Westchester County’s Bee-Line bus system hit record ridership numbers last year (32.3 million), and a recent survey has revealed a transit-dependent and diverse ridership that relies on the system primarily to get to work. Unfortunately, at a time that riders’ incomes have taken a substantial hit, the bus they ride to work faces an uncertain future. The continuing local, state and federal budget battles could translate into service cuts and fare raises for a demographic, and community, that can hardly afford it.
AJM Consulting conducted the 2010 Bee-Line System On-Board Survey, a follow-up to a similar survey done in 2007. There were 10,040 responses, distributed across the bus routes in the county. The survey found that riders are:
- Transit-dependent: 62% of riders don’t have access to a car. That compares to 15% of Westchester residents without access to a car, according to 2000 Census data.
- Diverse: Hispanics and African-Americans make up more than two thirds of the ridership, 34% and 38% respectively. That compares to the county-wide figure of 33.8% combined, according to the 2009 American Community Survey.
- Aging: The average age of riders was 37, up from 34 in 2007, and riders over 50 increased by 4% in the same time period.
Work trips were cited as the main reason people took the bus, with 67% traveling to or from work, and 73% being frequent users (5 days or more). The executive summary concludes, “more than anything else, the Bee-Line’s role in Westchester County can be described as facilitating employment.”
The County has been hit substantially by the recession, as evidenced by increased vacancy rates on “Platinum Mile” and high unemployment rates—going from 3.3% in December of 2006 to 7.8% in February 2010. It is therefore not surprising that one of the biggest changes revealed by this survey was the income distribution of the riders. In 2007, 23% of riders earned less than $10,000 annually; in 2010, that figure jumped to 32%. The number of people earning between $10,000 and $25,000 also dropped significantly, from 31% to 15%. Assuming that someone earning less than $25,000 a year would have a difficult time affording a car, this survey reveals that over 50,000 riders could have a tough time getting to work every day if their bus were cut.
Funding for Bee-Line is a mix of discretionary local contributions that vary year to year, and state funds which are set via a formula that NYSDOT has called outdated and inadequate. Last year, Bee-Line was barely spared service cuts. County Executive Astorino, who used layoffs and internal efficiencies to avoid cuts, noted in a release, “coupling these savings with other efficiencies means no cuts in Bee-Line service are necessary at this time. But they could be necessary at a later date if state aid is further reduced over the course of the year.”
As Governor Cuomo moves into a new phase of his tenure touting “jobs, jobs, jobs,” Westchester County’s political and business leaders need to send the clear message that jobs and transit go hand in hand. For suburban transit systems like Bee-Line, some sort of new funding deal between the state government and the responsible county and city governments needs to be struck in order to establish predictability for the riders, and the businesses that depend on them.