City Council Seeks To Extend Private Bus Pact
With the prospect of a disruption of private bus service in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx on January 1, Queens City Council representatives and Borough President Helen Marshall gathered at Queens Borough Hall on October 23 to announce the introduction of legislation in the City Council that authorizes the extension of the city’s contracts with the private bus lines past the current December 31 expiration date.
Also at the press conference were Councilman John Liu (Transportation Committee Chair and the legislation’s sponsor), Councilwoman Melinda Katz (Chair of the Committee on Land Use and the bill’s co-sponsor), Councilman Leroy Comrie (Queens Delegation Chair) and Councilman Hiram Monserrate.
The City and the MTA have been in negotiations to take over the private lines, but with two months to go there is no agreement in site.
"Based on a hearing we had in the City Council [on October 10], it has been increasingly clear that there is no way that the MTA will be able to take over these lines that are currently run by private companies by the end of this year," said Councilman Liu. "We are putting in an extension for only six months because we need to keep the pressure on the MTA to come up with a long-term solution. A solution that guarantees unmitigated, unreduced, unhindered bus service for the residents of Queens."
The bill will go through the legislation process, including the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchise and the Land Use Committee before being voted on by the full City Council.
"We are only giving the city the tools by which to extend these contracts," said Councilwoman Katz. "We have every reason to believe that the city will choose to extend the contracts. Especially if [not extending them] means a disruption of service."
Once the legislation passes, the bill goes to the Franchise and Concessions Review Committee. One member of that committee is Borough President Marshall, who worked on legislation like this when she was in the City Council, and she has vowed to "vote in the affirmative."
"We will also be working with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to order new buses... that can be utilized by either the current operators or the MTA," said Marshall, describing other actions to improve bus service. "We’re also working with the two unions involved – the TWU [Transit Workers Union] and ATU [Amalgamated Transit Union] to ensure job protection and pension guarantees."
Everyday between 300,000 and 400,000 people ride the buses. Most of whom live in Queens.
"The most important goal is to make sure that the people of Queens … will not endure another period of transportation paralysis. It is an unacceptable prospect, and we will not permit it," said Marshall.
The uncertainly over a possible MTA takeover has resulted in reductions of bus service due to the age and condition of the current fleet.
"The current owners are reluctant to make capital investments to maintain the buses, as a result we have been losing more and more private buses and we have overcrowded buses," Councilman Comrie told The Wave.
While Marshall urged that the MTA put new buses on the road immediately, Liu pointed out that the MTA does have extra buses.
"There is also an understanding out there that the MTA actually does have buses that can be used," said Liu. "Maybe, as kind of a interim measure, ... as this whole, long-term plan gets worked out ... the MTA should loan some of its buses, as well, so that our riders do not have to suffer."
Jerry Cooper, Chairman of the Board for Green Bus Lines, Triboro Coach, Jamaica Bus Lines and Command Bus told The Wave that the legislation might not be enough to keep his buses running.
"[I can’t] guarantee the buses [will be] running after January 1 if we are not properly funded," said Cooper. "We can’t let bad buses out, and fewer buses means more crowding…. If funding is not addressed, we will not be able to run at this level. We are struggling to get to the end of the year."
Councilman Comrie suggested that Queens residents must pressure the MTA and the mayor to work out a solution by contacting the mayor’s office and MTA directly, or by sending letters to their City Council representatives.