express concerns

Staten Island’s Epic Wait for Alternative to Private Bus Service Just Got Longer

A Staten Island-bound express bus picks up passengers on 34th Street, Sept. 24, 2019.
A Staten Island-bound express bus picks up passengers on 34th Street, Sept. 24, 2019. Photo: Clifford Michel/THE CITY

A city-subsidized private bus operator unpopular with Staten Island commuters has received a year’s extension on its contract and an additional $300,000 — raising taxpayers’ tab to $3.8 million.

Board members of the city’s Economic Development Corp. approved the extra time for Academy Bus, the Hoboken-based company that supplies service along the SIM23 and SIM24, minutes from an August meeting show.

The contract extension marked the company’s third in as many years, amid protracted talk of an MTA takeover for the South Shore routes, which run on weekdays to Midtown Manhattan via New Jersey and the Lincoln Tunnel.

The private-bus service for transit-starved South Shore neighborhoods has been in place since 2001. Academy stepped in five years ago after a previous company went bankrupt.

Riders returning home to Staten Island Monday evening sounded off about late buses and breakdowns.

“These are the only bus lines in all of New York City where you have to worry about your bus breaking down in the middle of New Jersey,” said Robert Perez of Annadale.

Low Ridership Cited

Buses on the SIM23 and SIM24, which serve Annadale and Prince’s Bay, aren’t equipped with the MTA’s new OMNY contactless fare payment system and accept only MetroCards or cash for their $6.75 fare.

Staten Island has only one MetroCard vending machine location outside the North Shore.

The Academy routes also lack GPS tracking that can tell riders when the next bus will arrive.

“There are no updates except for from other riders on Facebook, and you just have to keep checking that,” said Lisa Angelo, a 31-year-old Huguenot resident.

Academy and EDC did not respond to requests for comment.

In May, midway through Academy’s last one-year deal, EDC stepped up to supply Academy with an additional $804,000 to its then-$3.5 million base contract.

A staff briefing to EDC board members attributed the ostensibly one-time subsidy increase to declining fare collections, after the MTA reconfigured Staten Island’s bus routes: “The redesign resulted in significant loss of revenue for Academy due to lower ridership.”

Ridership on Staten Island express bus routes overall has slipped only minimally since the redesign, MTA statistics show. Unlike city buses, the MTA does not disclose ridership numbers for the SIM23 and SIM24.

Waiting and Waiting for MTA Arrival

In an interview, Councilmember Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) suggested his constituents are stuck with Academy until the MTA takes action.

“It’s not like there’s a large roster of bus companies to even bid on this kind of work,” said Borelli.

He maintained the only solution is for the MTA to run the routes “They’ve told me many times in the past that they’re going to,” said Borelli.

Rumblings of a change have grown louder.

New York City Transit president Andy Byford told the Staten Island Advance’s editorial board in August that “It makes no sense to me to have this third-party doing this operation,” and said that many issues that riders have would be solved if the MTA were maintaining the routes.

When asked by THE CITY about the possibility of an MTA takeover, agency spokesperson Amanda Kwan said, “We’re talking with our city partners.”

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