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I. DANEEK MILLER
Dollar vans New York City Councilman I. Daneek Miller said there are a few streams of hope in the “extreme transportation desert” of southeast Queens. Under pressure from Miller and others, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority set aside money in its budget to pilot a reduced fare system in southeast Queens and Brooklyn. By paying a yet-to-be-determined flat rate, riders could travel
May 15, 2017
by bus, subway or Long Island Rail Road and make as many transfers as they’d like. Miller said there are six LIRR stations in his and neighboring City Councilman Donovan Richards’ districts, but the tickets are too expensive for many residents, who are forced to take much longer commutes on buses and subways. The dollar van industry has cropped up where MTA service is sparse. “Imagine giving people back five to 10 hours a week to their families, to their communities,” Miller said of the initiative, which is set to start in the fall. “You can’t quantify that.” Additionally, Miller said the MTA is expanding a local bus depot, from which it can expand bus service; and the city Department of Transportation is undertaking a traffic study of the downtown Jamaica area, which could lead to long-needed revamps of bus routes. Nonetheless, Miller said dollar vans, which emerged during an MTA worker strike in the 1980s and continue to provide inexpensive, informal transportation in neighborhoods that lack robust bus and subway service, will remain needed – at least for now. So he helped pass a legislative package that will stop granting new commuter van licenses until the city completes a study of the industry and will increase the penalties levied on those who drive the vans without the proper licenses or who break traffic rules. “The vans are a real issue here because they are the biggest affront to Vision Zero that we have in the city, by far,” Miller said, referring to the de Blasio administration’s effort to reduce traffic deaths. “We know that if we eliminate the vans, we have to have real, viable transit options. ... We have to address it holistically.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has been working to brand the area as a place that welcomes families, but the school system seems to be struggling to keep up. School Districts 24, 25 and 26 in northeast Queens are among the most crowded in the city. And other schools in the borough are so lacking in space that they use trailers as classrooms. Trailers were initially introduced as a temporary classroom, but many have been used for decades – far longer than their five-year shelf life, according to New York City Council Education Committee Chairman Daniel Dromm. “Many of them now are in very, very bad condition and the walls are warped, they’re leaking, etc.,” Dromm said. “They’re making some progress in some of the areas, but there are still many schools that have trailers.” Dromm said the de Blasio administration had made some progress moving students out of the trailers. But about 260 trailers still serve as classrooms, according to a City Council Education Committee report. The administration has also made strides by revising the formula for calculating how many school seats are needed,
DANIEL DROMM Dromm said. So far the city has allocated funding for enough new classrooms to teach 44,000 more students, the councilman said, but it would cost another $4 billion to secure the remaining 83,000 needed seats. Dromm said he has continuously called for more seats during committee hearings and in budget negotiations. And now that the administration is looking to change zoning rules so larger residential buildings may be constructed in several communities, Dromm said he has vowed to only vote for such rezonings if they come with plans to add more school space.