The two joined Gov. George Pataki at a City Hall news conference to announce the long-awaited takeover, the deadline for which was extended until June 30 after it expired on New Year's Eve.
Much of Queens is serviced by private buses, which have a reputation for frequent breakdowns and slow service.
Under the takeover, the city will lease 450 new buses and two bus depots to the MTA, which will assume responsibility for operating the routes. The state agency will allocate $322.5 million formerly slated for a LaGuardia Airport subway extension to replace additional buses in the future and make other capital improvements.
"This is a major victory for New Yorkers that ride these buses," said Bloomberg, who predicted that unlike some of the aging private bus fleet, the new MTA buses would be "in good condition, clean and handicapped-accessible."
One-third of the private buses are more than 17 years old, while the average age of an MTA bus is under seven years, Bloomberg said.
The mayor said an MTA takeover would give the 115,000 Queens private bus riders left stranded by a strike in 2002 "one less thing to worry about."
"The last scenario our people need is another bout of transportation paralysis," said Borough President Helen Marshall, who welcomed the move.
But private riders used to paying $1.50 will now have to pay the basic $2 MTA fare, although they will be eligible for MTA discounts and free transfers. Kalikow said it would take 18 to 24 months to replace all the private buses, but Bloomberg said he would recommend that the fare hike take effect July 1.
Although riders would pay more, the city would save money in rent for parking, fuel purchase consolidation, insurance bundling and lower maintenance costs, Bloomberg said. But the city will still contribute $150 million to the operation of the lines.
Pataki said the new buses would run on cleaner fuel, replacing the older, more polluting models.
Gene Russianoff, a spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit riders' group, said he was hopeful that bus service would improve under the deal.
"We're never going to say a fare hike is a good thing, but looking at the deal itself, the city didn't pull out its funding," said Russianoff - a move he said could have led to cuts in service or an even bigger fare increase.
The Transit Alliance, composed of the Command and Green Bus companies, Jamaica Buses and Triboro Coach, filed a $10 million lawsuit in September claiming the city was trying to put them out of business by not adequately subsidizing them. Queens Surface, Liberty Lines and New York Bus Service are the other three private bus companies.
Jamie Van Bramer, a spokesman for the Transit Alliance, said the suit was still pending.
"The details on a huge number of issues - ranging from employee protections and pension liabilities to protecting our companies' assets - remain extremely unclear at this point," the alliance said in a statement.
"We have never been asked to the table and our input has never been requested."
The city will honor its existing union contracts with the private bus workers "until new agreements are negotiated," according to a news release from the mayor's office.
Dave Katzman, a spokesman for the Transport Workers' Union Local 100, expressed concern over what would become of retired private bus workers' pensions when their lines go out of business. And for current private bus employees, "parity (with MTA wages) is not being offered at this time as far as we know," he said.
Katzman said it was also possible that MTA, private and Long Island Bus routes would be put "together in a blender," leading to some routes' elimination.
"We think the riding public needs more information," he said.
Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), who sits on the Council's Transportation Committee and had called the MTA takeover "a negative" at a February hearing, said Tuesday "it should be good for the city and good for the passengers."
But she said maintenance of routes needed to be monitored closely during the takeover to make sure there were no drastic changes.
Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee, said in a statement that while the takeover announcement came just in time, "more details clearly need to be worked out. We will hold City Council hearings so that details of the plan will be fleshed out publicly."
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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