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Riders defend need to keep Q79 bus line in Little Neck

The Q79 bus may not be packing in riders like some of the borough's more popular lines, but that does not mean the Transit Authority should shut it down, say those who ride it often.

"It's not supposed to pay for itself," said a Q79 driver, Justin, who refused to give his last name. "It's called a public service."

With the fares slated to go up to $2 next month to cover a projected $2.8 billion shortfall, some have argued that the Transit Authority should cut out or curtail bus lines that consistently lose money.

The Q79, which runs along Little Neck Parkway from Little Neck to Floral Park, is one of those routes, with an average weekday ridership of only 708, according to the Transit Authority. A TA proposal to shut it down in 1995 was scuttled when local residents objected, the authority said.

But the bus does attract a healthy, if not robust, flow of passengers, according to the drivers. On a recent Thursday afternoon, two different Q79 buses collected about 15 passengers each during a 15-minute ride. Many of them were seniors who do not own cars.

"I don't know what would happen," said E.J. Donnelly of Douglaston when asked about cutting the route. "We use it to go to Glen Oaks, to go shopping."

Her friend Gloria Brod agreed, pointing out the window as the bus made its way down Little Neck Parkway.

"We go to the doctor here," she said. "We get our hair done there. We go everywhere on the bus. We don't drive, so we need buses."

Another Q79 driver, Ron Carretz, said a big part of his ridership were students not yet able to drive. There are several schools near the route, including Benjamin Cardozo High School, St. Francis Prep, MS 67 and MS 172. In the fall, three new schools will open just off the Grand Central Parkway near the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, adding a whole new group of students, teachers and support staff to the bus's ridership.

Another argument in favor of keeping the route is that it is the only line in Queens that connects the Port Washington branch of the Long Island Rail Road to the main line, which runs through Jamaica and extends out to points throughout Long Island.

As Justin sat in the driver's seat of his empty bus on a quiet tree-lined residential street in Little Neck, waiting to begin his route one recent afternoon, he noted that passengers who live in northeast Queens and want to travel to Brooklyn can use his bus to get to the LIRR station in Floral Park, L.I., where they can catch trains to Atlantic Avenue.

To be precise, however, the route does not quite deliver its passengers to the Floral Park station. That was the plan in 1996, but the Village of Floral Park refused to allow New York City buses to operate on the four-block stretch from the city line to the train station inside Nassau County, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the LIRR and the Transit Authority. So those who want to make the connection, Justin said, have to walk just under half a mile.

And the beginning of the line has problems as well. As Justin prepared to pull out and begin his route, a gaggle of frantic commuters emerged from the nearby Little Neck LIRR station, waving wildly as they ran toward the bus. The train from Penn Station arrives at 3:50 p.m. on weekdays, and the Q79 is scheduled to begin its route at 3:55 p.m., but the coordination is coincidence. The train and bus schedules are not designed to line up perfectly - a source of some frustration for many riders.

"They never wait," said a New York University professor who rides the LIRR every afternoon home to Little Neck. "They see you coming, and they go."

She said that when she misses the bus, she takes a taxi home, rather than wait 30 minutes for the next Q79. All the same, however, she said she preferred two buses an hour to losing the line altogether.

Carretz agreed, comparing shutting down the route to "cutting off your left arm because you don't use it much."

"The buses are for the living, right?" he asked. "It's convenience and mobility. You don't want to take away mobility."

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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