Queens lawmakers demand MTA include the borough in express bus service expansion

Photo by Marc A. Hermann / MTA

Queens lawmakers are calling on the MTA to expand express bus service in the borough after it was excluded from a recently announced pilot program focused on Brooklyn and Staten Island.  

Seventeen state elected officials collectively penned a letter to MTA Chief Janno Lieber on May 15, calling on his agency to expand service on express buses that take Queens residents to and from Manhattan. Their call comes as congestion pricing is set to go into effect on June 30. 

While a massive overhaul of the Queens bus network is currently in the final stretch, the legislators pointed out that under the proposed plan, many bus routes will see a reduction in stops as a way to speed up service. 

“It is unacceptable that Queens – one of the city’s largest transit deserts – was excluded from those express bus improvements,” read the letter. “Even more concerning is that instead of improving express bus service in Queens, the MTA has proposed a reduction in service for nearly every Queens express bus line as part of the Queens Bus Redesign.”

On April 30, the MTA announced that they would provide more frequent and reliable bus service on the BM2, BM5, SIM1C, SIM4C, SIM23 and SIM24 to attract more frequent riders. The agency noted that these six routes were “strategically selected to grow ridership” since they cover peak service from Staten Island and Brooklyn into Manhattan. 

At the time, many Queens officials celebrated the announcement as it was jointly shared with another pilot program that will offer a 10% discount on monthly LIRR and Metro-North passes for commuters traveling throughout the city. Both programs will be funded by the Outer Borough Transportation Account, which was created in 2018 following efforts by State Senator Leroy Comrie and Assemblymember Edward Braunstein. 

While many elected officials, particularly those in Northeast Queens, celebrated the joint announcement at the time, now, they’re expressing their disappointment that Queens express buses will not see increased service like those in the other outer boroughs.

“Queens bus riders deserve to be included in improved reliability and service. I’m deeply disappointed after all of the advocacy, particularly from Queens representatives like myself, that riders here were excluded and will be left with inadequate service as congestion pricing goes into effect,” stated State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, who represents Woodside and Maspeth

Elected officials for Northeast Queens pointed out that their areas, in particular, rely more on express buses given the lack of subway access. They say it’s unfair to burden outer borough residents with the cost of congestion pricing without increasing alternative transportation options for commuters in the outer boroughs.

“The MTA needs to be firing on all cylinders to make sure Queens residents have every available mass transit resource available before congestion pricing is implemented. That means more, not less, express bus service to take commuters into Manhattan,” said Bayside State Senator John Liu, who sits on the Transportation Committee. 

“It’s imperative that our transit system remain equitable and doesn’t disproportionately burden outer-borough commuters,” said Fresh Meadows State Assemblymember Nily Rozic. 

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who represents both Northern and Southeastern Queens, echoed a similar sentiment. 

“We are asking our residents in northern and east Queens to pay for congestion pricing without providing the services promised to our community in return,” stated Stavisky.

The letter was also signed by State Senators Kristen Gonzalez, Jessica Ramos, Joseph Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, James Sanders Jr. and Assemblymembers Steven Raga, Catalina Cruz, Jennifer Rajkumar, Alicia Hyndman, Jessica González-Rojas and Edward Braunstein. 

“Now is the time to expand express bus service in Queens, not cut it. With the imminent onset of long-awaited congestion pricing and in the absence of readily accessible subway lines, express buses will become even more important to workers, students, seniors, and many others,” stated State Senator Julia Salazar, whose district is mostly Brooklyn but includes Ridgewood as the sole Queens neighborhood.

“The MTA has the opportunity to make the right choice, and we call on them to do so on behalf of our communities,” she added.