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Point of View: Fare hike is a blessing in disguise for shuttle vans

The controversial 25 percent fare hike by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has apparently generated a great deal of anger among commuters. As far I can recall, the city’s mass transit fare has gone up more than tenfold since 1970. The average wage increase of workers in the Big Apple, however, has failed to keep up with that pace.

Locally, though, the fare’s sharp rise may be a boon for Flushing’s shuttle service the new immigrants are operating on 41st Road. This van service between Flushing and Lower Manhattan and Chinatown is booming.

First, the 20-minute trip costs only $2, which would be the same as that of the subway train if the MTA wins the battle to reverse a judge’s decision to keep the fare at $1.50.

Second, the nonstop service outruns the No. 7 train in getting to the destination. The shuttle really saves time for people on the go.

Besides, the train, more often than not, suspends its direct Flushing-Times Square run during the weekends for repairs or maintenance or for reasons unknown to the public; commuters have no choice but to switch at Queensboro Plaza to other trains to the city.

Will the shuttle service take business away from the MTA? Yes. But it’s minimal for the time being in that most of its passengers are Asian. It has great potential of gaining more riders in the foreseeable future.

The van driver will even go an extra mile to pick up customers on certain streets or at their residence without extra charge. What’s more, a seat is guaranteed.

Residents of other ethnicities seem to be unaware of these conveniences. I used the service twice recently. You don’t have to pay until you get to your destination, and you can get off at any corner once the van enters Manhattan.

Nevertheless, the service is not without controversy. There are a couple of rival fleets in that congested area competing for riders, sometimes bringing the traffic on the one-way street to a standstill. Their cutthroat competition has brought the original $3 fare down to $2. I hope the price will stay that way for a long time.

Unquestionably, the service has become a favorite among the Asian immigrants in Flushing, and certainly it’s here to stay. Therefore, authorities concerned should designate a centrally located area and make strict rules for them. Otherwise, their continued presence on that narrow road will contribute to traffic inconvenience.

Speaking of travel, it’s likely that some Asian-operated luxury bus services based in Chinatown may target Flushing residents who wish to take out-of-state trips at an unbeatable low fare. A round trip to Boston costs $20. If I drove, it would cost me $40 to $50 for gasoline.

Flushing is the fastest-growing metropolis in New York in terms of population and housing market, yet tourism is nonexistent. And without tourism, struggling businesses in town find it difficult to survive.

Flushing Mall, with stores selling merchandise that would appeal to foreign tourists, is one such business. Geography and lack of attractions are, of course, the two key factors. I hope someday the shuttle and bus services will be able do something to bring foreign tourists to this part of the city.

Unfortunately, there is no attraction in Flushing other than the 4-year-old library. Environmentally, our river is dirty and streets are littered. Almost every morning, dense smoke from a plant by the riverbank clouds Flushing’s sky and perhaps poses a risk to our health. These negative things definitely would give tourists a bad impression.

Local business leaders, politicians and city officials should take note of this situation before Flushing’s business development plan is put into action.

According to the World Journal, a Chinese-language daily in New York, the city’s Department of Planning has already approved the plan. The City Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the project this month.

Concerned residents should attend the hearing and express their points of view. After that, the Council will vote on it. If approved, the bill will be sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his signature.

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who has played a major role in pushing the plan, said that the development would raise the quality of life for local residents and attract more people to visit Flushing.

Because of the budget deficit, I am skeptical the city will spend money on Flushing development in the near future. Anyway, let’s wait and see.

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