MTA Testifies At Council Hearing On Private Bus Takeover
By Miriam Rosenberg
With less than two months to go before the December 4 deadline for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) takeover of the seven subsidized private bus companies in the city (including Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Bus and Triboro Coach), the MTA testified for the first time about the subject at a City Council Transportation Committee hearing on October 6.
The MTA has taken internal steps to assure service said Linda Kleinbaum, the Deputy Executive Director for Administration at the MTA.
“On September 29, the MTA Board approved the creation of the new subsidiary – the MTA Bus Company – to house the operations of the private bus companies,” said Kleinbaum. “This company will be responsible for aspects of service delivery and the city will pay the difference between actual costs of operation and revenue.
“The new company is to be incorporated into MTA as soon as the city completes its negotiations with the private bus companies.”
In a contentious exchange with Kleinbaum, committee Chairman John Liu pressed for an explanation on the need to form a new company instead of bringing the private companies into the MTA itself.
Kleinbaum gave several reasons for forming the new entity – including paving the way for a new regional bus company that would serve riders from Long Island to the five boroughs. Yet, she and Michelle Goldstein (Director of Government Affairs for the MTA) finally conceded that it was legalities that prompted the MTA to form the new company.
Since the private companies are non-civil service either legislation was needed, which they were unable to get from the State Legislature, or a new non-civil service company had to be formed explained Goldstein.
Kleinbaum addressed Councilman Joseph Addabbo, Jr.’s concerns whether South Queens could experience diminished service of express buses.
“That’s impossible to say [if service will be reduced],” said Kleinbaum. “What I will say, again, is we want to improve service. We will apply the same standards as we apply to all of our service now and come up with what we think is the best service for these riders.”
Saying that the MTA just created the new company on September 29, she said, “The [recently appointed] new head of the company will be creating the details that will effect how this will operate.”
Kleinbaum assured the committee that a public review process would take place for any change of routes. She was unsure about the procedure for changes in the frequency of buses.
“We will spend several months doing traffic checking – looking at routes... as we evaluate whether the proper level of service is being put out on the roads,” Kleinbaum said. “After the review process, we will know better what the needs of the riders are.”
The MTA is requesting the transfer to it of $322 million that was put aside for a subway extension to LaGuardia Airport and $150 million in federal funds held by the city to buy new buses.
While the MTA believes that the new company will be in service by December 4, Jerome Cooper of the Transit Alliance is not that optimistic. Cooper is the Chairman of a group that includes Green Bus, Jamaica Bus and Triboro Coach.
“There have been no negotiations over various issues…and no meetings are scheduled – except one, with respect to pensions,” said Cooper, who gave a one – on a scale of one to ten on how close the companies are to an agreement with the city.
Liu and Addabbo spoke with The Wave after the hearing. They shared the feeling that another deadline was in jeopardy of being missed.
“I got a feeling at this point they’re going to strike out,” Liu said. “That’s the third deadline they would miss if they miss it.
“I hope they can meet this deadline, but it’s complicated and it doesn’t seem like they’re putting a huge, urgent priority on this.”
Addabbo spoke about some of the issues that are not close to being resolved.
“Critical issues with regard to the workforce involved in the private bus companies, the equipment issues – these are integral parts and components of the service that we’re seeking to improve and they still go unresolved, unanswered,” said Addabbo.
Addabbo also believes that the announcement of a takeover should have come after the details had been worked out.
“They did it in reverse and now who is paying for it – the ridership – our constituents are paying for it,” added Addabbo.
“I’m not optimistic for the actual merger. I’m not optimistic for the service that’s going to be provided for my residents after the merger.”
Although Addabbo is hopeful for things to work out, he concluded by saying that, “I do not believe that this is the right plan.”