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Mayor releases $156M to replace Queens buses

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Elected officials have praised Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to use more than $156 million in federal and state money to buy new buses to replace deteriorating private buses that are vital to thousands of Queens riders.

New York City Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall last week disclosed the decision at a public hearing called by City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council Transportation Committee.

“I am pleased that the city is finally addressing the longstanding needs of 400,000 private bus riders by purchasing these new buses,” Liu said. “The plain truth is that these buses should have been ordered two years ago. Since then, service has gone down the tubes and hundreds of buses are out of commission.”

Said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall: “It’s been a long wait for a new bus. ... Finally, however, safer and more maintenance-free vehicles will soon be on the road for commuters in Queens. Transportation is not a luxury. It is integral to the local economy, and the more than 2 million people of Queens contribute a great deal to the taxes that support our great city.”

Weinshall told the hearing that the city planned to use the federal and state funds to buy more than 450 new buses but warned that because of the process of procurement, it might take two years before all of them are rolling.

City Council members, led by Liu, had been pressuring the Bloomberg administration to buy the buses and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to take over the private lines before they disintegrated further.

Only two weeks ago the Bloomberg administration expressed opposition to purchasing buses for the private lines, saying such a move could not be done while negotiations toward an MTA takeover were going on.

“We see this as a necessity for the people of New York who depend on this system,” Weinshall said.

Weinshall said the new buses would be fitted to MTA specifications in preparation for an MTA takeover.

The private bus lines serve 400,000 riders a day in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Bloomberg recently criticized the MTA for a decision to spend $238 million on new rail cars for the Metro-North Rail Road, which services suburban commuters in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties. He said it short-changed New York City subway and bus riders.

The plan was halted by a veto by State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Elmhurst), a member of the Legislature’s Capital Program Review Board.

The mayor last year ended a $150 million annual subsidy that had been keeping the seven private bus lines in operation. Both those who ride the private lines and the owners have reported the services have been deteriorating for years with passengers’ biggest complaint about longer and longer waits for buses.

Much of northeastern Queens is dependent on the private buses with little or no subway services.

The contract between the city and the privately owned bus lines was to have expired last New Year’s Eve but was extended until June 30.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136 or at news@timesledger.com.

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