WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (PIX11) – Long wait times and infrequent evening service are just some of the complaints from Westchester residents who rely on the public bus to get around the county.
Residents say it’s time to leave behind the old and welcome the new after the same company has operated the bus for five decades.
A new report by Tri-State Transportation Campaign looks at the current contract between the county and Liberty Lines – the private company that operates Bee-Line – and how Westchester compares to other transit agencies.
Talia Crawford, a campaign organizer, says it found Bee-Line service underperforms in a number of key metrics.
“The operating expenses of Westchester County’s Bee-Line buses are some of the highest in the country and compared to other similar transit agencies, we found that the county is getting relatively little service for what they are paying,” Crawford said.
Deadhead miles and deadhead hours, which is the total distance and time a bus is not in service to pick up passengers, show Westchester is expending 24% of miles on deadhead while Nassau County’s NICE bus is 14%. Nassau also has a similar fleet size and ridership numbers.
What the organization says also hurts Bee-Line is that there are only two bus depots in the entire county.
“The routes have not been updated for over 50 years in any meaningful way,” said David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter.
Michael Ditkoff, who is a frequent rider of the Bee-Line, compared bus transit maps from 1986 and 2018.
“Same routes, same destinations,” Ditkoff said. “Nothing has changed except for the county executive.”
The county is the second-most wealthy county in the state and one of the wealthiest in the country, but not everyone owns a car.
New Rochelle resident Annie Chiappetta is visually impaired and walks around with a guide dog.
“I’m a person with a disability and I rely on public transportation for everything that I do in this county and it’s been disappointing for me, to say the least,” Chiappetta said.
The U.S. census shows that around 73 percent of Westchester County residents identify as white. Renae Reynolds, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign says this demographic does not reflect the ridership.
“The people who are dependent on Bee-Line are disproportionately low-income and folks of color,” Reynolds said. “The majority of Bee-Line riders don’t have access to vehicles and many of these riders depend on Bee-Line for access to jobs, to get to school, to simply survive in Westchester.”
Without a competitive bidding process, the group says the county continues to award the contract to Liberty Lines without change.
Westchester County tells PIX11 News in a statement in part:
“This administration has long been committed to collaboration. That being said, Westchester County has already contracted with Transpro, a well-respected bus transit consultant, to assist the County in writing the RFP (request for proposal) for the Bee-Line Bus System. The County also already has an established working group evaluating best practices nationwide for routes, performance indicators and bus timing. The group is being led by Director of Operations Joan McDonald, a former New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner who has a deep understanding of transportation issues not only in Westchester County but in New York State.
We also note that the report did not include any reference to the lifting of all Bee-Line Bus fares this summer, a move to help passengers struggling with inflation, or the continued electrification of our fleet to combat climate change.
As always, Westchester County, under the direction of Executive George Latimer, is open to hearing all ideas and suggestions. That is why it is often best to simply pick up the phone and continuing the dialog, as opposed to calling a press conference.”