By Cynthia Koons
City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is outraged that the three route cuts in Queens fall within his district, an area where residents rely on buses for transportation to downtown Flushing to make connections to the No. 7 subway line and the Long Island Rail Road.”My district is probably the one that's the most poorly serviced, except for maybe the Rockaways, but the Rockaways have a railroad,” Avella said. “Any reduction is unacceptable. There isn't enough mass transit as it is.”He received a letter from New York City Transit President Lawrence Reuter on Jan. 7, outlining the service reductions on those three lines.According to New York City Transit statistics, the Q13 will have four fewer trips in both directions each day, the Q14 will have eight less trips and the Q15 will have 44 rides cut.”These schedule revisions are a product of our continuing review and adjustment of schedules to ensure that they accurately reflect changes in customer demand and current traffic and other operating conditions,” Reuter wrote in his letter. “As a regular business activity, we monitor ridership levels, using reports from farebox registrations and physical observations by our traffic checkers in the field and make any necessary adjustments in schedules, based upon these rider checks, in order to accommodate fluctuations in rider demand.”A spokesman for the agency, Mark Groce, said the changes to the schedule were part of a quarterly adjustment that would extend wait times on the bus lines by one minute.Groce said riders could find out about the wait times from the bus schedules and the MTA Web site.Avella said the last time the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which oversees the buses, proposed cuts in northeast Queens, he learned about it through constituents who saw fliers on the buses. This time the agency contacted Avella directly.Riders at a Q13 bus stop on Bell Boulevard said they did not see any notices on the buses about proposed reductions in routes through Whitestone and Bayside.”I'm actually surprised,” said Jennifer Caliolo, a Bayside rider. She uses the Q13 to get to work and school and has been doing so for the past few years.”It's slowing down a lot,” she said. She estimates her average wait for the Q13 is about 15 minutes.According to city transit numbers, the current lag time between Q13 buses is nine minutes during the morning rush hour. Proposed changes, the MTA estimates, will increase that wait time to 10 minutes during the morning peak hours. There will be no change in the 12-minute wait midday or the nine minute delay between buses during the evening rush hour.The wait time between buses for the Q14 will increase from 10 to 12 minutes during the evening rush hour, according to transit authority estimates. The Q15 will increase from nine to 10 minutes during morning peak hours and from seven to nine minutes during the evening rush hour.These cuts, as part of 39 schedule changes citywide, will save the embattled agency $288,000 annually. The MTA has come under fire for its budgetary problems in the past year which have led to some fare increases.While these cuts may seem minor, they point to a larger problem, said City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee. “This has been one of the main concerns of the MTA takeover of the private bus companies, that once they take them over, then we will have these reductions,” he said. “These bus lines (the Q13, Q14 and Q15) don't have any capacity. They are packed in the morning and packed in the evening.”The agency predicted in December that it could be as much as $1 billion in the hole by 2007 because of debts incurred since Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki cut city and state subsidies for the agency.An audit conducted by City Comptroller William Thompson in April showed that the Transit Authority was not properly accounting for its debt service and needed to do so before hiking fares.The service cuts in Queens come on the heels of proposed cuts to the Q14, Q16 and Q26 lines in 2006 that City Council Transportation Chairman John Liu (D-Flushing) called “scare tactics” used by the MTA to justify fare hikes.Avella said the City Council should have more authority over the city's transit situation.”We need to get control of this because we have no say, the citizens have no say and as an elected official I have no say,” Avella said. “I can write a letter, I can plead, but at the end of the day, they're going to do what they're going to do and the ridership be damned.”Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.