2005-04-29 / Community

City To Green Bus Riders: A Long Wait For New Buses

By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing Editor

By Miriam Rosenberg
Contributing Editor

  • The mayor trumpeted the private bus company takeover last week, but City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. said it won’t be music to his ears until new busses hit the streets – which is estimated to take about two years.
  • “We took a green stripe off and put a blue stripe on,” said Addabbo, referring to the look of Green Bus Line and MTA buses respectively.

    “We still have the same 20-year-old buses.”

    Addabbo – a member of the council’s Transportation Committee – said the result is little more than a paint job and highlighted another essential: service improvements. His comments come on the heels of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s April 22 announcement that the city had reached an agreement in principle with The Transit Alliance, which represents Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses, Triboro Coach (which serve the Rockaways) and Command Bus.

    The agreement brings the city’s seven private subsidized bus companies under the MTA’s new Metropolitan Bus Company.

    “I am very pleased we have reached an agreement with the Transit Alliance,” said Bloomberg. “This was the final round of negotiations, and we now have agreements with all the franchise bus operators.”

    Those who ride the buses may not be as happy as the mayor.

    “The MTA will be operating with existing buses and then move new buses into the fleet,” said Jordan Barowitz, a Bloomberg spokesman.

    He went on to say that 425 new buses are already on order and would be on the road within a year to two years.

    “The worst buses will be replaced first,” added Barowitz.

    Yet in addition to the old buses remaining on the road, fares will go up.

    “I believe that most people don’t mind paying more if they get better service,” said Addabbo.

    Yvonne Johnson, who rides the Green Bus Q22 and the Jamaica Bus Q113 and gets around using a scooter, agrees with Addabbo.

    “I don’t feel we should be riding the same buses… paying more for something that’s no good,” said Johnson. “Most of the time the lift on the buses doesn’t work.”

    Barbara Ross of Dayton East and Donna Cummings of Far Rockaway say despite the increase and the old buses remaining on the road, the MTA takeover could be a plus for riders.

    Cummings is for the change if buses were to run on schedule and service would improve. So is Ross.

    “As long as I know that there’s a plan to put better buses on the road…that we won’t be using these buses forever…I can deal with that,” Ross said, as she waited for the Q22 at Beach 88th Street.

    Addabbo also believes the takeover is too costly for the city.

    “Initially the mayor wanted to save money by transferring the buses to the MTA,” Addabbo explained. “It’s going to continue costing us the $200 million in subsidies, plus the $44 million [not including any leases] when the purchase is done.”

    Barowitz said that the figure of $200 million is approximate.

    “The subsidies will depend on the cost of operations minus the fare box revenue,” Barowitz said.

    The MTA will begin operating the four companies over the next several months, and the transfer should be completed by early summer.

    The Transit Alliance will be paid $25.5 million for the companies, as well as $7.5 million per year to rent three depots.

    The other bus companies involved in the transfer are Liberty Lines Express, Queens Surface Corp., and New York Bus Service.

    As questions still linger, last Friday’s agreement brings a long saga in the city’s transportation history to an uncertain conclusion.

    In 2002, the city and MTA agreed to begin formal talks for a takeover of the subsidized bus companies. The authorization of those companies to operate was to expire on December 31, 2003. It, and the Bloomberg administration’s self-imposed deadlines for completion of the takeover, was extended several times.

    On November 23, 2004, the City Council granted the administration a third extension of the takeover deadline.

    That extension called for the takeover of the seven companies during the first quarter of this year, concluding with the buses run by the Transit Alliance.

    During negotiations, the MTA has refused to talk to the unions about workers status after the takeover.

    “Now that this is done, the MTA will negotiate… [with the unions],” Barowitz said. He added that job protection for union and non-union workers has been worked into the takeover agreement.

    MTA spokesperson Mercedes Padilla said that the bus companies are still in negotiations with the city, but declined to comment further.

    “We can’t talk about it.

    The mayor’s office put out the press release [about the agreement].

    We don’t own the buses,” Padilla said.

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