Published: August 10, 2010
By Aaron Rutkoff
The city’s transit union says it has won permission from the Taxi and Limousine Commission to operate a commuter-van service along the former route of the canceled B71 bus in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Prospect Heights.
Arthur Z. Schwartz, an attorney for Transport Workers Union Local 100, said the new van service will charge passengers $1 for rides and will employ bus drivers laid off by the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.
Schwartz said the service will launch in mid-September, but he noted that the TLC had not yet established a firm date. TWU has also sought permission to operate van services on the four other former bus routes that are part of the TLC’s pilot program.
“At this time, no final decisions have been made,” said TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg. “The TWU submitted a strong proposal.”
The so-called dollar vans, which are set to pick up passengers on the routes of five canceled bus lines in Brooklyn and Queens, were supposed to be on the road by Aug. 16, the original target date set by the TLC for the pilot program. But the launch date has been pushed back as the TLC works with van companies to set up service.
The union has set up a non-profit company, TWU Express, to operate the van service. Drivers will be paid the same wages they earned as MTA employees — between $24 and $26 an hour, according to Schwartz. The drivers will wear “some standard dress, probably with a TWU hat,” he said, but won’t be permitted to wear their MTA uniforms.
“Our plan is to have an initial fare of $1 to attract back the ridership on the line,” Schwartz said. “We’ll adjust from there.”
One odd hitch: TWU Local 100 is also engaged in a lawsuit against the dollar-van program. Schwartz sought an injunction against the city to stop the pilot program last week in a Manhattan court, arguing that the program is illegal. He expects a court decision by Thursday.
Union opposition to the dollar-van service has been clear from the outset, with TWU members protesting near the July press conference announcing the program. The van program also came under fire from TWU 100 President John Samuelson in a recent op-ed published in the Brooklyn Paper. The union leader alleges that the vans are unsafe and unregulated, inferior to standard bus services and “insulting” to city transit workers.
As outlined by the TLC last month, the van program is expected to charge passengers a $2 fare for rides between locations marked by the Department of Transportation along the routes of several canceled bus lines, as well as other locations negotiated with van drivers. Van companies and drivers will need to apply for a special license to take part in the program.
The former bus routes to be served by the vans also include B23 and B39 in Brooklyn as well as Q74 and Q79 in Queens.