Residents of Northeast Queens may get expanded bus service if Rep. Steve Israel (D-LI, Queens), Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and other area politicians get their way.
At a press conference at a bus stop in Douglaston on Monday, Israel said that four out of five routes to the area had experienced an increase in ridership in the past two years. He called for more money for a Federal Transit Authority Bus and Bus Facilities Formula Grant, which provides funding for capital projects to replace, rehabilitate and purchase buses, vans and related equipment and to construct related facilities, such as bus stops.
Israel said he would argue in Washington, DC that the cost of the initiative could be offset by cutting subsidies paid to the oil industry as well as those given to farmers to keep them from growing crops.
Expanding bus service is both smart and a way of getting Douglaston, which is not served with subways, its “fair share,” Israel said.
“It’s smart because every bus takes 35 cars off of the road, which means less traffic for those who are in their cars,” he said at the podium, which was positioned on a hill overlooking the Long Island Expressway.
And increased bus service is good for the environment, Israel said, because every commuter who switches from driving a car to taking a bus reduces his or her personal carbon emissions by 10 percent.
In Douglaston, morning commuters who want to take an express bus to Manhattan get their last chance at 7:45 a.m., Rozic noted.
“So if you want to go to Manhattan at any other time, you’re trapped. You’re stuck,” she said. The only option at other times is to “hitch a ride” to the Long Island Rail Road station in Jamaica, as there is no area bus service to the station.
Douglaston residents Rosemarie Giudice and Sara Minsteris said the lack of later commuter bus service has been a problem for schoolchildren and their families. Neighborhood parents who need to catch the bus to Manhattan by 7:45 a.m. often leave their children in the care of grandparents, who see them off to school, they said.
But for the past few years, area school bus stops were moved off streets where children could be supervised from indoors and onto Douglaston Parkway. That requires families to make the choice of either sending young children alone to the bus stop on the busy street or asking caregivers such as Giudice to escort them up and down steep hills, to and from the school bus stop, in all weather conditions.
Israel and Rozic were joined at the press conference by a large group of area politicians and activists who also want expanded bus service, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Whitestone). City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) sent a written statement supporting the initiative as he was unable to attend.
Jason Chin-Fatt, a field organizer for the Straphangers Campaign, said that one use of additional funding could be to implement the joint Department of Transportation-MTA plans for rapid-transit buses.
If Israel is successful in obtaining the increased bus funding, the money would not be directly earmarked for Northeast Queens. It would follow an indirect route through the MTA, which would then have to make the decision about using the funds for the area.
Israel and other politicians said that bus service to the area had been cut during a round of MTA budget cuts, but not restored when some MTA funding was increased in subsequent years.
An MTA spokesman said that it has not heard about this issue directly from either Israel or Rozic, but that some frequency and running time improvements have been made in the past year on some buses serving Douglaston.
He also said that some bus lines have been expanded to cover parts of the routes of buses that had been eliminated, weekend Q79 service has been restored and expanded, and restoration of Q31 weekend service is planned for this spring.