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Transit Union Endorses Brooklyn-to-Queens BQX Streetcar Plan

By  Amy Langfield and Rachel Holliday Smith | June 12, 2017 9:40am | Updated on June 12, 2017 2:26pm

 A rendering of the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector on Berry Street in Williamsburg.
A rendering of the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector on Berry Street in Williamsburg.
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Courtesy of the Department of Transportation

RED HOOK — The powerful TWU 100 transit workers union on Monday said it will support the city's plan to build a streetcar along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, which would create about 500 permanent jobs for operators and thousands more during construction, the group said.

Speaking at a Red Hook NYCHA complex, TWU’s president John Samuelson said his group was proud to support the “incredible transit investment” that would connect Sunset Park to Astoria along a 16-mile route.

But major questions remain about the project, known as the BQX, including whether or not the streetcar will pay for itself. A first report about the union deal from the Daily News and a leaked memo from City Hall published by Politico earlier this year indicate a bond system devised to fund the project may not fully cover its $2.5 billion price tag.

Samuelson, however, was unconcerned about that point, saying “it doesn’t matter whether it’s self-sustaining or not” because the city should fund it either way.

“Just like there’s police service, just like there’s sanitation service, it’s a responsibility of government to provide good transit service,” he said.

In addition, the endorsement by TWU does not come with any guarantee that the Brooklyn-Queens Connector employees would be represented by TWU 100, which represents transit employees working at the MTA.

"They'll be private sector. They could join any union or not," union spokesman Jim Gannon told DNAinfo. "But we like our chances."

TWU 100 president John Samuelsen speaks at a news conference endorsing the 16-mile Brooklyn-to-Queens streetcar project, BQX, on Monday. (Photo credit: DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith)

Samuelson thinks the added service will improve transit all over the route, not only because it will reduce congestion on existing transit lines, but because it will stimulate the creation of more bus service to and from the BQX.

"Bus routes will automatically pop up to feed the streetcar system. That’s what happens," he said.

The cost to riders would be equal to a subway fare — $2.75 a ride, currently — but there is no guarantee there will be a free transfer to any MTA operated buses or subways. However, a spokesman for the Friends of BQX, the nonprofit created to push the project forward, said the group is negotiating to try to get a free transfer by the time the streetcar opens.

The possibility of paying a double fare didn’t bother Frances Brown, president of the Red Hook East Houses residents association, who spoke in favor of the BQX at Monday’s press conference.

She said everyone in the Red Hook area is excited for the streetcar and many seniors in the complex, especially, are willing to pay double to not have to walk up and down stairs in the subway. (The BQX would be built on street level.)

“They’ll pay the extra,” she said. “They have no problem with that.”

Asked about how realistic the project is at Monday’s press conference, Friends of BQX director Ya-Ting Liu said the city “is doing their due diligence” to look into the feasibility of the project.

“An infrastructure project of this scale and scope requires any government agency to do its rigorous feasibility analysis and that’s exactly what the City of New York is doing now,” she said.

The project would break ground in 2019 and start running in 2024 if the proposal moves forward.