Charlton Dsouza is on a mission to improve transportation in his community.
After being stranded for more than three hours on one occasion and learning from a former top transit official that the MTA has a policy not to fill in routes when a driver calls in sick, the Queens Village resident began a crusade to help his fellow riders.
Armed with a clipboard full of petitions and wearing a neon yellow safety vest, Dsouza rode the buses of southeast Queens on Friday night into the wee hours of Saturday morning talking to disgruntled transit riders and asking them to join in his fight.
“A lot of the people in this community have lost their jobs because of this bus being late,” Dsouza said of the Q2 as he stood at the corner of Hillside Avenue and 169th Street. “If the bus is not showing up on this side, you can imagine what’s happening to all the airport workers coming the other way.”
Many of those comprising the eclectic group of bus riders traveling that evening were familiar with Dsouza having seen him with his petitions before, and they were not shy about voicing their dissatisfaction with the MTA.
Several were more than willing to sign the form letters, given to them by the activist. They were addressed to MTA Chairman Jay Walder, and said in part, “I am upset that I was left stranded for several hours on numerous occasions in Jamaica, Queens. The scheduled bus which I depended on was cancelled as MTA management failed to fill the bus run with a substitute driver.”
MTA spokesman Charles Seaton told the Chronicle last month, that when an operator calls in sick the agency makes every effort to cover the driver’s route with available extra list employees, especially during the evening and overnight hours.
But one union official said that is not the case and these “incidental cuts” are hurting both passengers and drivers.
“The overnight buses — being that there is so few of them — they won’t hold those in,” Daneek Miller, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056 said at a rally in Jamaica on Monday. “But generally, they hold in somewhere between one and three percent of the service to go out on a regular basis — to save money, unbeknownst to anyone.”
Miller also said that the agency cuts service on what it calls “low ridership days,” throughout the year, holidays like Good Friday, Columbus Day and the days following Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, without telling the public, according to Miller. The schedule offers slightly less service than a typical holiday or weekend schedule, he added.
“That means whatever bus schedule that’s on the sign, and that you’re used to, will not be there on that day,” Miller said. “It is more than likely that instead of waiting five minutes, you’ll wait 10, and instead of waiting 10 minutes, you’ll wait 20.”
Seaton denied the claims, stating that the agency makes every effort to provide all scheduled service.
“When there is a deficiency, we consider such factors as time of day, ridership and cost in determining coverage of manpower deficiencies,” he said in an email. “We run service no differently on Father’s Day or
Mother’s Day than we do any other Sunday. On Good Friday and a number of other days with significantly reduced ridership, we run a somewhat thinned out service on routes with frequent service. We do not adjust the spans of service, or anything major that the customer would notice.”
Miller said the union is trying to inform the community and elected officials about the cuts, emphasizing that the MTA is mandated to provide a service, and is not fulfilling its obligations. He also said bus drivers unfairly bare the brunt of the anger exhibited by frustrated riders.
“These service cuts came into existence at the same time as fare increases and that’s a little hard to take,” Miller said adding, “Working people can’t afford this and it has certainly manifested itself in forms of violence over the last year.”
Rahimur Nirjhor, a resident of Jamaica and student at Martin Van Buren High School, was riding the Q110 bus at around 1 a.m. on Saturday, coming home from his part-time job. He said that he has been left stranded several times when trying to catch the bus after midnight and has been forced to take a gypsy cab home.
“Sometimes it’s scary,” he said. “You don’t know what kind of people they are.”
Marva Fraser of Queens Village had a similar experience. Her friend called her at around 9 p.m. on a holiday saying that the bus had not come and that she had been waiting quite awhile. “We had to come and pick her up,” Fraser said. “It’s terrible.”
Fortunato Cordova of Hollis was on his way home from work at around midnight and waiting for the Q3 bus at the corner of Hillside Avenue and 169th Street when he took time to reflect on his experience as a transit rider.
“We always wait for a long time. At five, six o’clock, the bus is always a half hour late and the line is all the way down there,” he said as pointed towards the end of the block.
Although the the bus was on time that evening, Cordova threw his hands up in frustration as he recalled the many times he has had to wait. When asked if he a message for the MTA, Cordova replied, “The service — it sucks.”
Idris Swatts, of Far Rockaway, also had a gripe with the MTA as he waited for the Q110 bus on Jamaica Avenue, a line that arrives hourly on late nights. “They should have it on at least 30- to 45-minute rotations,” he said. “It’s so cold, but even in the summertime the service is slow.”
Although the Q2, Q3 and Q110 buses at the locations monitored by Dsouza and the Chronicle on Friday evening were punctual — the transit advocate said that that is not the norm, and opined that perhaps his numerous complaints were finally being heard.
Dsouza brought the bus service issue to the attention of Community Board 13, Public Advocate Bill deBlasio, Walder and others. He even tried to speak to Mayor Bloomberg, and captured it on video, but after only managing to get out one sentence, “I had to wait for the bus for three hours,” Bloomberg replied, “Go talk to the MTA,” and walked away.
Dsouza has collected about 70 petitions from bus riders so far and has vowed to continue his crusade until service improves.
He said since riders pay $104 a month for an unlimited MetroCard, he believes the least the MTA could do is post schedule updates on its website and offer riders whose route is cancelled an extra transfer so they can get home.
“My issue with the MTA is, if you are going to cancel a bus, why would you have people waiting out here for two hours when they could just check their Blackberry, see that the bus is cancelled, so they can take other buses,” Dsouza said. “It’s not fair to the riders.”