Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a vocal champion in support of bus transit in the I-287 corridor and on the new Tappan Zee Bridge project, carried this support for buses into his recently released 2013 Proposed Operating Budget. For the second consecutive year, the County Executive keeps Bee-Line Bus service intact (though, earlier this year the County ended its contract with a private operator for Route 76).
Under the Department of Public Works and Transportation, the Transportation Division sees a 16% proposed increase (most of which is going to bus operating assistance to support increased fuel and benefit costs) while the budget of the Public Works division sees a 8.7% proposed decrease. Although, the budget makes no mention of potential Bee-Line fare increases, all county departments are under pressure to cut costs and raise revenue, making it too soon to know whether fare increases will be on the table.
County projections for New York State operating aid to Bee-Line remain unchanged from last year’s budget, although one potential shot of additional state revenue to Bee-Line could be the long lines transmission tax. The state collected tax was distributed more equitably amongst transit providers statewide in the 2012 NYS budget, resulting in additional funding to suburban bus systems. Bee-Line received $3,331,600 more, a 7.69% increase, as a result of last year’s redistribution, but this funding is not guaranteed in 2013 and the County must make this a critical ask during state budget negotiations. The County has also projected an additional $500K in federal aid for 2013.
In addition to protecting existing service and maintaining operating funds for Bee-Line, key bus initiatives are moving forward, including the implementation of transit signal priority in the Central Avenue corridor. This technology, which gives buses priority at traffic signals, has been in development since 2008 and is an important component to advancing the County’s bus rapid transit proposal along the Central Avenue corridor. Other ongoing initiatives that will continue in 2013 include:
- Rehabilitation of the articulated bus fleet (being paid for with $1.8M in County bonds);
- Bus stop improvement program to replace worn shelters, benches, and other amenities; and
- Efforts to promote transit-oriented development throughout the County.
As the County budget is negotiated by the Board of Legislators and the County Executive, it is important that support for Bee-Line be maintained. Bee-Line is anticipated to serve over 32 million annual riders in 2013 and is the backbone of Westchester’s employment access and mobility for the 14% of Westchester households without a vehicle. To show your support for Bee-Line in the budget process, the next and last budget hearing is 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 5 at the Westchester County Center, 198 Central Park Avenue, White Plains.