MTA to Manage Private
Buses in the City

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Press Release

Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Contact: Christopher Greaves, Communications Director, (212) 961-1000, ext. 304 or

MTA to Manage Private Buses in the City: But Where Are the Buses Going?

Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Pataki, and MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow announced yesterday that the operation of seven private bus lines in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx will be transferred to the MTA this summer. At City Hall yesterday, Mr. Kalikow noted that the MTA will integrate the city buses into its existing fleet - an indication that already overtaxed depots throughout Northern Manhattan may be slated for the overflow. Given that the 1998 closure of the Walnut Bus Depot in the Bronx dislocated two hundred diesel buses to Northern Manhattan and led to an upshot in bus idling, a likely decline in overall public health, and a host of service-related problems, the potential for an unwelcome flashback is rightly piquing concern. Over 1200 aging buses will change hands, the question is: Where will they be placed?

A third of the city’s buses are outdated and may need to be replaced, revamped, and repaired. City buses have not been retrofitted with the special particle traps that limit diesel exhaust emissions and reduce asthma risk. Six of Manhattan’s seven bus depots are located in Northern Manhattan - the region already bears a lopsided share of the MTA’s burdensome operations. A caravan of Manhattan-bound clunkers that service distant routes in outlying boroughs is an unwelcome prospect.

“MTA buses have been a big problem for ages,” said Flor Sanchez, a long-time resident near the 126th Street depot who once owned a restaurant nearby. He still cringes as he recalls the smoke and exhaust that chased away patrons. The thought of more buses traversing his narrow one-way street is not a comforting one, he says.

“The buses make illegal U-turns... they idle all the time,” he said. “Many little kids here have asthma as a result.” The smell of diesel exhaust is so sharp that Sanchez, after many years here, still has not adjusted.

Diesel emissions - known to precipitate strokes, heart attacks, and asthma- are a major concern in Northern Manhattan. A recent Harlem Hospital study has found that one in four Central Harlem children suffers from asthma - three times the national average. East Harlem leads the country in childhood asthma hospitalizations. Given the current conditions, the impending “integration” of city buses with MTA fleets suggests some untenable consequences for public health in Northern Manhattan. Such a move would surely meet with local opposition.

“Community grievances with the MTA are widespread,” says WE ACT Executive Director Peggy Shepard. “New York City Transit Authority President Lawrence Reuter has assured us that the Amsterdam Depot is closed as per his letter of September 5th, 2003,” she said. “We expect that none of these buses are headed for the Amsterdam Depot.”

WE ACT Continues the Fight

In spite of organized protests, a fervent letter writing campaign, and summer-long media coverage of our local asthma crisis last year, the MTA reopened its 100th Street Depot in East Harlem last September in greatly expanded form. The renovated depot, now augmented by nine additional stories, is a peculiar monument in East Harlem - a community with the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in the country. Residents are still waiting on the MTA to convert the Manhattanville Depot to compressed natural gas (CNG), a cleaner and safer alternative to diesel fuel, as directed by Gov. Pataki on April 12, 2000. The MTA has given short shrift to a Title VI civil rights complaint WE ACT filed with the Department of Transportation in November of the same year. We’ve been told that our charge - that the MTA’s practice of siting depots in the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods of Northern Manhattan is a racist policy - “rings hollow”. As Northern Manhattan already carries more than its fair share of environmental burdens, residents are waiting to be reassured that the MTA’s newly acquired buses are not Manhattan-bound.

Detailed statistics and maps of the ills afflicting our communities are available at Our executive director and staff are available for interview. It’s time to make a commitment to protecting the health of Northern Manhattan by eliminating the toxic diesel exhaust that is making them sick. WE ACT, an environmental justice group based in West Harlem, will continue to organize the communities of Northern Manhattan to demand their fair share of clean air.


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