Hearing on Bee-Line today

Hearing on Bee-Line today

Khasru, B Z

How did a private company gain the ownership of Westchester’s bus routes? How can the county government regain control of the routes? Does the county pay liberty Transit lines Inc of Yonkers a franchise fee to run the Bee-tine bus service?

There are among several questions a county legislative panel will discuss today at a hearing where county transportation commissioner Larry Salley is expected to testify.

The Transportation Committee of the Board of Legislators will ask the commis ioner at the 4 p.m. hearing whether Liberty Lines gets a franchise fee under its contract with the county to run the transit system.

These issues surfaced after Liberty workers struck against their employer demanding higher pay and benefits. The strike, which affected as many as 55,000 daily passengers, ended April 23 after the union and Liberty settled the dispute. To compensate for the hardship the riders suffered, the county offered them free rides until May 31.

County Legislator Martin Rogowski, D-Harrison, chairman of the Transportation Committee, last month said the county administration did not consult the lawmakers before offering the free rides and promised to hold a hearing on this issue. Rogowsky was unavailable last week to comment.

I want to hear from the commissioner how Liberty Lines ended up owning the routes,” said Legislator Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, a Transportation Committee member. “What can we do to transfer the ownership of the routes to the county?”

He also wants to know “what the contract is going to cost the county and how the free rides we are providing now will impact the county financially.”

The commissioner, who last month put the cost for the rides at $3 million, last week declined to comment.

Westchester has been paying an unspecified amount of money in franchise fees to the transit company at least since 1986. County officials have defended the payment, saying the county must pay because the company owns the routes. The company and the county say Liberty bought the routes from various bus operators that existed before Westchester created the current transit system in the 1970s.

Salley describes the payment as a service fee, not a franchise fee. Legislator William Ryan, D-White Plains, chairman of the Board of Legislators, has defended the fee, saying Liberty Lines possibly has a strong claim to the routes. However, both Salley and Ryan said they wanted the county attorney’s office to review the matter.

Copyright Westfair Communications May 23, 2005

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