By Kelsey Durham
Elected officials converged on Douglaston this week, calling on the federal government to provide funding that would allow the MTA to increase bus service to parts of northeast Queens that residents contend are being ignored by public transportation.
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) and state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) called a news conference to address the shrinking number of buses that run through Douglaston and the surrounding areas, citing complaints from residents who said they have experienced fewer buses and longer wait times.
Israel said he has begun pushing leaders in Washington to allocate money from the Federal Transit Authority Bus and Bus Facilities Formula Grant to help the city pay for more buses to better serve the area.
He said the neighborhood is currently served by five major bus routes, four of which have seen an increase in ridership in the past two years, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and many of those riders rely on public transportation to get to and from work every day.
Despite the growing number of customers, Israel said MTA budget cuts have led to decreased service, with some buses coming only once an hour or sometimes less.
“When you have increased riders, you need more buses,” Israel said. “And the best way to get more buses is to make sure Washington does its job.”
The grant has more than $400 million available to be dispersed, Israel said, and Rozic joined him along with Borough President Melinda Katz, City Councilman Paul Vallone and others to help advocate for some of that money to go toward adding more express buses along the QM5 and QM8 lines to Manhattan.
The funds would increase the frequency of buses that currently only run during certain hours and would also go toward adding more stops along existing routes.
One major concern pointed out by Rozic was the infrequency of express buses into Manhattan, which she said stop leaving Douglaston at 7:45 a.m. She called the current transportation options in the community “unreliable, unsustainable and unacceptable” and said she would be open to any changes the MTA could provide to help alleviate some of the stress.
“This is a community that for far too long has had no transportation,” she said. “We deserve adequate transportation and we need to put the ‘mass’ back into ‘mass transit.’”
Ravi Sriram, a Douglaston resident who uses public transportation to get to work, said he has seen firsthand the effects the decreased service has had on the community.
“It takes a good hour to get to work now,” he said. “Going home is even longer. People end up waiting in long lines, and especially in this weather it’s getting to be very uncomfortable.”
Sriram said some stops have been eliminated in the past few years, causing riders to walk further to find a place where they can still get on the bus. He said there are also schools and hospitals nearby and students and health-care professionals who travel outside normal work hours have not been able to rely on buses to get them where they need to go,
“The reality is that everyone takes mass transit,” Sriram said. “There’s a large assumption that most people drive and it’s not true. I think they’d be surprised by how many people take the bus and we now have very limited options.”
Israel said there is no set number of buses the community is hoping to add and said talks with the MTA about what changes can be made will not begin until funding can be secured.
“Unless we get an increase in funding, we can’t even begin to figure it out,” he said.
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at email@example.com.