2015-06-03 / Editorials

Happy 10th, MTA Bus

BY LARRY PENNER

It was 10 years ago, in 2005, when the City of New York completed the purchase of seven remaining private bus operator franchises. This included Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses, Queens Surface and Triboro Coach Corporation providing service in Queens, along with Command Bus (Brooklyn), Liberty Lines Bronx Express and New York Bus Service (Bronx). The Metropolitan Transportation Authority created a new operating agency, MTA Bus, to continue service previously provided by the private bus operators. Subsequently they entered into 50-year lease agreements to utilize and operate all of their garages and buses. The deal was supposed to benefit riders and taxpayers.

Prior to 2005, the New York City Department of Transportation using a combination of city, state and federal funding provided both capital and operating assistance to all seven private bus operators. Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses, Queens Surface (formerly Steinway Bus Corporation and Queens Bus), Triboro Coach Corporation, Command Bus, Liberty Lines Bronx Express and New York Bus Service could not survive on farebox revenues alone. With insufficient income, they all counted on NYCDOT starting in the early 1980s to begin purchasing replacement buses, fareboxes, radios and other support equipment for their respective aging bus fleets. In many cases, bus operators had to operate and maintain buses well beyond the industry standard useful life of 12 years and or 500,000 miles. Too many buses in revenue service were between 12 and 24 years old with far more mileage. It took NYCDOT too many years to complete any bus procurements before operators received and could provide the riding public with new modern buses. Give MTA Bus credit for purchasing hundreds of new buses and investments to upgrade antiquated bus garages far more quickly than NYCDOT ever could.

The operational savings for taxpayers never appeared. Instead, the $100 million per year city subsidy formerly provided to the private bus operators have grown to $200 million for MTA Bus. The private bus company owners earn several million per year from MTA Bus for leasing their facilities. Potential operational savings by consolidation of duplicative routes between New York City Transit Bus and MTA Bus never took place. The same was true for reducing deadheading costs by reassigning bus routes between MTA Bus and NYCT Bus to closer garages for reduction of operating costs. Work rules and contracts between different labor unions representing employees at NYCT Bus and MTA Bus have prevented any changes to the status quo.

We have gone full circle from private to public operators over the past 58 years. Was it worth it for riders of Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses, Queens Surface, Triboro Coach Corporation, Command Bus, Liberty Lines Bronx Express and New York Bus Service? Ditto for taxpayers. Time will tell.

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