Town Hall Meeting Confronts Transportation
Rockaway and other angry Queens residents confronted members of New York City’s transportation agencies at a Town Hall Meeting on March 5 held at York College. The meeting, which took place on the eve of the vote by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to raise subway and public bus fares to two dollars, was sponsored by the South East Queens Transportation Advisory Committee and co-sponsored by State Senator Malcolm Smith.
"What we want to focus on is service – service to the communities – especially in the Rockaways, where the A train runs out there and they had some problems with it recently, and the stations that are in bad shape," said Senator Smith. "Then there is the fact that there are very few buses, or there’s not as many buses as there should be, given that South East Queens has had an increase in population of almost 300,000 people. The number of buses that service the community now is based on 1980, 1990 statistics."
While many attendees asked questions about other parts of Queens, Sharon Hamlin was one of the few Rockaway residents at the meeting.
"We want to have added bus service in addition to the QM17," said Hamlin. "All the express buses leave out of Rockaway, and we only have two buses. The first comes at 6:38 and the next at 7:08 in the morning. The QM15 that runs the same route that we run, and serves Howard Beach and Lindenwood, has 15 buses in the morning and 14 buses at night. How can we get added service..
Councilman John Liu responded"We need to figure out how to get more buses to serve South East Queens," said Liu, the Chairman of the New York City Council Transportation Committee. "The new depot that’s being created will serve to increase the capacity and enable us to get more buses here. Ultimately it’s also having all of you continue to come out and elected officials working to make sure that the service is improved and expanded for all the folks in New York, especially beginning with the folks in South East Queens."
Lisa Williams had a complaint that many of those who ride the private buses in Queens could relate to. She told of waiting over an hour for Green Bus Q60 or having it pass her by, and then being told by Green Bus representatives on the phone that the buses are old and break down often.
"Right now the private lines are way over the repairs they are supposed to have, their fleet is the oldest fleet, and their ridership has gone up with the MetroCard," said Councilman Leroy Comrie. "We’ve been trying to put pressure on the mayor to get the MTA contracts resolved and the authorizing resolution resolved. We’ve also been trying to put pressure on the private bus lines to come to the table with their final offer so that they can be clear in their minds what they have to provide and what they want to provide. They’ve been a bit resistant, to say the least, about going under the MTA umbrella for a variety of reasons – that they would lose the ownership of the buses. There’s a big tug of war here, and the ridership suffers. Of interest to everyone in Queens is the availability of the federally mandated Access-A-Ride program. One complaint of the program is that a driver picking someone up only has to wait five minutes for a passenger, while the passenger waiting for a ride could wait up to 25 minutes or more.
"It’s clearly a system that needs to be fixed," said Liu, who pointed out people have lost their doctor appointments or jobs because the Assess-A-Ride system was not serving them correctly. "I’ve had, in my transportation committee, two hearings six months apart. I have pledged that we will continue to have public hearings on Assess-A-Ride every six months until the system is working for all the people who need and rely on it.
"I believe that there has been some marked improvement in Assess-A-Ride, but I think we have a long way to go," continued Liu. "I think we’re moving in the right direction, but we need to continue to keep the pressure on them. Assess-A-Ride is not something that’s a luxury. It’s not something that’s optional. It’s mandated by the federal government. We need to make sure that whoever is responsible – and currently the MTA and the New York City Transit Authority is responsible for running that system – that they do it the right way."