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MTA move on strike buses riles some board members, LIRR unions

MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast leads the

MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast leads the MTA during a vote at the April 2014 Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Credit: Bryan Smith

The MTA Wednesday voted to solicit proposals for private bus service to transport Long Island Rail Road commuters if efforts to reach a labor deal fail and union workers strike.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan for contingency buses passed 8-4 at its meeting in Manhattan. But some members objected to the move, suggesting it would provoke LIRR unions negotiating a new contract with the agency.

Anthony Simon, who leads the coalition representing 5,800 LIRR workers, agreed with board members who said a strike contingency plan will provoke a strike.

"The perception of it is you're preparing harder for a strike than we prepare for negotiations," Simon said.

MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast disagreed with some board members, including ex-Gov. David A. Paterson, who implored him to wait a month before arranging buses and said the plan "antagonizes hardworking men and women." Prendergast said he worked to avoid this decision, but because a strike is possible, he had to start the process to secure buses before the busy summer travel season.

"We will not have any buses available if we don't start these negotiations," he said, adding that using buses as a replacement for the LIRR would be challenging. "What we're trying to do is [get] scores, if not hundreds, of buses, and trying to take care of those with the most critical transportation needs."

Riders are concerned about getting to work, according to Mark Epstein, LIRR Commuter Council chairman. He supported the MTA's move, but "buses are not the whole answer."

If the standoff continues, LIRR workers could strike July 19.

Meanwhile, the MTA board backed an $11.3 million plan to speed installation of Positive Train Control on the LIRR and Metro-North. The technology, which lets trains communicate with track transponders to control speed, was ordered by federal officials after the deadly December derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx.

The change to the $500 million contract with Bombardier Transportation/Siemens Rail Automation will require the firm to deliver the equipment 12 to 17 months earlier.

A contract was also awarded for a mobile ticket purchasing app on LIRR and Metro-North. The app, developed by a United Kingdom-based firm called Masabi, would let riders buy a ticket on a device to show a conductor or have its QR code scanned.

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