Bus drivers to MTA: We’ll provide service that you can’t

City seeks ‘dollar vans’ to operate on dead MTA routes
Photo by Ted Levin

Bus drivers who lost their jobs in budget slashing by the MTA could find themselves picking up their old riders thanks to a proposal by the Transit Workers Union to operate van service along the killed B71 route through Brownstone Brooklyn.

The union has created a new company, called TWU Express, to participate in the city’s pilot program to provide “dollar van” service along slashed MTA routes — and union officials are already making the bold claim that its service will be better and cheaper than the service that the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority once delivered.

“We’ll have one van every 15 minutes, the MTA had [a bus] every 20,” said Arthur Schwartz, the union’s attorney.

If it gets the city nod to start service next month, TWU Express will charge $1 a ride for the first 30 days of operation — an attempt to win back the 1,080 jilted B71 riders forced to scramble for transportation alternatives since their line’s demise in June.

The fare will likely be raised after the promotional period, Schwartz noted.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission has not made a decision yet, but called the union’s application “impressive.”

“The TWU has a very strong proposal,” said Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the agency, which is seeking operators to run vans along not only the B71, which once traveled through Carroll Gardens and Park Slope on its way to Crown Heights, but also the B39 in Williamsburg, another slashed line.

The union has been among those blasting the pilot program, which it called illegal. But that didn’t stop it from setting up its not-for-profit van company, something it now says is in an effort to convince the MTA that there is enough ridership to eventually reinstate the B71. The MTA declined to comment.

“This is not about making money,” insisted Schwartz.

Former B71 riders said that they felt more comfortable having city bus drivers behind the wheel, instead of relying on so-called dollar vans — which have a reputation of driving recklessly and flouting traffic laws in neighborhoods such as Flatbush and Canarsie.

“It’s good to have people who know the road and know how to handle a big vehicle,” said Brad Kerr of the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association, which unsuccessfully rallied to save the B71.

Commuters can expect to travel in style: TWU Express will lease four, 15-seat Ford or Mercedes Benz vans, Schwartz said. Drivers will be paid roughly $25 an hour.

Meanwhile, Sulaiman Haqq, the Barbados-born co-owner of Brooklyn Van Lines, said he hasn’t heard back from the city about his bid for the pilot program.

He wondered how the transit workers were able to get their pedal in the door so easily. “This was supposed to be for the vans,” he said. “They are a union, they represent the transit workers. “I’m not sure how they will be qualified for something like this.”