Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group that works to improve transit in the New York metro area, has recently turned its attention to the sub-standard bus service in Westchester County, branded as the Bee-Line. This week, TSTC released a new report, “Bidding for a Better Bee-Line.” A follow up to TSTC’s earlier report chronicling the Bee-Line’s unreliability and infrequency, “Bidding for a Better Bee-Line” exposes the underlying reason for the system’s chronic underperformance: the county government’s scandalous contract with a private company, Liberty Lines, that operates the buses with zero accountability or transparency to riders or taxpayers, and no meaningful oversight from public officials.
Westchester, a New York City suburb with a growing population of over one million residents, should be a strong market for transit ridership. 15% of residents do not own a car, and the county is home to dense, walkable cities like Yonkers and White Plains, which are increasingly diverse and home to people with lower incomes who need transit access to scattered job clusters.
Tri-State’s initial analysis showed that the Bee-Line, as currently mismanaged, fails to achieve its potential, and provides limited access to residents who need it the most. The route network has not been updated in more than five decades, most routes are infrequent, few bus lanes exist, and evenings and weekend service is scant.
“Bidding for a Better Bee-Line” reveals that a major cause of these deficiencies is that the county government simply hands over tax dollars to Liberty Lines and gets relatively little transit service in return. What that means is in practice that Westchester County government has turned the public interest over to one single private interest – a transit operator that, for years, has provided poor transit service with scant oversight by public officials.
Tri-State’s report shows how little Westchester riders and taxpayers get from Liberty Lines compared to what residents of peer systems – such as nearby Nassau County and suburban Los Angeles – get from their bus systems. The reason is that these counties periodically put contracts out for competitive bidding, while Westchester never does.
A 2017 TransitCenter report on contracting best practices looked at Austin, Texas; suburbs in northern Virginia; Oslo, Norway; the San Gabriel Valley adjoining Los Angeles; London, England; Las Vegas. We found that over the world, contracting done well can be a very effective way of providing good transit service. But doing contracting well requires competition and oversight. Westchester fails those basic principles.
“Bidding for a Better Bee-Line” recommends several remedies. Starting tomorrow, the county could require more transparency and data from Liberty Lines, and create a stronger oversight body to ensure that Liberty Lines is meeting its contractual obligations to riders. But most importantly, when Liberty Lines’ current contract expires in 2024, Westchester County must open up the RFP and create a competitive bidding process which incorporates key performance indicators into a new contract.
Westchester riders are sick and tired of paying more for less. Westchester elected officials – the people charged with responsibly managing the public’s purse – have a fiduciary obligation to intervene.