2003-10-17 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk

From the
Editor's Desk

The Green Bus Company and the other private bus companies that run routes to and from Rockaway are critically important to those who must travel within the community as well as those who commute outside the peninsula each day.

While I have not used public transportation in forty years, many of my family members, neighbors and relatives tell me that life would be tough indeed if they had to use the subway as the only way to get around.

That is why it is so unbelievable that the city, the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the management of the "private" lines that take in more than $100 million in public money each year, can't get together and work out a deal to keep those buses running.

The seven private companies sued the city last week, arguing that the city was not living up to its agreement to adequately subsidize the services.

The city says that it does not have the money to do that.

The state says that it does not have the money to take over the services and run all of the routes the privates now run. In fact, the rumors are all over the peninsula that the first thing the MTA will do if it takes over the private routes is cancel the express buses that now run from Rockaway to Manhattan, putting those runs into the more lucrative Nassau County instead.

The companies, despite the $100 million they get from the city over and above the fares they take in, say they cannot run the routes without even more public money.

All this, while the riders sit in the middle and worry about how they will get to work in January.

That is because the companies say that when their franchise agreements with the city run out on December 31, they will fold their tents and walk away.

The companies say that the layoff notices to their workers will go out on November 1 and that workers can lose everything - their jobs, their health benefits and their pensions - should the companies' fold.

As with everything else in life, there is truth and there is truth.

Stan Brettschneider is the president of Green Bus..

"We'd love to stay in business and serve our riders," Brettschneider told reporters last week. "But we can't responsibly meet the public need and demand for service [without a greater subsidy]."

"We regret that the company may be forced to take such actions," Jerome Cooper, who is chairman of the board of four of the seven companies, said in a form letter that was sent to employees last week. "If the operating authority is not extended, all positions and jobs will be eliminated on January 1, 2004."

If you plan on crying for Cooper, Brettschneider and the others who take more than $100 million in your money to the bank, don't!

Ten years ago, the city council realized that the companies were taking lots of money without providing decent service to their riders. They passed a bill calling for opening the franchises to other companies.

That was more than ten years ago. Since that time, the seven companies have poured tens of thousands of dollars into the campaign chests of city council members (and candidates) to insure that they keep their companies.

At one point, Cooper even contributed to the campaign of Lew Simon when he was running in the primary for city council. Simon reportedly returned the money after The Wave pointed out the fact that he had taken it.

Noach Dear, who was then the head of the council's transportation committee, got thousands of dollars from the seven companies each year.

Gifford Miller, the present council speaker, recently got $1,500 from Brettschneider. He is sure to get more money from the others as well. In the last election alone, Brettschneider, who lives in Larchmont and probably does not ride his own buses, gave nearly $13,000 to council candidates.

Multiply that by seven, and you can see why the pols have extended the franchises in each of the past ten years.

There are some who actually believe that the campaign contributions are actually kickbacks to the pols for allowing the franchises to be renewed each year.

Oh, ye of little faith!

MTA really does not want to take over the companies and their routes. They argue that it would take millions to upgrade the aging private fleets and their depots, millions that it does not have.

The city no longer wants to subsidize the service.

The bus owners say that the lines cannot run without subsidies.

Meanwhile, it is the workers and the riders who are getting hurt.

A maintenance supervisor for one of the lines told The Wave that the companies are no longer buying spare parts, that older buses are being cannibalized to keep newer buses running. There are fewer buses on the street, longer lines, situations where buses pass by waiting riders because the buses are loaded to capacity.

What will happen? We will probably go right up to the deadline before we find out.

You can bet, however, that the riders will lose out no matter what the decision, either in poorer service or higher fares.

That is the way of New York City, where those who use the private services such as Green Bus have been shortchanged for years, thanks to their elected officials.

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