MTA in talks to absorb boro’s private buses

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In an exchange of letters released last week, the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have agreed to work toward a deal that would give the MTA control of four private bus lines in Queens and three others citywide as part of a new regional bus company.

“The MTA is committed to working with the city of New York to pursue a mutually beneficial agreement on or about June 30, 2003 for the MTA to assume responsibility for the provision of bus services in those areas of the city currently served by seven private bus companies,” wrote Katherine Lapp, the executive director of the MTA, in a March 31 letter to Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw.

Shaw responded the next day with a letter that cited the anticipated benefits of a transfer to the MTA, which he said “will generate operational efficiencies and cost savings and will result in better service for the riding public.”

But Queens Councilmen Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and John Liu (D-Flushing) are raising questions about whether the deal would benefit riders and protect workers.

Lapp said the MTA would create a regional bus company that would control the four Queens lines — Queens Surface Corp., Triboro Coach, Jamaica Buses and Green Bus Lines — as well as the three other private bus companies.

The public bus services already under MTA control, New York City Transit and Long Island Bus, would also be part of the new MTA company. This move would effectively put all of the city’s bus routes under a single authority.

The letters indicated that before a transfer happens, the fares charged by the private companies would have to conform to MTA levels. While the MTA’s board approved a fare hike from $1.50 to $2 for their buses, effective May 4, the city Department of Transportation has yet to schedule hearings to raise rates for local service on the private lines, which currently charge $1.50 on local routes and $1 off-peak. The $3 charge for express routes run by the MTA and private lines will increase to $4 in May.

The potential transfer is still in negotiation. Lapp indicated in her letter that officials from her agency and the mayor’s office would schedule regular meetings “to begin the process of developing a mutual agreement.”

Liu, the chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee, said while he favors the idea of putting all of the city’s bus routes under a single authority, he fears the MTA may reduce service.

“I still have grave reservations about whether the MTA is up to the job,” Liu said. “I’m very concerned that bus service in Queens is going to be cut back by the MTA.”

Avella, who chairs the Council’s Zoning and Franchises Committee, said there are “many, many questions that have to be answered.” He specifically cited concerns about how pensions for the bus employees would be preserved and how the MTA would acquire the bus depot properties, most of which are owned by the companies.

“I find it fascinating that the City Council isn’t involved in this,” Avella said. “Whatever deal they’re trying to work out, no information is being given to us. And that’s clearly wrong.”

Another unknown is whether the city would continue to subsidize the service, as it does now with the private bus companies to the tune of $165 million.

John McCarthy, an MTA spokesman, said the questions about the companies’ finances and assets “are all specifics that are going to be worked out in the ensuing meetings.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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