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MTA launches first stage of private bus takeover

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"Today is an important milestone for Bronx bus riders," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a dedication ceremony at 236th Street and Riverdale Avenue. "Those who depend on express bus service to get to work and school will be able to ride new, clean and reliable buses. The delivery of these new vehicles provides the first tangible evidence of service improvements that the MTA makes possible."MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow said "customers in the Bronx will now be able to experience the same quality and commitment the MTA displays to all its riders. These buses will replace aging fleets that are prone to breakdowns and expensive repairs and will provide long-awaited relief for our riders.""I am happy something happened with Liberty Lines," said City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee."But Liberty Lines Express had few critics of its service and was extremely low-hanging fruit. The rest will be difficult," Liu said in an interview. "And what are the details, both financial and administrative, as to how the employees will come out? There are indications Mayor Bloomberg may have given away the store."Liberty became the first of seven private bus lines serving 400,000 riders in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens to be taken over in a system of increments during which the Bloomberg administration will bring all the companies under the MTA by April 30.The next to be taken over by the MTA is Queens Surface Lines on Feb. 26.But many obstacles remain before the MTA can acquire all the lines, including job security for the employees of the private companies as well as pensions and medical coverage.Employees of the private lines have demanded an answer to their question of what will happen to them once the MTA takes over.More than two weeks ago, workers at Command staged a sick-in followed by withdrawal of many buses belonging to Green Lines because of what employees said were breakdowns and malfunctioning buses. The job actions forced 70,000 riders in southeast Queens and parts of Brooklyn to find other ways to work.Unions representing workers of both lines have authorized a strike and although Bloomberg has threatened to sue the unions, private lines employees are not bound by the Taylor Law, which outlaws strikes by state workers.The takeover of the private lines by the MTA has been postponed four times while service has deteriorated with more frequent breakdowns of buses with an average age of nearly 20 years and longer waits for riders. Irate customers have sometimes vented their frustration on operators, one of whom was beaten in an altercation in Queens late last year.The buses are the only public transportation in much of eastern Queens where there are no subway lines.Besides Liberty, Command and Green, the seven private lines include Jamaica Bus, Triboro Coach, Queens Surface and New York Bus Lines.The private bus lines are now operated under contracts with the New York City Department of Transportation.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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