak-hour service reductions of about 30 percent.