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As Need Grows, County Bus Service Lags

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As Need Grows, County Bus Service Lags

By DIANA MARSZALEK

NEW YORK TIMES

September 27, 2008

 

28West_span.jpg

Alan Zale for The New York Times

HUB White Plains, one of the areas where county bus service is concentrated.

 

Alan Zale for The New York Times

HUB White Plains, one of the areas where county bus service is concentrated.

 

But doing so is often not easy for those whose travels are more complex than hopping a Metro-North train to Grand Central and who must rely on local bus service, transportation experts, public officials and commuters say.

 

“Certainly, it’s not Manhattan,” said Assemblyman George S. Latimer, a Rye Democrat who is a member of the Assembly’s transportation committee. “It’s much harder to get that kind of transportation flowing.”

 

While the concentration of public transportation makes mass transit an easy choice for urbanites in New York City, it is not so cut-and-dried in Westchester, where topography, land use patterns and suburban mind-sets keep commuters firmly in their drivers’ seats, Mr. Latimer said.

 

Still, ridership is up for the county-operated bus service, Bee-Line. Ridership through August was up 6.7 percent over the same period last year, said Lawrence C. Salley, commissioner of the county’s Department of Transportation.

 

Fuel prices and last year’s introduction of MetroCard, which benefits commuters who also use New York City transit, are among the reasons for the increase, he said. Some busy routes are getting much busier; for example, ridership on Route 20, which serves Central Avenue, is up about 30 percent, he said.

 

Bee-Line moves 32 million passengers a year, making it one of the 40 largest bus systems in North America. That is despite continuing obstacles, transportation officials and commuters say.

 

Most bus service is south of the Interstate 287 corridor and is concentrated in more urban places, like White Plains, New Rochelle and Yonkers, where the largest numbers of commuters and jobs are, Mr. Salley said. Bus stops in less populated areas are farther between.

 

And taking the bus is no simple task, said Melissa Ortiz, 21, a Manhattanville College senior who relies solely on buses and trains. “Timeliness is the biggest hardship when riding the bus,” she said.

 

Jeffrey M. Zupan, a senior fellow for transportation with the Regional Plan Association in New York City, said that until it is fast, efficient and easy for suburbanites to take buses, they will not.

 

Recent trends, like urban-style developments going up near transit centers in cities including New Rochelle, Yonkers and White Plains, make increasingly widespread use of mass transit in Westchester more likely down the road, he said. But given Westchester’s existing configuration — which includes sprawling office parks set back from main roads — it will most likely be a decade or more before it becomes easier for commuters to give up their cars in favor of buses and trains, Mr. Zupan said.

 

“The choice of driving if you have a car is easier,” he said.

 

County bus service is used primarily by working individuals who do not have means for or access to a car, transportation officials said. About 70 percent of Bee-Line passengers come from households with no access to a car, Mr. Salley said, and an equal number have annual household incomes of $35,000 or less.

 

But there are other Westchester residents, including former New York City residents well versed in public transportation, who say they would gladly leave the car at home if only it were easier.

 

Take Kate Long, 53, a playwright who preferred buses to driving when she moved to Larchmont from Manhattan two years ago. But after several unfulfilling bus experiences, including an overcrowded Christmastime ride to White Plains and long waits for buses that never showed up, Ms. Long said she gave up on local bus service.

 

Ms. Long is more likely to board a bus to Manhattan for errands and appointments than a bus to White Plains. “Now I spend $20 to get into New York,” she said.

 

Bee-Line has a web of 67 routes, with some running 16 hours a day, Mr. Salley said. It recently added several routes, including one that goes between the White Plains transit center and the Westchester County Airport; an express between Westchester Community College and 241st Street in the Bronx; and another that links 241st Street and the Westchester Medical Center.

 

Bee-Line has 360 buses, Mr. Salley said, and 60 vans that provide transportation for people with disabilities. It goes from White Plains to Wall Street, and travels to Bronx subway stops. Its buses also serve 22 of Westchester’s 43 railroad stations, and shuttle buses loop through communities during peak commuting hours to serve Metro-North. Seasonal buses serve Playland in the summer and holiday shoppers in the winter.

 

A Bee-Line ride costs $2, and since Bee-Line partnered last year with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Manhattan-bound riders can transfer to a subway in the Bronx without paying more. About 30 percent of Bee-Line riders do so, Mr. Salley said.

 

The service, however, comes at a cost to government agencies.

 

Just $38 million of Bee-Line’s $123 million budget for this year is expected to come from fares, Mr. Salley said. The state and county — which created the Bee-Line system from eight private operators in 1974 — pay the rest.

 

Factors like gas prices that make bus service more attractive to riders also make it more difficult for the county. Bee-Line, which uses about 3.5 million gallons of gas a year, now pays about $4.50 a gallon, up from $2.46 last year, Mr. Salley said. “Nobody makes money on bus service,” he said.

 

Country transportation officials are trying to lure more riders to Bee-Line. Studies to improve service along busy (and often bottlenecked) Central Avenue are under way, as are outreach efforts to publicize the benefits of using mass transit, Mr. Salley said.

 

Commuters, however, said taking the bus can simply be hard.

 

Ms. Ortiz, the Manhattanville student, said long rides and erratic schedules make commuting between the Purchase campus, where she lives, and her two part-time jobs in White Plains and Larchmont, as well as running errands, inefficient. “If I need to go to White Plains for just one errand, like say go to the bank, I have to wait a whole hour for the next bus,” she said.

 

Other commuters have challenges too.

 

Reverse commuters to MasterCard, in Purchase, said their travel times from the city would increase significantly if the company fulfilled a plan to eliminate private shuttle buses to and from some Metro-North stations. Taking a Bee-Line bus from the Rye train station to MasterCard, for example, would add 20 minutes each way, they said.

 

Mr. Zupan, however, said public transit alone could not solve commuting problems in Westchester. Rather, employers should promote mass transit by offering workers incentives, some of which employers can recoup through tax credits, he said.

 

“Not enough people are thinking long term,” Mr. Zupan said.

 

There are, however, signs of that changing, he said. Municipal leaders and developers are beginning to incorporate mass transit into development plans, he said. Mass transit is easily accessible from large developments, like residential, retail and office mixes, that already exist in White Plains and are planned for New Rochelle, he said.

 

“This could be a decades-long process,” Mr. Zupan said. “But from my perspective, a decade isn’t that long.”

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Hmm... Well I could say something like, they need more buses, and improved service. I remember when i was younger, the Bee-Line buses were doing pretty well! Well, if the county can't afford to maintain the bus system *sighs* I hate to say this, but I think it is time that the (MTA) step in and knock Bee-Line outta the picture if they can't shape up. If the bus system is costing the County of Westchester, then they should let the (MTA) move in and take over. ST too! My sister works for Suffolk County and she knows the county exect pretty well, Suffolk would perfer someone else to snag ST. I will keep tabs on news like this.

 

The Don of All Buses:cool:

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Hmm... Well I could say something like, they need more buses, and improved service. I remember when i was younger, the Bee-Line buses were doing pretty well! Well, if the county can't afford to maintain the bus system *sighs* I hate to say this, but I think it is time that the (MTA) step in and knock Bee-Line outta the picture if they can't shape up. If the bus system is costing the County of Westchester, then they should let the (MTA) move in and take over. ST too! My sister works for Suffolk County and she knows the county exect pretty well, Suffolk would perfer someone else to snag ST. I will keep tabs on news like this.

 

The Don of All Buses:cool:

 

I agree 100% with you on this. The County would love to give the Bee-Line to MTA, and they have already stated this. The Bee-Line 20 needs 24hr service along with the 2, which has horrid Saturday night service, going N/B. The 42 could use it also. The 8 needs Sunday service, as the 5 and 6 needs to run alot more often on Sundays. All major routes need earlier Sunday service also.

 

Question is where does MTA stand on this. Do they have the financial backing to snag up Bee-Line (WCDOT)?????

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Im tired of all the BS withe Westchester not being able to maintain the buses. Yo (MTA)! Where you at?! Oh, I strongly do think that the (MTA) could maintain and improve service in Westchester.

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Im tired of all the BS withe Westchester not being able to maintain the buses. Yo (MTA)! Where you at?! Oh, I strongly do think that the (MTA) could maintain and improve service in Westchester.

 

If there was a (MTA) strike in that case the greater ny metro area would be crippled aside from amtrak. All they need is some more busses.

 

- A

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Well if they cant afford them??!! It would be nice to see some more low floor buses on Bee-Line,:eek: they need a takeover, im tellin you. And if a strike happens... well I doubt that will happen again. I am making plans to start a bus line myself, dont worry about askin me about funding, and all that good stuff cause i am including that in my plans.:P

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