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Boro pols show support for striking bus workers

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Striking workers for three of the borough’s private bus lines gained support from a growing roster of high-ranking politicians as the mayor continued to distance himself from the debacle and Queens residents faced their third week of commuting headaches.

A rally in support of the bus drivers and mechanics held Monday afternoon outside City Hall brought out Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) and a large contingent of borough representatives from the City Council and the state Legislature.

“I’ll do anything I can to assist you,” a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D- N.Y.) read from a letter the state’s junior senator had written. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined the workers on the picket line outside the depot for Triboro Coach in Jackson Heights Sunday.

But the workers still failed to gain sympathy from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who they contend has refused to approve the contract negotiated between Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the bus companies in March.

Bloomberg said Friday the city cannot afford to devote more funds to the bus contract and denied that the city ever made any promises to the union.

“We absolutely never made a commitment,” he said Friday morning during a breakfast with borough reporters. “If this union and this management want to have a different health-care arrangement, they are free to negotiate with each other.”

Union officials say the health plan for workers at Queens Surface Corp., Triboro Coach and Jamaica Buses will go bankrupt if the city does not offer a greater increase in funding. They have been striking since June 17.

Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall said management at the private bus companies must run their operation more efficiently instead of again turning to the city, which heavily subsidizes the service.

“Each and every time they can’t run to the city with their hand out,” Weinshall said Friday after the mayor’s breakfast at City Hall. “You’ve got to run it like a business.”

Queens Surface Corp. spokesman Mike Gill said in response that the funds have to come from the city because the companies’ only other source of revenue comes from bus fares, which they are not allowed to raise.

As it entered its third week, the strike continued to cause a hassle for the borough’s 115,000 riders of the private bus lines.

“We really are being hit hard. We’re finding a terrible, terrible inconvenience for our residents here,” said Leonard Soberman, the executive vice president of the board of directors for Le Havre, a 3,600-unit co-op in Whitestone served by the QM2 express bus into Manhattan. “It’s taking them anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes extra each way to get into Manhattan.”

Although some bus routes are being covered by dollar vans and livery cars, which have been authorized by the city to pick people up off the street and take them to the closest transportation hubs, their service is far less reliable than the buses, transit advocates complain.

“The vans have basically pitched in to take over the service, but it’s not an adequate replacement,” said Markisha Beckford, the chairwoman of the Southeast Queens Transportation Advisory Committee.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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