2004-12-03 / Community

April New Deadline For Takeover Of Private Buses

By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing Editor

The City Council, on November 23, granted the city’s request for a third extension of the Bloomberg Administration’s self-imposed deadline to transfer ownership of the seven private subsidized bus companies (including Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Bus and Triboro Coach) that serve residents in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx to the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA).

The operating authority of the bus lines was due to expire on December 4. The extension divides the deadline into four dates during early 2005, depending on the bus company, for completion of transfer to the MTA.

Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the mayor, responded to The Wave’s question addressing whether the new deadlines will be met.

“We hope so,” Barowitz said. “These are extremely complicated negotiations that involve complex issues such as pension, labor and transfer of property. “We want to finish as quickly as possible to get about fixing service.”

Transportation Committee members including chairman John Liu and Joseph Addabbo, Jr. did not believe that the December 4 deadline could be met.

“We have warned for months now that the MTA and the administration would not make the December 4 deadline and had urged that realistic plans and timetables be shared with the public,” said Liu, in a press release.

Addabbo referred to the April announcement by the mayor, governor and MTA that the MTA would assume responsibility for the private companies beginning on July 1 of this year.

“It boggles the mind that in April a takeover was announced…and there are so many issues to [still] be resolved,” Addabbo told The Wave. “I’m not so sure this extension will be good enough.” Councilman James Sanders, Jr. (member of the Transportation Committee) responded to latest deadline extension.

“To me it shows that lack of planning reigns supreme, that we’re doing this by a wing and a prayer and trying to figure out as we go along,” said Sanders.

On the same day the extension was granted, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that $132 million in federal funds was allocated to allow the MTA to buy 300 new buses to replace old ones currently run by the private companies. These buses are in addition to the 125 new ones purchased by the MTA earlier in November. The MTA board also allocated $80 million to upgrade bus service.

“I am delighted to know that these funds will be used to replace aging fleets that are prone to breakdowns and expensive repairs,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall in a statement. “Although it is not clear when these buses will hit the streets, the wheels are now turning and will provide long-awaited relief for hundreds of thousands of daily riders in Queens.”

The new delay means that union members at the companies will continue to work without a contract.

“The MTA will begin labor negotiations once the deal with the owners is complete,” said Barowitz. “We hope to provide the unions with job security and compensation packets [like they already have].”

Addabbo, who is chair of the Civil Service and Labor committee, believes it is a mistake holding off negotiations.

“It is unfair to the workers who face a frustrated ridership everyday,” explained Addabbo. “They [the workers] are abused. If you don’t give them the information in regards to a contract it lowers morale, causes instability in the workplace and starts rumors.”

“It is a bad situation and it is getting worse. We have to impress upon the mayor to start negotiations.”

Jamie Bramer, spokesperson for the Transit Alliance, that includes the lines that serve the Rockaways, said that the companies had no input on the deadlines.

“It puts another short-term deadline and puts anxiety on the workers and the riders,” said Bramer.

Bramer also said, although the mayor’s office has been in contact with representatives for the companies, no “substantive negotiations have taken place. Nothing that’s moving anything forward.”

Barowitz disagreed saying there have been meaningful, substantive and productive negotiations.

While riders wait for the next round of deadlines to arrive, Addabbo believes that relief could have come sooner.

The dates designated for transfer of the lines to the new MTA Bus Co. are January 15 (Liberty Lines), February 26 (Queens Surface), March 26 (New York Bus Service) and April 30 (Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Bus, Triboro Coach and Command Bus).

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