Miller Calls for Release of $156 Million for Private Bus Lines
By Miriam Rosenberg
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, saying the city’s commuters should not become pawns in the negotiations for the MTA to take over the seven private bus lines that serve 400,000 riders in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, called on Mayor Bloomberg to release $156 million of non-city funding allocated for replacing old and dilapidated buses that currently are being used by the companies.
"The Mayor has been sitting on these funds for two and a half years," said Miller, at a press conference on the steps of City Hall on March 4. "He’s been negotiating a deal with the MTA for two and a half years and has yet to achieve one. At what point is the Mayor going to put riders first.
"We cannot allow stalled negotiations to shortchange the commuters who depend on the private bus line system for their livelihood."
Of the allocated money, $70.3 million is slated for fiscal year 2005 for 368 diesel buses and 95 alternate fuel buses.
Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for the Mayor, explained the administration’s decision to withhold using the available money.
"The MTA and private bus lines use different types of buses," said Baro witz. "We are in negotiations with the MTA to have them assume the operation of the lines. If we purchase the buses before the negotiations are complete, we run the risk of buying obsolete buses that the MTA does not use and cannot service."
In a letter to the New York Times, Jerome Cooper, Chairman of the Tran sit Alliance that comprises Jamaica Bus, Green Bus, Triboro Bus and Com mand Bus lines, disputed the reasons for not releasing the money given by the Mayor’s office.
"That the private operators have been desperate for additional equipment has been documented over the years and we gladly would have ac cept ed equipment fitting the MTA requirements if that would have help ed improve our operations," said Coop er, who pointed out that such issues could have been resolved if the private bus owners were included in the takeover negotiations.
"Green Bus, Triboro, Jamaica and Command would have been delighted to operate buses built to MTA specs, considering that 95% of those specs are similar or the same as those for buses operated by the private lines."
All this follows on the heels of a Transportation Committee hearing on Feb. 4, at which both the city and MTA failed to appear. Prior to that, the city extended the operating contracts for the private lines until the end of June to allow for the negotiations with the MTA to continue.
Queens Councilman John Liu (Chair of the Transportation Committee) has held several hearings on the private bus problems.
"For two years we have asked for in formation about plans for bus lines run by the private companies, and we have been repeatedly told that negotiations were underway," said Liu at the press conference. "In the meantime, bus service has deteriorated. Bus runs are less frequent, buses break down more often and buses are dirtier. It is outrageous to now find out that the administration has sat on over $100 million that should have been used to improve, or at least maintain, service.
"We need to have a long-term solution for the 400,000 New Yorkers who rely on these bus lines, and we need to have it now."
At the February 24 hearing, Liu and other council members serving on the Transportation Committee showed frustration at the lack of information the city and MTA has made available on the takeover negotiations.
The borough presidents of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx also called on the Mayor to release the money immediately.
"I have been having ongoing discussions with the Mayor’s office on this continuing crisis," said Queens Bor ough President Helen Marshall. "I wel come the opportunity to renew my appeal to provide safe, adequate and improved service for more than 400,000 riders."
Joining Miller, Liu and Marshall in calling for the release of the money were borough presidents Marty Mar kowitz (Brooklyn) and Adolfo Carrion (Bronx). Queens Council members Eric Gioia and James Gennaro also attended the press conference.