Today’s news:

Livery service fills gap left by cutting Q74

Borough residents who once rode the Q74, which ran from the Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike subway station to Queens College before being axed by the MTA, will soon be able to use the group-ride livery van service unanimously approved by the city Taxi and Limousine Commission last week.

Passed by the TLC last Thursday, the city’s pilot program will provide group rides to people along five bus routes that were cut in June by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to help fill a budget gap of about $800 million.

“The TLC’s action paves the road for a new form of service that we believe will be of great benefit to people affected by the MTA’s service reductions,” TLC Commissioner David Yassky said. “One of the great advantages of having a comprehensive transportation network as we do in New York City is that it sometimes has the flexibility to serve people in new and better ways that never before existed, and this van program is a perfect example of this.”

Slated to begin in mid-August, the service will allow groups of up to 20 people to ride in livery vans to locations along the Q74. The specific sites have not yet been designated nor has the frequency of the rides. Each trip will cost riders $2.

“Nobody wanted to lose the Q74 and when that happened we certainly did everything in our power to get it back and when that couldn’t happen we worked with the Bloomberg administration to figure out how to provide some other transportation option,” City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said. “I’m glad my district and the Q74 is one of the pilot routes.”

While city officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), touted the program as innovative and a boost to riders who saw their bus routes go by the wayside, civic activists and union leaders have criticized the program.

“It is an inappropriate and inadequate substitute for the Q74,” said Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association President Patricia Dolan. “These cars are not going to be able to provide transportation for the elderly and the disabled. They will not recognize the free MTA cards that students carry.”

Dolan also said the vans will not recognize subway transfer cards upon which many residents rely.

Yassky said a critical part of the new program will be “stepped up enforcement” of the livery vehicles.

“Part of this is making sure illegal operators are off the road,” Yassky said at a June news conference at Queens College where he, Bloomberg and Quinn announced the program.

Despite Yassky’s assurances participating vehicles would be closely monitored by the city, Dolan expressed her doubts.

“We’re very much aware of the dollar vans that quote unquote serve Jamaica and Flatbush, and we don’t want them in Kew Gardens Hills,” she said. “The TLC claims they’re going to enforce the law and frankly we do not think this is going to happen.

The plan has also been met with opposition from union members, and Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen said he was concerned the livery program would take jobs away from union bus drivers.

“This is an effort to replace solid jobs that come with medical and pension benefits and replace them with low-paid, non-unionized workforce without medical or pension benefits,” Samuelsen said last month. “Any politician that supports this is basically supporting an unprovoked attack against the TWU.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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