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MTA private bus takeover’s future cloudy

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The latest estimate as to when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will take over the remaining private bus lines operated under contract from the city is between late February and the end of April. The MTA took control of Liberty Express last week.The others are Triboro Coach, Queens Surface, New York Bus Lines, Jamaica Bus and Brooklyn-based Command, the other line that was struck this week,Queens Surface Lines is scheduled to be taken over Feb. 26, New York Bus Lines March 26 and Command, Green, Jamaica Bus and Triboro Coach by April 30. The problem is are these dates set in stone or are they as elusive as the ground in this week's California mudslides?The MTA's takeover of the bus lines has been postponed four times. It is now scheduled to be carried out in segments to be completed by April 30.The takeover originally was scheduled for July 1, 2003, then moved to Jan. 1, 2004, then to July 1, 2004, and again to Dec. 4, 2004.The private lines serve 400,000 riders, including 350,000 in Queens with the rest in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan.City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee, conducted a series of public hearings last fall in an effort to determine what was being done by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the private line owners to accomplish the takeover.Liu has long criticized Bloomberg, Gov. George Pataki and the MTA for the drawn-out process of the takeover.Meanwhile, operators and mechanics for the two bus lines on strike this week conducted job actions Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 with Command employees calling in sick in large numbers and Green Lines workers pulling numerous buses out of service because of what they called malfunctions. The city authorized vans to operate along routes of the two lines,Bus service and employee morale have been deteriorating for some time. Officials of the private lines as well as employees and labor leaders told stories of longer and longer waits for riders because of breakdowns by the buses, most of which are nearly 20 years old, and angry passengers, some of whom took out their wrath on operators.One story related at a hearing involved an attack on a bus operator by an irate passenger in southeast Queens. The operator was hospitalized and released.The employees complained they were being strung along without any idea of whether the takeover would mean the loss of their jobs, medical insurance and pensions. Their unions said they had been frozen out of negotiations over the takeover and bus line owners contended that not knowing what was going to happen complicated borrowing money from banks.A measure in the New York Legislature to establish a New York Bus Authority passed the Senate last summer but failed to survive the Assembly. Critics said such an authority would have allowed the MTA to cut service and increase fares without accountability. Some union leaders said the MTA wants to abolish many express buses, with their riders forced to use subways.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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