Testimony of Veronica Vanterpool, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Hearing on Bee-Line service reductions
Westchester County Center
April 14, 2010
My name is Veronica Vanterpool and I am the associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit, policy organization advocating for better transit and transportation policy in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Newly elected County Executive Robert Astorino has taken office during a difficult economic period for Westchester County. The County’s anticipated operating budget deficit is $166 million and cuts are slated across the board, including $4.4 million in Bee-Line service reductions and layoffs. Government leaders are right to take a close look at budget expenditures, but county and state budget deficits should not be balanced on the backs of transit riders.
The service reductions on 13 Bee-Line bus routes are a step backwards for economic recovery, energy efficiency, and environmental progress in Westchester County. Over 60% of Bee-Line bus riders do not own a car. If their bus service is cut or reduced, they have very few alternatives. According to a 2007 Bee-Line survey of bus riders, the majority (29%) of survey respondents would take a taxi if their Bee-Line route were unavailable. Considering that approximately 45% of survey takers on the bus have household incomes of $35,000 or less, relying on a taxi to travel throughout Westchester County would be an unfair burden. Bus riders in some cities will be particularly burdened. For example, reducing service on Route 7, which serves Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, New Rochelle and Pelham, will undoubtedly cause hardship for those bus riders. And with nearly 30% of households in Mount Vernon and 24% of households in Yonkers without a car, bus riders in these communities will be especially hard hit. These percentages significantly surpass Westchester County, where 15% of overall households do not own a car.
Cutting and reducing transit service is a terrible way to encourage residents to leave their cars at home and use County buses to get around instead. For instance, discontinuing service on the BxM4C will force many residents along the Central Avenue corridor to instead drive to work. Potentially, that could be as many as 800 or more cars (the equivalent of the ridership on this route) on Westchester’s roads. WDOT suggests local bus service on Routes 20 and 21 into the Bronx as an alternative. However, this is not a comparable option for riders accustomed to express, limited bus travel into NYC or for seniors and the handicapped who would then be required to make additional transfer. For many, commutes would be extended by an hour or more each day cutting into already crunched family and recreational time and opportunities for civic engagement.
Budget problems are a nationwide problem. According to a recent report from the American Public Transportation Association, 84% of public transit systems nationwide have raised fares, cut service or are considering either of those actions. 59% of public transit systems have already cut service or raised fares.
Instead, we recommend the following:
Bee-Line bus is a lifeline for thousands of daily bus riders. Ridership has soared to 32 million making it one of the largest transit agencies nationwide. For Westchester to remain economically competitive and desirable, fulfill its environmental commitment, and recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, these cuts cannot happen. We ask the County Executive to restore the budget cuts to Bee-Line and explore other innovative ideas to plug the $4.4 million in the County’s budget.