This bus depot is making a sharp turn.
A representative for a controversial Bergen Beach transit company that operates out of a bus depot on E. 69th Street told locals at a recent civic meeting that the lot’s new owners are working to be better neighbors.
“We don’t want to be a disturbance, we want to be more involved in the community,” said Gino Morales, operating manager of New Dawn Transit, which runs a fleet of school buses from its depot between Avenues X and Y, transporting special-needs students all over the city under a contract with the Department of Education.
Neighbors have complained for years that New Dawn’s buses overflow the lot onto local streets, blocking driveways and double parking for long periods, often belching thick exhaust as the poorly maintained buses idle illegally.
But now the company, which was bought by Illinois-based National Express in April 2017, is reducing its fleet to make sure all its buses can be parked within its lot rather than take up space on the streets nearby. It has already cut its fleet from 229 buses to 209 in the past eight months, but plans to do more.
“One of our big goals is to de-fleet. In the eight months that I’ve been working here we’ve removed 20 buses and we are going to remove four more this month,” said Morales, who spoke at the Bergen Beach Civic Association’s meeting on Oct. 9.
Many of the buses that were removed were deemed not up to National Express’s maintenance standards, Morales said, adding that the buses are checked every 60 days to make sure they are roadworthy.
Freeing up more space inside the lot will eventually provide parking for employees, according to Morales, who currently park on surrounding streets, which is another complaint of locals.
The company has also made the flow of buses in and out of the lot more efficient by designating one gate as the entrance and another as the exit, Morales said. And he has hired a full-time maintenance worker to keep the depot and the surrounding streets clean, in an effort to address neighbors’ complaints about litter.
Another longtime complaint Morales aims to fix is driver speed and safety. In 2014, one local father used a radar gun to check the speed of the departing buses and told this paper he clocked one bus zooming down E. 69th at 48 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone.
Morales said he has equipped every New Dawn bus with a global positioning system tracker and cameras, which he monitors closely.
“I can check buses if they are driving at a steady and reasonable speed and if a bus jerks, I get an instant notification on my phone,” he said.
Also, Morales said he holds his drivers to strict safety standards, and won’t hesitate to fire them for offenses such as using a cellphone while behind the wheel.
“Safety is the big issue for us and we let go staff that don’t meet our requirements,” he said.
National Express has extended the lease of the lot until 2023 with the option for five more years after that, said Morales, who was assigned to manage the depot for the next three years.
One community honcho was impressed with Morales’s presentation, saying that the new owners had already proven that the tide is turning.
“It’s a big improvement, especially when you consider what the company inherited. Two years ago residents were screaming about it at meetings,” said Sal Calise, president of the Brighton Beach Civic Association.
Another local agreed that the new owners seemed genuine in their efforts to improve the situation.
“His presentation was sincere and he seems to be wiling to work with the community,” said Bergen Beacher Jerry Steib.