By Sarina Trangle
Days after President Barack Obama pleaded for infrastructure and transportation funding at the foot of the Tappan Zee Bridge, transit unions rallied for related investments in front of the Jamaica Bus Depot.
Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 1056 and 1179, which represent Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus drivers and mechanics in Queens, handed out pamphlets May 16 espousing the economic and job benefits of putting more money into public transportation.
As part of an organized labor effort across the country dubbed National Transit Month, Local 1056 President Mark Henry and Local 1179 President John Lyons pushed for what they described as a long overdue investment in Queens buses.
In a joint memo, the ATU chapters called for constructing a new Jamaica depot, replacing older buses with newer models and protecting Casey Stengel Depot in Willet’s Point from flooding.
“Public transportation is the backbone of this city,” Henry said. “It is a civil right of the neighborhoods we service.”
Union members were flanked by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) and City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans).
Meeks said part of the four-year, $302 billion infrastructure program Obama touted at the Tappan Zee May 14 would help fix highways, bridges and rail lines while bolstering public transportation and local economies.
The congressman believes Republican support for the measure could be built by emphasizing projects needed in their districts.
“Those in the rural areas know that in order to get their highways, we’ve got to fund our public transportation systems,” Meeks said. “We’ve got to play catchup. We’ve got more people with more destinations than ever before. But if we don’t put the money into our public transportation system as well as into our infrastructure, our country will be falling apart.”
Besides calling for more public investment in buses and subways, elected officials used National Transit Month to sound off on Queens issues.
Weprin emphasized how the dearth of public transportation in his district made former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s so-called congestion pricing platform to toll free bridges unacceptable.
A representative from Councilman Donovan Richard’s (D-Laurelton) office made the case for extending a Select Bus route planned between Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards through the entire Rockaway peninsula.
And Miller railed against the federal transit funding formula that allocates 80 percent of every dollar to freeways and 20 percent to transit systems.
“We understand that this mechanism of funding has historically been disproportionate as it pertains to urban America — 80-20 does not work,” said Miller, who was previously president of Local 1056. “It’s about jobs. It’s about service. It’s about people coming together and being able to have the quality of life that they deserve. And we’ll be able to do this with the proper funding.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at [email protected].