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City takeover of boro bus lines delayed

The postponement of the takeover for a second time within six months resulted from of a lack of agreement last week among the MTA, the Bloomberg administration and unions representing the employees of the seven private lines in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The New York City Franchise and Concession Review Committee Tuesday unanimously approved an extension of the deadline for the private bus lines takeover until Dec. 4.

Mark McMillan, Queens deputy counsel and special assistant for police, fire and veterans, represented Queens Borough President Helen Marshall in voting for the extension.

The committee is composed of the mayor, the Office of the Mayor, director of management and budget, the corporation counsel and the presidents of the boroughs affected by issues considered by the agency.

Approval of both the Franchise and Concession Review Committee and the City Council are necessary for an extension of the contract under which the city allows the private bus lines to serve 400,000 riders in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The Council approved the extension last week.

Marshall questioned representatives from several agencies at a Monday hearing before the Franchises and Concessions Committee prior to a vote on the extension.

She characterized as "distressing" an assertion by Department of Transportation officials that 400 non-union workers of the private bus lines would be guaranteed their jobs for no more than six months following a takeover of the private lines by the MTA.

The state Assembly and Senate have adjourned after failing to agree on legislation to establish a Regional Bus Authority as part of the MTA. The administration of Gov. George Pataki advocates such an authority, but both the Transport Workers Union and the Democratic-controlled Assembly contend the MTA wants a Regional Bus Authority so it can cut back on both bus service and employees.

The private bus contract involving seven private bus lines and the city Department of Transportation was to have expired New Year's Eve but was extended to July 1 and now is set to expire Dec. 4.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee, has long criticized the MTA and the Bloomberg administration for keeping the patrons of the private bus lines, their employees and the public at large in the dark on progress of negotiations to a takeover of the buses.

"The way Gov. Pataki, officials of the MTA and Mayor Bloomberg have handled these negotiations has been abominable," Liu said. "These broken-down buses on which so many thousands of people depend keep getting worse but these officials seem willing to keep delaying any relief.

"The private bus lines workers both union and non-union need to know where they stand on their pensions, their jobs and what is going to happen to them," Liu said.

"In Queens, particularly the part of eastern Queens where there are no subway lines, our people's public transportation depends entirely on these buses. We must have better information and transparency on the part of those involved in these negotiations."

The principal barrier to an agreement by July 1 for the takeover was resistance on the part of labor leaders and the state Assembly to the MTA's plan to establish a Regional Bus Authority to run the bus lines.

Union leaders have long insisted that the MTA wants the regional agency so it can cut both bus service and employees with neither debate nor accountability.

Bloomberg has proposed establishing a separate agency within the MTA, which would not require legislative approval to operate the private lines.

"It would be a new company," Bloomberg said.

But Liu said he thought the Bloomberg proposal was "no more than a smoke screen."

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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