The Future of the Green Bus? Nobody is Sure.
The Future of the Green Bus? Nobody is Sure.
By Elizabeth Roth
For residents of Rockaway, the Green Buses have been both a lifeline and an annoyance for a very long time.
Private bus lines such as the Green and the Jamaica Bus lines are the buses to take local residents to Brooklyn to Manhattan, to far-flung parts of Queens and to local destinations throughout the peninsula.
Most of the Green Line buses are old, with erratic and often puzzling schedules, decaying shocks and fares that change depending on the time of the day. The bus line has been the target of many complaints in the past as well as a number of editorials and stories in The Wave.
Therefore, the news that the company, (along with Triboro Coach, Jamaica Bus and Command Bus, a group that refers to themselves as the Transit Alliance,) would be taken over by the MTA was met by a mixture of hope and worry by most residents.
While many locals have expressed the fact that new management may end the problems they have experienced with the line, others see problems in the future with the city takeover of the lines.
The first problem in any takeover is the mechanics of the transition to public from private sector control, and what that switch will mean to both bus riders and those who work for the companies.
There are many problems to iron out before any change of management can be implemented. The issue of their pensions is the one that worries most of the employees most.
The private companies have a different, more generous plan than the city does and no one knows if it will be converted, or what will happen to money already put in to the existing plan, or how the city will pay for maintaining the existing plan (if that is what negotiations bring).
Another issue is storage. The land now utilized for the bus depots is private property that would not necessarily be included in the transfer of power. So, where would the buses be stored? Would the city have to purchase the land from the private companies, would bus depots now be far from the service areas of the buses they house?
The future of any express bus service, which is used by many Rockaway riders who commute to Manhattan, at all is also up in the air as well.
Most importantly, however, the companies question why the Mayor’s Office and the MTA talking are not talking to the Transit Alliance, which they will theoretically be running in less than a month. "None of us know anything. I have no idea what any of the proposals are and my opinion doesn’t much matter." Says Green Bus VP Doris Drantch. "They are talking about a June 30th takeover date, which they have not told us. We read it in the paper." Jamie Van Brenner of their press office flatly explained.
The Department of Transportation spokesperson, Tom Kocola, responds "I think that we respect and thank them (the transit alliance) for their professionalism. " He seemed to regard the communications problem as an annoying but necessary fact of life, claiming that the principals understand the needs of the alliance; but that sensitive negotiations are taking place that few people have a need to know about. He also confirmed that the Alliance employees have no say at all in their fate.
The Transit Union disputes this. In fact they have filed for arbitration with the state. They are planning to take the matter to court if the MTA does not start talking to the private bus lines. "The MTA has to be more accountable for their actions. They are not holding public hearings, they are not talking to the current owners of the lines, and they are not talking to the unions, and the public is going to suffer for it," said John Longo, president of the ATU 1179."All we they had to do was talk to the private owners, and try to work out a transition agreement everyone can live with."
Longo, a longtime veteran of the transit unions, is more worried about cuts in service than anything else. Eighty percent of express service across the city is going to end, along with any regular routes deemed as unprofitable, and how the MTA is going to pay for what they are going to keep is a puzzle to everyone involved. "It will take a billion or more dollars to take this service over, and we have no idea where they are going to get it," he says.
The MTA refused to comment for this story, on the grounds that there is no point in talking about a deal that is still being worked out, as did City Hall. What the results of all this will be remains a mystery. But the people who ride and the people who run the Green Bus Line are equally in the dark about the current status, and that does not bode well for the future of either.