Thursday, August 8, 2002
Bus Riders Union Says More Buses Needed to Comply With Consent Decree
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A group that sued the Metropolitan Transit Authority in a bid to alleviate massive overcrowding on public buses said yesterday the agency needs hundreds more buses on the road to comply with a consent decree the MTA signed to settle the lawsuit.
The 1996 consent decree, signed by the MTA and the Bus Riders Union, set year-by-year standards for how many standing passengers a bus may have. The limit in 2000 was 10-11 people; last month, the number dipped to eight or nine, according to the agreement.
“MTA has been dragging its feet for the last six years of this consent decree,” Cynthia Rojas, spokeswoman for the Bus Riders Union, said. “The MTA should buy at least 135 buses to meet the 11 standee overcrowding limit.”
The union’s plea for more buses follows a finding this week by Special Master Donald Bliss — the federal arbitrator overseeing the decree — that 96 percent of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s lines failed to meet the 10-11 standing passenger limit.
To meet the July 1 standard, the Bus Riders Union is asking the MTA to buy 135 buses to comply with the 11 standee limit and an additional 115 buses to meet the 8 standee limit, bringing the total number of buses demanded to 250, Eric Mann, co-chair of the Bus Riders Union, said.
“The result is going to be more buses on the street,” Mann said of Bliss’ determination. More new buses could be on the street in about 18 months, but the union is hoping the court will order the MTA to find an immediate solution to the problem with putting older buses on the street, Mann said.
The Joint Working Group, comprised of 4 members of the Bus Riders Union and four members of the MTA, will have until August 29 to determine what is causing the violations and how to remedy the problem before returning to court, Erica Teasley, western region counsel for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed a civil rights lawsuit against the MTA in 1994 on behalf of the Bus Riders Union and other group, said.
MTA spokesman Marc Littman said the agency “readily admits” that, on some bus lines, buses exceed the limits spelled out in the consent decree.
“Does that mean we have chronic problems, that we have to add more buses?” Littman said. “The special master has not determined that yet.”
Since 1997, the MTA has spent $617 million “just to comply with the consent decree” and has bought 2,000 new buses, Littman said.
Many of the new buses replaced existing ones, but the agency still expanded its fleet by 478 buses, he said.
During rush hour, the MTA has around 2,000 buses on the road.
Littman said because the MTA is bound by the consent decree, its standards for bus overcrowding are lower than the transportation agencies of Chicago, Dallas, New York, San Francisco and several other major metropolitan areas.
“Right now we’re dealing with an overcrowding standard that should have been dealt with two years ago,” Rojas said.
Three weeks ago the MTA released the results of a survey that reported 7 out of 10 bus riders in the county felt Metro bus service is improving.
The agency conducted the survey of 35,000 weekday bus riders from June to December 2001.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company