10 days ago New York Daily News writer Nicholas Hirshon wrote a story about the reroute of the Q54. So what is so special about a reroute to a bus route that compelled him to write a story? Well it is because this was not just a normal reroute but one that benefits MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger. The reroute has the Q54 passing by the Shops At Atlas Park. The upscale mall is owned by ATCO Properties, a company that the MTA Chairman is a co-owner & president of. Here is Nicholas Hirshon’s article courtesy of the New York Daily News:
The MTA gauged the success of a bus reroute past its new chairman’s family-run shopping mall in Queens just a week after he was appointed, according to an internal memo.
Angry critics charged the memo shows Dale Hemmerdinger was laying the groundwork for additional bus reroutes that would benefit the Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale despite stiff community opposition.
But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority insisted yesterday that Hemmerdinger has played no part and will play no part in the reroutings.
Hemmerdinger – the president and co-owner of ATCO Properties, which owns the upscale mall – was confirmed as MTA chief Oct. 22.
A week later, MTA employees interviewed passengers waiting for the Q54 bus – rerouted in July to stop at Atlas Park – to “assess travel patterns” along the drive, according to a memo obtained by the Daily News.
Residents charge Hemmerdinger, just days into his tenure, initiated the Q54 study to collect ammo to fight for reroutes on other buses, including the Q45.
“There’s a conflict of interest there,” said Rodney Otero, 39, who lives 1-1/2 blocks from the mall. “I’m worried about the family connection. Everything goes back to that mall.”
“It’s the appearance of impropriety, if nothing else,” said local community board member Tom Rossi, 47. “It just seems very, very odd. Aside from the impropriety, the bus is not necessary.”
But MTA officials said Hemmerdinger didn’t initiate or approve the bus plans.
“He has taken no part in the study and recused himself from any MTA project that intersects with his private business interests when he accepted the chairmanship,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in an e-mail.
Hemmerdinger’s son, Damon, who is the mall’s development director, wouldn’t discuss his father’s involvement. But he said the MTA “always does customer satisfaction surveys after routes [like the Q54] are changed.”
Damon Hemmerdinger also stressed the Q45 proposal not only would benefit Atlas Park but also would connect locals to the Roosevelt Ave. subway stop.
Still, residents believe Dale Hemmerdinger’s power impacted the decision.
“His influence on the MTA started long before his appointment,” said Kathy Masi, 55, president of the Glendale Civic Association. “He’s one of the major fund-raisers for [Gov.] Spitzer’s campaign, and his appointment was a ‘thank-you.'”
Honestly I can see why some feel this is an obvious sign of a conflict of interest. However can someone really argue an improved route that can benefit riders? I personally have never been to the Shops At Atlas Park but I have heard the mall is really nice. Why should the mall only cater to those who have vehicles? If the bus route can help shoppers get there via public transportation, what is the big deal?
I think the main issue many seem to have is the fact Dale’s company owns the mall & he is the MTA Chairman. The other issue is some still feel that he got the job as a thank you for supporting Gov. Spitzer’s campaign financially. Maybe there is some truth to the reroute being a back room deal but since it helps out riders, I won’t obsess over it. Neither should others if you ask me.
xoxo Transit Blogger