New Buses To Improve Private Line Service
By John Toscano
After months of complaints by Queens public officials about the Bloomberg Mayoral administration’s failure to take over private bus lines or improve service for 400,000 customers, the mayor responded last week with the announcement that 425 new buses for those lines have been purchased and are on their way here.
However, the takeover of private lines, which the MTA was supposed to have completed by this Saturday, has not been completed and was postponed once again until as late as next Apr. 30.
But following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement of the new bus purchases last week, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall expressed thanks and some optimism at seeing some movement at last. “I am delighted to know that these funds will be used to purchase much-needed new buses that will replace aging fleets that are prone to breakdowns and expensive repairs,” Marshall declared. “Although it is not clear yet when these buses will hit the streets, the wheels of progress are now turning and will provide long-awaited relief for hundreds of thousands of daily riders in Queens.
“A takeover timetable has been established and we can now move forward with the purchase of these buses as cold temperatures and the holiday season are upon us. I also want to thank Congress and the mayor for responding to the urgent needs of riders in Queens.”
The mayor’s long-awaited announcement came last Tuesday at City Hall with MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow at the mayor’s side. The mayor said $132 million in federal funding had been allocated for the purchase of approximately 300 new express and local buses to improve public transportation in the areas currently served by the city’s franchised bus companies.
This purchase, said Bloomberg, was in addition to the acquisition of 125 new buses by the MTA last week.
“This is great news for New Yorkers,” said the mayor. “The combination of the buses ordered last week by the MTA and the availability of these additional funds is a significant milestone in the transition of service to the MTA Bus Company.
“In the last week, we have established specific deadlines for the transfer of each bus company and obtained the funding for the purchase of new buses for one-third of the fleet.”
The mayor explained that, in addition to the $132 million in new resources, $242 million remains available in a reserve established by the MTA board for further bus improvements. Use of these funds, as well as the federal monies, he said, is dependent upon approval by the MTA Capital Program Review Board.
The board, of which Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) is a member, has already allocated $80 million to upgrade bus service, the mayor added.
The mayor’s latest request for an extension of time for the MTA to take over the seven private lines was made last Tuesday to the City Council Transportation Committee, chaired by Councilmember John Liu (D–Flushing).
Liu has been sharply critical of the prolonged—and unsuccessful—negotiations for the takeover, as well as the administration’s and MTA’s refusal to inform Liu and the council about why the negotiations were getting nowhere.
Liu said at the time, “Bus service has deteriorated substantially as a direct result of (1) the failure of the MTA and the administration to meet their own self-imposed deadlines and (2) the inexplicable refusal, for the past three years, by the administration to release funds specifically earmarked for the purchase of new buses.”
The refusal to buy new buses “resulted in a bus fleet that’s a fraction of the size it used to be—resulting in much longer waiting time in the bus schedule,” Liu complained.
“The delays and missed deadlines have raised the ire and frustration of the bus riders and decimated morale among bus employees,” Liu added.
Liu then announced that his committee had extended the time the private lines would continue operating independently from December 4 to four separate dates, depending on the particular line: January 15, 2005, February 26, March 26 and April 30.
The lines involved are Jamaica Buses, Command Buses, Triboro Coach Corporation, Green Bus lines, Queens Surface Corporation, Liberty Lines Express and New York Bus Service.
The first four listed—Triboro, Jamaica, Command and Green Bus lines—have banded together as the Transit Alliance for purposes of negotiating the terms of the MTA takeover. A spokesman for the Alliance, Jamie van Bramer, said recently that the key issues involved in the proposed takeover are pensions for employees of the Transit Workers Union (TWU), which represents the bus company employees, dealing with the non-union employees, such as office workers and intangibles, which van Bramer identified as “costs that must be paid when the city puts a franchisee out of business, which the transfer of ownership of the lines to the MTA will do.”
Besides these issues and considerations, the administration and the MTA had to work out the terms for the future operation of the lines. Among these are whether the city should continue to pay operating subsidies as was the case with the private operators.
There were always many unanswered questions about the proposed takeover, but recently, as headlines blared about billion-dollar budget shortages by the MTA and expected fare increases, new suspicions were aroused.
In addition to the Transportation Committee’s interest in the takeover, the council Civil Service and Labor Committee, headed by Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr (D–Ozone Park), held hearings on the labor issues involved in the acquisition.
At a recent hearing of Addabbo’s committee, he stated, “I am concerned about the many critical issues regarding the workers’ future, the MTA’s poor fiscal situation and the capability of providing quality service to Queens’ bus riding residents.”
At the Civil Service committee hearing, TWU President Roger Toussaint stated: “We have bus drivers who have provided service for decades facing uncertainty because of the takeover. The MTA should guarantee the continuation of existing bus routes, especially in Queens where subways are limited. We can’t keep limping along like this.”
Councilmember Helen Sears (D–Jackson Heights) also complained: “The MTA continues to show a disregard for the citizens of this city who live in boroughs other than Manhattan. This has become tiring and I hope they are ready to complete their act and resolve the outstanding issues delaying the takeover.”