Future of Rockaway’s Bus Service in Doubt
Future of Rockaway's Bus Service in Doubt
By Miriam Rosenberg and
The Green Line Bus and Triboro Bus, both fixtures in Rockaway for the last 60 years, may be forced to end their routes on January 1.
The future of the seven private companies that operate in New York City is in jeopardy.
Politicians, private bus owners, union representatives and concerned citizens gathered at a hearing of the City Council's Committee on Transportation Friday, October 10.
With the companies' contracts set to expire on December 31, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is threatening to replace the lines with MTA buses.
In an effort to save city money, the mayor's office is seeking to end the millions of dollars given to the private bus companies in subsidies. In fiscal year 2001, subsidies to the private bus companies amounted to more than $159 million while fare revenue was close to $110 million.
"Thousands of people in my district and hundreds of thousands of people across the city rely on these buses," said Councilman and Transportation committee member Joseph Addabbo Jr. "If there is going to be a decision about changing over service from the private companies to the MTA, not only does it have to be done quickly, but efficiently."
Both of Rockaway's City Councilmen, Joseph Addabbo Jr. and James Sanders, are members of the transportation committee.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recalled the 51-day bus strike of summer 2002 and said that such disruption of service cannot happen again.
"Bus service in Queens is second class," said Marshall. "Our buses are twice the age of the average MTA bus. [We] must purchase buses to be used by any operator, be it Department of Transportation or the MTA and get them on the road in an expedited basis."
With an aging fleet, the Green Bus Line owns 235 buses and carries 35 million passengers annually. Average bus age is approximately 11 1/2 years.
Marshall also talked about her concern for the Rockaways. "With only the 'A' line running through the Rockaways, buses become ten times more important. One of the biggest problems the Rockaways have is transportation."
Jerome Cooper, chairman of the Green Bus Line and Triboro Coach as well as the Command Line and Jamaica Bus, has indicated that if the contracts are not extended "jobs will be permanently eliminated on January 1."
As thousands of worker's jobs are at stake, potential lay off notices could be sent as early as November 1. Workers would lose their pension and health benefits as well.
The city is currently in closed-door negotiations with the MTA about the possible takeover.
"The negotiations have not involved the (bus company) owners, the workers, and the public is not being informed on what's going on," said City Councilman and Transportation Committee Chairman John Liu of Flushing. "We don't even know if and when negotiations are going on, despite the fact that they will have immediate impact on New York City residents."
MTA officials and representatives at the mayor's Office of Operations declined to testify at the meeting as it could jeopardize the complex negotiations process.
Most citizens favored the MTA taking over the buses.
Teresa Meade lives in Howard Beach and rides the Green Bus QM 15 Express each morning to her job in the city.
Despite calling in advance and reserving a bus with a working wheelchair lift (as the bus lines request), buses with non-working lifts still pass her by in the morning and evening, she said.
"The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all public buses be equipped with working wheelchair lifts and spaces for wheelchair passengers; it does not state 'by reservation only," Meade said in her statement.
Anthony Trocchia, the President of Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, made news on June 26, when three Q60 Green Buses, with non-working lifts, passed him by at Queens Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue.
"For the longest time, the private bus companies have provided shoddy service to people with disabilities," said Trocchia. "Problems range from inoperable bus lifts to bus operators with unprofessional conduct. By contrast, the wheelchair lifts on the NYCT [New York City Transit] buses function the majority of the time and bus operators are polite and extremely professional."
With so many affected commuters and thousands of jobs at stake, everyone agrees that the situation needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
"The deadline is nearly on us and something needs to be done," said Chairman Liu after the hearing. "Some resolution needs to be arrived at so that the riding public, the workers and the companies themselves can be assured of what their futures hold."