By Anna Gustafson
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in Fresh Meadows Tuesday a new city pilot program that will provide group-ride livery van service to some commuters who will be affected by the elimination of 23 bus routes citywide and have limited access to other forms of public transportation.
Bloomberg said city officials have yet to name where the van service routes will be, although city Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said the area serviced by the Q74 in Fresh Meadows may be chosen for a trial run. The Q74 is one of nine lines in Queens slated for elimination June 27.
“By providing service in areas affected by the MTA bus cuts, we’re offering an alternative to some of the more than 10,000 riders hit by the bus route eliminations,” Bloomberg said.
City officials said they expect between three and six routes to be chosen for the pilot program, which could be expanded if it is successful.
The vans will be able to accommodate as many as 20 people, and each trip will likely cost riders about $2. The plan has been met with opposition from union members, and Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen said he was concerned the livery program would take jobs away from union bus drivers.
“This is an effort to replace solid jobs that come with medical and pension benefits and replace them with low-paid, non-unionized workforce without medical or pension benefits,” Samuelsen said. “Any politician that supports this is basically supporting an unprovoked attack against the TWU.”
About 260 bus drivers are expected to lose their jobs when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority implements the elimination of 23 bus routes Sunday, which the transit authority has said it needs to do to help fill a budget gap of nearly $800 million.
“There are 162,000 people in my district, and we have to create options to get the people in this district where they need to go,” said Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who represents the area where Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) made the announcement.
Bloomberg and Yassky emphasized the plan could also help to regulate the livery vans, which often fly under the city’s radar.
“We’re taking a step forward to get vans that drive commuters around under better regulations,” Quinn said. “For a long time, they haven’t been regulated.”
Yassky said a critical part of the new program will be “stepped up enforcement” of the livery vehicles.
“Part of this is making sure illegal operators are off the road,” Yassky said.
Kew Gardens Civic Association President Patricia Dolan said while residents want better public transportation, she had reservations about Bloomberg’s proposal.
“I wonder how reliable those vans are going to be and how accessible they’re going to be,” Dolan said. “There’s also the issue of liability. Who will be liable?”
The Queens routes headed for extinction by Sunday include the Q14, which covers Flushing and Whitestone; the Q74, which goes to Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills and Queens College; the Q75, which runs to Jamaica, Jamaica Estates, Fresh Meadows and Oakland Gardens; and the Q89, which travels from South Ozone Park to Jamaica.
The QM22 express bus from Jackson Heights to midtown Manhattan will be eliminated, as will be the QM23 express bus service between Brooklyn Manor, Queens and Penn Station. Both the X51 express service between Queens and Midtown Manhattan and the X32 express service between Queens and the Bronx High School of Science are expected to be axed.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.