Differing Views On Bus Takeover Emerge At Council Hearing
Guarded optimism by the city and pessimism by a representative for some of the private bus lines took center stage at the first of three scheduled City Council Transportation Committee hearings about the upcoming December 4 takeover by the MTA of seven subsidized private bus companies.
At the September 8 hearing, testimony was heard from Mark Page (the Budget Director for the Bloomberg Administration) and Jerry Cooper (the Chairman of the Board for the Transit Alliance – which includes Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses and Triboro Coach).
“I have hopes that the December 4 date is the outside date,” said Page, who added that progress had been made. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to achieve the changeover, at least in part, before [December 4].”
Page said, “In the beginning of August, the MTA announced it was standing by their commitment to take over this service.” He also said that the MTA released a letter the morning of the hearing announcing that it was “looking to set up a new corporate entity to run the companies.”
The takeover involves seven companies, 3,000 employees and 1,250 buses. Page said that many complicated details still had to be worked out.
These details include how the management of service will shift to the MTA, acquiring the depots (currently owned by the companies) to house and maintain the buses, and the issue of compensating the companies for the fair value of their property. The city must also determine who will be responsible for pension and benefits for those currently working for the private companies.
“All topics are under active discussion,” said Page, who added that the city has hired outside counsel and appraisers to help in the process.
Committee members such as Chairman John Liu and Rockaway’s Councilmen James Sanders, Jr. and Joseph Addabbo, Jr. were concerned about the new corporate entity being set up. One concern is that the City Council would be losing input on how the bus lines are operated under the MTA.
“We believe the benefits of integrating the management service will serve the public much better… although the city will not have the same direct involvement that it had in the operation of the private companies, as a result of the financial relationship with the private companies,” Page told the committee.
The Transit Alliance’s Cooper said that he “did not have the same rosy picture that the city does with respect to the takeover by December 4.”
Cooper sees the glass as being more than half empty in terms of meeting the deadline.
“I have some grave doubts,” he said. “There are still big issues unresolved.”
While Cooper could not elaborate on the negotiations that have taken place due to an agreement with the city, he did say that there have been no negotiations with the MTA.
Cooper believes that the city could have approached the takeover in a different way. He feels that an agreement should have been reached before a deadline was set to transfer the buses.
“This has many facets to it, which I doubt can be met in the short time remaining,” continued Cooper. “In my point of view unless everything is in satisfactory place, this can’t be a smooth transition.”
In the meantime, Cooper said the city must keep funding the private companies to keep buses on the road.
Currently there are 15 to 20 buses needing transmissions, bulkheads and engines sitting in the Green Bus depot. Triboro also has that amount waiting for repairs.
Addabbo told The Wave that he was pleased that, unlike at past hearings, the administration sent a representative to address the council. Yet, he was concerned by what the budget director said.
“That their representative, Mark Page, was not as optimistic as I was hoping he would be, is disconcerting, especially to our residents in Southern Queens and Rockaway where our quality of transportation is lacking,” said Addabbo.
Addabbo also addressed the MTA’s new plan to run the companies.
“They failed in Albany to legislatively create a separate entity, now they’re trying to do it through a corporate entity,” Addabbo said. “I don’t think they need to do that. I just think that they need to, basically, absorb the service like they said they were going to do three years ago. I think this is just complicating a complicated issue.”
The Transportation Committee has scheduled two more hearings – on October 6 and November 4 at City Hall – before the takeover date in December.