Pols call for oversight hearings on bus fleet inequities
by Benjamin Fang
Mar 20, 2019 | 2152 views | 0 0 comments | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In response to a report that poorer neighborhoods in Brooklyn are given older and dirtier buses, Borough President Eric Adams called for legislative oversight hearings on the MTA’s bus infrastructure.

On Monday, Adams gathered with advocates, union leaders and other officials outside the headquarters of the New York City Transit Authority in Downtown Brooklyn to ask for the hearings.

According to a Daily News analysis published last week, low-income neighborhoods of color like East New York and Brownsville tend to have routes with diesel buses, which have a negative effect on air quality and public health.

Meanwhile, newer bus fleets, equipped with Wi-Fi and phone chargers, are more likely to be found on routes in higher-income Brooklyn neighborhoods, like Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Park Slope.

“The fact is that the buses in Brownsville are older than the citywide average,” Adams said. “That’s troubling to me.”

The borough president said he had a conversation with members of the Transit Authority, who expressed a “clear desire” to improve on the inequities. But Adams said there should still be a proper analysis and review of how those alleged inequities came to be.

“The areas where you have the poorest economic indicators should be the first to receive quality service and buses,” he said.

Adams also highlighted the public health risks associated with running older, diesel fuel buses. According to the borough president, who cited Department of Health data, children ages five to 17 in East New York have 315 child asthma emergency department visits per 10,000 children.

In Brownsville it’s even worse, at 475 emergency department visits per 10,000 kids.

That’s compared to 113 visits per 10,000 children in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, Adams said.

“Government should not be feeding the crisis, they should be operating to rectify the crisis,” he said. “Based on these numbers, it’s just the opposite.”

Adriana Espinoza, program director for the New York League of Conservation Voters, said diesel exhaust is made up of harmful pollutants like nitrous oxide and particulate matter that make it into your lungs and eventually your bloodstream.

Studies have linked the exhaust to asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, cancer and higher mortality rates.

She noted that Brownsville has the highest adult asthma rate, more than twice as high as the Brooklyn and citywide average. The same is true for children, which causes them to miss school more often.

“Disproportionately, low-income communities and communities of color are overburdened by this poor air quality,” Espinoza said. “Plain and simple, this is environmental injustice in action.”

Advocates said electric buses provide a healthier alternative. Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents parts of East New York, has been calling for the MTA to switch to electric buses for years.

“It’s time we make that switch and catch up with the times,” Espinal said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The MTA’s Fast Forward modernization proposal called for zero emissions and a fully electric bus fleet. Both elected officials and advocates in attendance said passing congestion pricing is necessary to fund the Fast Forward plan and speed up the transition to electric buses.

While Adams supports congestion pricing, he said the Transit Authority needs to move in the right direction on transportation and environmental equity.

“The MTA must get the money to move an extensive overhaul of our bus operation,” he said, “but it should not be carried out in a manner we are witnessing now.”

JP Patafio, Transit Workers Union Local 100’s vice president of Brooklyn buses, said the union is supportive of ridding those inequities in the bus fleet.

“It’s not good for the riding public, it’s not good for the operators,” he said about the old fleet in Brownsville and East New York. “It’s just something that shouldn’t be taking place.”

The MTA, however, disagreed with the Daily News analysis.

“There is zero truth to any accusations that the deployment of buses is influenced by any consideration of income, race or any other demographic measure, and the facts clearly show that,” said MTA chief external affairs officer Max Young.

Young added that the MTA is in the midst of an “aggressive plan” to roll out new buses across the city, from the north shore of Staten Island to Far Rockaway and Red Hook.

He noted that East New York and Flatbush will see a “total replacement” of older models, which he said are only a small portion of their fleet, by the end of the year.

“The age of our fleet clearly underscores the need for congestion pricing and reliable revenue to fully fund our capital plan, which will allow us to purchase thousands of newer, cleaner buses over the coming years,” Young said.

At an announcement about improved subway service on Monday, New York City Transit President Andy Byford said the assertion that the MTA deliberately deploys older buses in some neighborhoods based on race or income is “ludicrous and absurd.”

“The deployment of buses is in no way linked to demographics, that’s simply not the case,” he said. “If people want to have an audit to establish that, that’s fine.

“I would say that would take our focus away from what New Yorkers really want us to do,” Byford added, “which is getting on with our job, not constantly looking over our shoulders and chasing witch hunts that simply don’t exist.”
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