Express route saved with higher fares, fewer rides

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County Executive Rob Astorino today announced a plan to temporarily save the county’s BxM4C express bus to Manhattan that translates into higher fares, fewer buses and more than $1 million in savings.

The compromise means that riders will pay $8.50 a trip, a $3 increase, and that the service will no longer operate on weekends starting June 28. There will no longer be discounts.

“Many of the express route riders have asked us to find some way to save this route,” Astorino said. “My proposal strikes the balance between our taxpayers and our riders.”

Westchester will save $1.1 million this year and another $2.5 million next year, he said.

“It’s a huge relief,” said commuter Virginia Sheahan, a Yonkers resident who was one of the leaders in the effort to save the bus service. “I can get to work. That’s what I need to do.”

Though Sheahan had some concerns with what “peak hours” meant and how weekend riders would be affected, she said this showed that government was responsive.

“Hopefully this will cover the core of the ridership for the 4C and maybe if the ride proves to pay for itself, maybe we can get more service back,” she said.

Some riders had said they’d be willing to pay more for the service to help it cover costs. This compromise incorporated input from riders and county lawmakers, while eliminating the $2.5 million taxpayer subsidy, Astorino said.

Since Westchester faces a $166 million budget gap in 2011, the county executive said going forward the county cannot continue to operate the route, so his administration is working with Liberty Lines on a possible spin-off next year where the bus operator would take control over fares and schedules.

There is no guarantee that the route will make it past Dec. 31,  Astorino said, so he will continue negotiations with the MTA on finding an alternative, which could include extending city express buses from the Bronx to Manhattan to three Yonkers stops.

“Ultimately, much will depend on whether there are enough riders to keep the route viable,”  said.

Astorino in March first proposed eliminating the route as part of $16 million in short-term cuts to transportation, social services, parks and staffing as a way to address a “staggering” fiscal crisis.

Riders, local leaders and some legislators quickly protested the  cut, saying that the service was vital to the region and homeowners along the route.

The service began in the early 1980s, when commuter train service to New York City was much less reliable and more unpleasant, but that changed in 1983 when Metro-North took over the rail lines. Bus ridership then began to decline. The line currently serves about 800 people a day.

Chairman Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers, who had been critical of the cut, said the bipartisan agreement was a suitable alternative and “a victory for Westchester commuters.”

“I am confident that we have reached an outcome that will be extremely satisfactory to those who travel on the route,” Jenkins said.

Legislators Gordon Burrows and Bernice Spreckman, Republicans from Yonkers, said they were gratified by the decision. They said the riders “were great allies” whose efforts made a strong case to salvage the line.

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner called it a “really positive” development that showed that Astorino listened those affected and could reach agreements with other leaders.

“This highlights a willingness to listen to the people,” Feiner said of Astorino.

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  1. As I appreciate what Executive Astorino has proposed in saving the express bus for thousands of people who work in midtown each day. My only two issues with this proposal are (1) People who want to go to a Broadway show on a weekend will have no way of getting there especially seniors and young adults who want to enjoy the NYC culture..(at least give us limited service on weekends (2) My monthly bus fare will now go from $180 to $360 which is a bit ridiculous. Yes we all agreed that we would pay more but when the fare gets increased to a comparable or higher fare than the Metro North then people will go elsewhere. Many riders figured that the bus fare would go back to the $7 that it was several years ago but this is a bit much. If Executive Astorino and Commissioner Salley thought that ridership was down before this will definitely make it drop. Now maybe that is what they are hoping for but that is not fair.

  2. Since discovering this bus only a few years ago, I have used it whenever possible because I find it more pleasant, comfortable, and quieter (eg, less cell phone use) than most MetroNorth trains (especially weekend day and evening trains). Making it even more desirable has been the lower cost of the bus compared to the train, as well as the convenience and added savings (due to transfers) of using a MetroCard. I especially have loved using it on weekends to get easily to and from museums along Fifth Avenue. My point is that I believe that weekend use has been greatly underutilized considering its potential. Too often, I was among only a handful of passengers enjoying a quiet, comfortable, relaxing ride for an excellent price. It almost seemed like a well-kept secret, too good to last. My point is not to support the elimination of weekend buses but to question why they were so underutilized to begin with. I don’t think many people where I live, in Greenburgh, have ever considered taking an express bus into Manhattan (rather than taking the train or driving) on a weekend afternoon or evening for cultural or social activities. Based on my own experience, I suspect that many didn’t even know that such a bus existed. (Is there any way to determine this?) Perhaps limited weekend ridership can one day be restored by a campaign promoting it as a wonderful opportunity to travel comfortably by public transportation into Manhattan to take advantage of cultural opportunities (such as Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile). It seems a shame that it wasn’t used more widely. The only reason I can think of is that too few people knew of its existence and/or advantages.