By Philip Newman
Queens Surface is the second private bus line in the city to come under MTA control under an incremental takeover to be completed before May 1.The announcement was hailed by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who has held a series of public hearings to keep the pressure on City Hall to bring about the MTA takeover.”I am delighted to at last hear that the city has reached agreement with Queens Surface, a company which has served the residents of Queens since 1860,” said Marshall. “Hopefully now, new buses will get back on track and thereby improve service for the people of Queens.””This news is welcome,” said Liu. “The bus lines provided by Queens Surface are indispensable to northern Queens residents and, hopefully, the MTA takeover of these route will improve and expand service. Now that an agreement has been reached, it is imperative for the mayor and the MTA to get new buses running on these routes – new buses that the mayor and the authority had pledged would be on the road by this March.”City Hall made the announcement Monday with the agreement to bring the second of the seven private bus lines operating in the boroughs under the MTA. All seven are expected to be taken over by April 30. Liberty Bus Lines in the Bronx already has been absorbed by the MTA.Flushing-based Queens Surface, owned by Myra Burke, carries more than 43,000 riders daily and is the largest of the seven private lines.Under the agreement, the city will acquire Queens Surface for $9.5 million and the MTA will start operating the buses by Feb.26, the deadline the city had set as part of a graduated takeover of all seven.Queens Surface operates 310 city-owned buses on 19 express and local routes in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. The company began service with horse-drawn vehicles before the Civil War.Burke said she was pleased to have concluded the agreement.”I am proud of the memories I share with our passengers and with the communities we have served for many decades,” Burke said. “I am particularly thankful for the dedication of our past and present employees. I believe this agreement protects the interests of our riders and employees.”Bloomberg said the takeover would improve service for those who ride the seven private bus lines.”I am very pleased we have reached an agreement with the largest franchise bus line and I look forward to more progress in negotiations with the other bus lines,” Bloomberg said. “Having the MTA provide this service will ensure coordinated and modernized bus service for riders and better value through efficiencies and improved management for taxpayers.”Indeed, those who testified at hearings called by Liu, chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee, told of longer and longer waits for buses – many of which are nearly 20 years old – because of frequent breakdowns. Some described passenger anger over the bad service, including one case in which a bus operator was hospitalized after a beating by a passenger.Employees of the private lines spoke about worsening anxiety over lack of information on how much longer they would have jobs and the state of their health insurance.The schedule calls for the takeover of Green Lines and New York Bus Lines by March 26 to be followed by Jamaica Bus, Triboro Coach and Command Bus Lines by April 30.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.