From his office on Bell Boulevard and 73rd Avenue, City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) says he can hear his frustrated constituents at the former Q75 bus stop swearing, yelling, and literally crying out for someone to restore the cancelled bus route.
The Q75, which ran from Oakland Gardens to the F train stations in Jamaica, was eliminated along with 32 other bus routes, 570 bus stops and two subway lines on June 27, 2010, a $93 million service reduction.
When reports circulated that the MTA forecasts an unexpected $40 million budget surplus, Weprin seized the opportunity to push for the return of the Q75.
“It’s very important to our community,” Weprin said. “Eastern Queens is a transportation desert. There aren’t a lot of bus routes, there are no subway stops, and the LIRR doesn’t run through my district. It’s very hard to get into Manhattan and there are not a lot of options.”
Weprin wrote a letter to the New York City Transit Authority asking them to restore the Q75, but he has not received a response yet. He noted that NYCTA answered a previous letter in September by saying that not enough people rode the bus.
“The Q75 was eliminated because it had one of the lowest, if not the lowest ridership in the city with 970 daily passengers. The route average citywide is approximately 12,500. It also duplicated the Q17 and the Q88,” Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the MTA and NYCTA, said in a statement.
However, the Q75 exclusively served the area east of Springfield Boulevard, bounded by the LIE and Alley Pond Park. Many residents of this area live more than 10 blocks from any public transportation. Their closest alternative is the Q27 on Springfield Boulevard, which runs between Flushing and Cambria Heights.
Resident Illisa Greenberg used the Q75 to commute to high school until it was eliminated right after her sophomore year. “My mom had to start driving me to the train because the other buses took too long,” she said.
“It only came every 20 minutes and it only ran on weekdays, but it was helpful,” Greenberg said. “It was never a very crowded bus route, but I noticed that the same people used it every day.”
Weprin noted that a lot of people who previously used the Q75 now drive to work in Manhattan, which runs counter to the Bloomberg administration’s attempts to reduce traffic congestion.
“They shouldn’t punish these people twice,” Weprin said. “These people have a right, they pay taxes, and they should have public transportation.”
“When funding is available, we think that restoring and enhancing service should be a first priority,” said John Raskin, the president of the Rider’s Alliance, a grassroots organization of subway and bus riders said.
Raskin noted that pressure from elected officials has caused the MTA to improve services in the past. For example, City Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) successfully encouraged the MTA to increase service on the B61 route.
Bill Henderson, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA said that there was “some discussion” about restoring service at the last board meeting and that Thomas Prendergast, then the acting CEO and Chairman of the MTA, committed to look at the agency’s finances.
The MTA will likely raise the topic and allot any unexpected money at meetings in June and July, when they devise the July Financial Plan, according to Henderson.
If the MTA does decide to restore service, the process would be the same as it was in July 2012, when it used $29.5 million to restore some of the service that was eliminated in 2010, including part of the Q79 bus route, which runs from Glen Oaks to the Little Neck Long Island Railroad Station. The money would go to the agencies, and the agency presidents will recommend services to add or restore.
“We talk about network coverage,” Henderson said. “If there is no alternative bus in an area, that is a factor that would be considered on whether to restore a bus in an area.”
Elected officials in Staten Island are also calling on the MTA to restore service to remote, underserved areas.
“We’ll all be pushing,” Andrew Albert, a member of the New York City Transit Rider’s Council, said. “There’s definitely money to put buses back. We’re not going to get back everything we lost, but I expect we’ll get something back.” Henderson said the MTA will probably use the money “to benefit riders,” but that might not include additional service.
Another fare hike is scheduled for 2015, with hearings in 2014 because the MTA will have to deal with the rising costs of fuel, traction power, labor, and interest on money borrowed for capital improvements. The MTA might use the $40 million to lower the amount the fare will increase in 2015, according to Henderson.
Although the fare hike was scheduled a long time ago, Albert noted that 2015 is an election year for the governor, who will likely face a lot of pressure to avert it.
“It depends how the revenues are,” Albert said, “but it’s a very political thing.”
However, Morris Peters of the state Division of the Budget cautioned that assuming there will be an extra $40 million might be jumping the gun.
“It’s all based on economic forecasts, we have to see what actually comes in,” Peters said.
Peters explained that many of the revenue sources that fund the MTA, including the Petroleum Business Tax, depend on overall economic activity.
“The better the economy does, more taxes are collected and more money flows to the MTA,” Peters explained.
According to Morris, the state budget gave $4.25 billion to the MTA for the fiscal year beginning April 2013, a 9 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.
The MTA did well in this budget, while other state agency budgets remained flat, Morris said.
“The MTA put together their budget and the state was able to meet their needs,” Morris said.
“They’re not guaranteeing anything,” Morris said. “They might not get that level of revenue.”