By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
As soon as the snow stopped falling after last week’s blizzard we began making plans to get county buses back on the roads.
We understand how important those buses are to the nearly 10,000 people who ride them every day. Those riders depend on the buses to get to work, to get to school to go shopping and just to get around.
Keeping those buses running – whether it’s during a blizzard or just another day – is a priority for me and my administration.
That’s why it was so disturbing when we were informed that the Federal Transit Administration had suspended Brega Transport and its related companies, effectively barring Brega from bidding on new contracts.
The Brega companies, based in Valley Cottage, hold the contract to run the county’s buses, including the very popular TOR and TZx routes.
Brega also has contracts with the county to run the Department of Health’s pre-school and Early Intervention transportation as well as contracts for Maintenance and Automotive Repair and Commercial Collision.
The FTA took action based on an indictment charging Brega owner Richard Brega with corruption in connection with a contract his companies had with Rockland BOCES.
Richard Brega will, of course, have his day in court.
No matter the outcome, it’s sad to see a local businessperson face these serious charges.
It’s especially disappointing to see that the charges alleged that Brega scrimped on safety and maintenance for buses that children – in this case often disabled children – ride to get to school.
We are checking and double checking all the buses that the Brega company uses for the county routes. So far, so good.
But given that we rely on federal funding to pay a significant part of our transportation costs, I cannot in good conscience continue to have the county do business with Brega. We truly have no option other than to comport with the decision of the FTA.
A little history here. Brega was awarded a $70 million contract by the Rockland Legislator after underbidding Coach USA, which had long held the contract to run the county routes.
It’s worth remembering that my predecessor, County Executive Scott Vanderhoef, opposed granting the bid to Brega and even went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to try to stop it.
And who can forget the bus washing fiasco soon after Brega took over? I vehemently opposed Brega’s request for an additional $3.6 million from the county in order to wash the buses more frequently.
We won that battle and Brega did not get an extra cent.
But the reality is that we were bound by contract to use Brega for the TOR and TZx buses until Nov., 2018.
Not anymore. The corruption charges give us all the reasons we need to find another operator to provide bus service.
We are strongly recommending that Brega officials assign the contracts to another operator to fulfill the terms of its contract with the county.
If the company cannot find someone to take over, we will put out an expedited bid to find a responsible operator.
We certainly don’t want the 300 or so people who work for Brega to lose their jobs. We will include language in the bid encouraging the new operator to hire Brega employees.
We’ll try our hardest to keep those job. No guarantees, unfortunately.
But I will guarantee that our transition to a new operator will not cause us to stop bus services or routes.
No matter what the outcome as we transition to a new provider, people will still be able to catch a bus to get to work, to get to school, to go where they want to go.