Prospects Dim For MTA Bus Takeover
Despite a December 4 deadline for the MTA to take over the seven private bus companies that serve the city being just around the corner, chances for the takeover seemed dim after the latest City Council Transportation committee hearing on the subject on Nov. 4.
Stan Brettschneider, president of Green Bus Lines, testified for the Transit Alliance, which is made up of four of the companies to be taken over by the MTA (including Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Bus and Triboro Coach.)
“There are many outstanding issues that need to be addressed – pension plans, the labor issues and the status of nonunion workers,” said Brettschneider. “There are issues pertaining to collective bargaining agreements. There are very large issues out there.”
Brettschneider told the committee that the Transit Alliance has only had three meetings with the city to discuss the transition (except for a meeting discussing pensions two weeks before the hearing), since April when the impending takeover was announced. He also said there has been no notification by the city for any additional meetings before December 4.
“I don’t see how the takeover can be done by December 4 seeing how we don’t have any meetings set,” continued Brettschneider.
One company, Liberty Bus, has already signed a letter of intent to be taken over by the city. Brettschneider said that while agreements with the other three other bus companies involved may be done quickly, the Transit Alliance is more complex.
“We’re four companies,” said Brettschneider about the Alliance, which serve over 250,000 people per day and run over 750 buses. “With representation with three different labor unions, plus pension plans associated with those unions, the health benefit programs and the disposition of all the nonunion employees become paramount.”
The Department of Transportation owns one of the five depots that the Alliance uses. The Alliance has already made it known that they will only lease, not sell, the other depots.
“Therefore, leases and arrangements would have to be undertaken which need to take time,” explained Brettschneider. “We’re not sure to what extent and how much time would be necessary to wrap this up.”
Also testifying at the hearing on behalf of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 was its president Roger Toussaint and Neil Winberry (Vice President for Private Lines).
Toussaint told the committee that delays in reaching agreements on the transfer of the bus companies have put his members’ health benefits at risk.
“Providers are threatening to withhold services,” said Toussaint
“The city can and must put more money into the Health Benefits Fund now, before the situation becomes irretrievable.”
Toussaint talked about the 1962 takeover of Fifth Avenue Coach, which served most of Manhattan, and “was taken over in a matter of days” he said.
“Once you’re on a resolution course, it can take us past December 4. You can resolve the essential transaction within days,” Toussaint said.
Toussaint and Winberry told the committee that anxiety levels for operators and riders have increased in the last 18 months since the takeover began to be discussed in 2002.
“We had one operator who was knocked unconscious and was in the hospital for three days,” said Winberry.
Unlike hearings held in the previous two months, neither the MTA nor the city sent anyone to give updates on the matter.
“I’m utterly disappointed, but not surprised,” said Councilman John Liu, chair of the committee, before the session began. “It is obvious that a plan is far from complete in order for the MTA to complete its takeover of the seven private companies.”
“The city doesn’t realize the service is deteriorating. It is not the fault of the workers or the companies, but the fault lies at their own feet,” Liu added.
Councilman Charles Barron also let known his displeasure at the absence of the MTA and the city.
“I think it’s outrageous that the MTA and the DOT are not here to answer these questions,” said Barron to the applause of the numerous concerned parties who attended the hearing. “This affects 400,000 riders daily, hundreds of people’s employments. We should seriously consider, where appropriate, the subpoena power we have to bring them to the table.”
Barron’s suggestion of using subpoena power was supported by other members of the committee including Councilman James Sanders, Jr.
“This shabby dance the city has been doing, we’ve done this long enough,” Sanders said. “It needs to come to an end.”
“I now don’t believe [the MTA is] bargaining in good faith, and I go on record with that.”
Following the hearing, Councilman Joseph Addabbo, Jr. told The Wave that it was time to “entertain another extension and it should be for a year or more.”