2004-04-23 / Front Page

Questions Remain On MTA Takeover Of Private Buses

By Miriam Rosenberg

Questions Remain On MTA Takeover Of Private Buses

Mayor Bloomberg announces the agreement between the MTA and the city for the takeover by the MTA of the private bus lines. By his side are Councilman John Liu (left) and Governor George Pataki.Mayor Bloomberg announces the agreement between the MTA and the city for the takeover by the MTA of the private bus lines. By his side are Councilman John Liu (left) and Governor George Pataki.

By Miriam Rosenberg

After two years of negotiations, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on April 19 that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) would take over the seven subsidized private bus companies (including Green Bus, Jamaica Bus and Triboro Coach) that currently operate in the city, effective July 1.

The takeover has Rockaway’s politicians, residents and the private bus lines wondering about the lack of details in the agreement.

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. question what the takeover means for the riders in the Rockaways and what, as Addabbo said, the mayor meant when he said that the takeover would give the city "more bang for the buck" – especially when it comes to those who live on the peninsula.

"There has been no discussion on what will happen in the 23rd Assembly District in the Rockaways," said Pheffer, who pointed out that the mayor didn’t even talk about the Rockaways in his announcement.

The mayor mentioned "Co-op City, Canarsie, Middle Village, Rego Park and Forest Hills and the other neighborhoods" that will benefit from the takeover.

"We’re the other neighborhoods," Pheffer told The Wave.

The slight by the mayor has Pheffer wondering how the Rockaway bus routes will fare under MTA management.

"The only way you can travel in the Rockaways is by private bus or MTA," continued Pheffer. "They put out a [press] release that [the takeover] will help people but [Rockaway] is not even mentioned – which makes you angry considering the only way to travel [in the Rockaways] is by private bus company."

"If Rockaway is not in the press release, how much consideration will be given to our community," she queried.

Among Pheffer’s questions is whether the Rockaways will get the newer buses that will be put on the road or older buses from the MTA fleet. She also worries that there is no guarantee that routes will increase despite continued development and more people moving to the peninsula.

A Q113 Jamaica Bus rider, who preferred not to give her name, echoed Pheffer’s concerns.

"We’ll need buses to maintain the large population," she said as she waited for the bus to begin its run in Far Rockaway. "We’re barely making it on these buses now."

The State Legislature will have to approve this takeover. Pheffer said that she and other legislative representatives of the Rockaways want to see "something in writing, some proof of how this will benefit our constituents."

Addabbo believes that riders should be skeptical of the takeover.

"I believe it was a bit premature to do the news conference yesterday," said Addabbo during an interview with The Wave. "There is not a lot of information [about the takeover]. The fare does increase, and it will take two years for additional new buses to get on the street."

The city, which was attempting to save $150 million in annual subsidies that were paid to the private companies, will now be paying that money to the MTA.

"Residents still have the burden [of supporting those subsidies]," continued Addabbo, who is a member of the council’s Transportation Committee.

Addabbo also said that the MTA is going to do away with under-utilized routes and, in interviews, several riders wondered if any local routes would be changed.

MTA spokesman John McCarty spoke to The Wave about these concerns.

"The terms are we are going to bring the same [service we have] city-wide in the routes we currently have as far as type of buses used, fuel and services," said McCarthy.

"We have made no decisions on routes, and I am not aware of anyone saying that [under-utilized routes will be eliminated]."

"We have to look at how many buses are needed and how quickly [we can] take out older buses [which will] be taken out first, and work to insure a smooth transition," explained McCarthy.

While Pheffer is concerned with the possible loss of about 200 nonunion jobs, many of which belong to Queens residents, Addabbo is worried that drivers from the private companies may find themselves in a two-tier system with the drivers already working for the MTA, whereby the workers who come from the private companies earn less than present MTA workers. Questions of pension and workman’s compensation are also a priority.

"Pension and workman’s compensation for the drivers will not be assumed by the MTA," said Addabbo, who is chair of the Civil Service and Labor committee. "The city and taxpayers [will be responsible for that]."

Jamie Bramer, spokesman for the Transit Alliance (which includes Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Bus Lines and Triboro Coach) said that the agreement does not address many issues.

"The Mayor’s announcement had no details about … 100 nonunion employees in Queens, hasn’t addressed the issue of pension liability or the issue of depots and where to put all buses," Bramer said.

For a year and a half the city has not responded to the company’s request to give their input to insure a smooth transition, according Bramer.

City Councilman John Liu, chairman of the Transportation Committee, has announced plans to hold hearings before the MTA takes over the buses on July 1.

"We will hold City Council hearings so that the details of the plan will be fleshed out publicly," Liu said.

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