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Reject ‘Wal-Martization’ of transit - Brooklyn Paper

Reject ‘Wal-Martization’ of transit

John Samuelsen, head of the Transit Workers Union.

For years, “dollar vans” have operated on the fringes of New York City’s transport system, picking up passengers primarily during rush hours when our buses were filled to capacity. In the 1980s and ’90s, scandals involving unlicensed and uninsured dollar van operators created a public backlash, resulting in the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s licensing crackdown. But even if licensed, “dollar vans” are not a solution to the city’s expanding need for more bus and subway service.

The Bloomberg scheme would create an unsafe, unregulated shadow transit system, undermining New York City Transit and the MTA. It’s a tremendous mistake and an affront to every transit worker in the city. Most important, it’s clearly against the will of the people: every rider wants a clean, air-conditioned city bus rather than a seat in an unregulated dollar van.

“Dollar vans,” which actually cost $2 — that’s more than the cost of a ride on New York City Transit for a transfer fare, for the purchaser of an unlimited pass, or for a senior citizen — are a backdoor way to cut bus service and justify the firing of city bus operators and mechanics. They run counter to the city’s stated intention to develop a 21st century transport system.

These unregulated vans exist in tandem with the city’s transport system, cherry-picking passengers on highly trafficked routes. They’re not likely to cover low-traffic areas where the MTA is cutting service because they won’t profit from those routes.

The “dollar van” doesn’t accommodate the disabled who use wheelchairs or have the ability to “kneel” to make it easier for a senior citizen to climb on board. A “dollar van” will not pick up an elderly person with a cane, because these operators make money by moving fast, and these passengers take up time and, from their point of view, waste money.

New York City Transit’s bus service is one of the great success stories of our city. It is clean, safe, efficient and, when properly funded, frequent. Mayor Bloomberg is cloaking a union-busting agenda in the sheep’s clothing of economic empowerment for van operators. It’s a smokescreen that New Yorkers should see through — and instead insist on more bus service. They should reject a cut-rate, “Wal-Mart” transit system that will lower safety, comfort and environmentally friendly standards.

John Samuelsen is president of TWU Local 100.

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