Bus Controversy Leads To Adult Anger, Student Danger
The controversy over who will run the heavily-subsidized private bus services that run on Rockaway streets is a distraction and an anger-producing situation for many adults and older teens who go to school off the peninsula.
Late buses, crowded buses, buses that do not stop at bus stops all impact those Rockaway commuters who have to go off the peninsula each day.
For many school children, however, the controversy can cause injury and perhaps even death.
Last year, school ended each day at MS 180 at 2:40 p.m. The Green Buses would line up at the school to take the students home, bypassing the streets nearby the city housing projects, streets that can be dangerous to students who live in other venues.
This year, however, on Tuesdays, students remain in school until 3:30. The buses, however, continue to come at 2:40. They stand idle until 2:50 and then leave empty, never to return that day.
Both school officials and Green Bus officials say that the schedule cannot be changed until there is a new contract and there cannot be a new contract until the governance problem is settled.
Only two weeks ago Tuesday, a young girl, forced to walk home because there were no buses, was drawn into a fight on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 102 Street by a girl from another housing project.
The fight was broken up and both girls began separately walking east on Rockaway Beach Boulevard. The fight resumed at Beach 96 Street.
"The girl who was ultimately cut was getting the better of her rival," says 100 Precinct Police Sergeant Michael O’Sullivan. "Somebody passed the other girl a sharp instrument, and the victim got cut four times in the face."
O’Sullivan says that there will be problems as long as large groups of students from different housing projects are forced to walk home.
Last Tuesday, George Giberti, the principal of MS 180 was seen with a large group of students at a bus stop at Rockaway Beach Boulevard and 103 Street.
Giberti must now walk his students to a bus stop and remain with them until a regular Green Bus arrives in order to insure their safety.
Who is to blame for the lack of school-related buses, for the lack of buses on many runs, for crowded and dirty buses, for buses in disrepair, for buses that pass riders by?
The union that represents the bus drivers, the TWU, Local 100, recently put out a flyer for all its riders that says, "Don’t Blame Us."
"We are trying to do the best that we can with what we have," the flyer says. "There are not enough buses. There are not enough spare parts to fix the buses. The result is that you have to wait, or stand, or both."
The three private bus companies that most impact on Rockaway are the Green Bus Lines, the Jamaica Bus and the Triboro Coach Company.
Those lines and several others are subsidized to the tune of $100 million a year by the city.
Two years ago, the city floated a proposal for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), a state agency that runs most of the buses in New York City, to take over the franchises.
After talks that omitted the bus companies themselves, the city recently announced that the money necessary for the takeover was not available, and that something else would have to be worked out.
Meanwhile, the private companies, believing that they were in limbo and in danger of being dissolved, did little to keep their service of high quality.
In fact, the reduced summer service that traditionally picks up in the fall, was not increased this year although ridership and demand increased greatly.
That led to the problem detailed by the union.
When asked about more buses on the commuter line it runs each day from Rockaway and Broad Channel, Thomas Eagar, the general manager of the Triboro Coach Corporation said, "Please be assured that we are aware that additional service on the Q53 bus route would be appropriate at certain times of the day. Unfortunately, we are faced with a shortage of buses and therefore are unable to add additional buses at this time. New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) supplies the buses and approves our schedule."
Robert Grotell, a deputy commissioner with the DOT responded by saying, "Given the current budget situation, it will be difficult to justify the need for additional service. Another complicating factor of the pending transfer of this bus program to MTA/New York City Transit."
Four of the companies, including the three that address Rockaway riders, recently sued the city and are preparing to cut service even further if the city does not increase their subsidy, something that Mayor Mike Bloomberg says that he is reluctant to do.
A maintenance supervisor for one of the lines, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, told The Wave, "My company is no longer buying spare parts. If a bus breaks down, that route has no bus unless we can cannibalize the parts from another bus that is down."
Meanwhile, the city cannot afford to pay the subsidies, the state can’t afford to take over the service and kids continue to pay the consequences.
A City Council Transportation Committee hearing on the bus service in Queens is now scheduled for October 10 at City Hall, but nobody involved with the controversy expects that hearing to solve anything.
An authorization resolution that allows the seven bus companies to operate on city streets expires December 31.
"If the mandate is not extended beyond that date, we must stop operating," said Jerry Cooper, the president of Jamaica Bus.
If that happens, then the problems faced today by bus riders might be small in comparison.
That remains to be seen.