Cleanliness is next to godliness, but is it worth the extra expense? New law could make bus washing costly

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

busfireNEW CITY – New legislation bound for the County Legislature aims to improve safety standards for buses by making cleaning a daily occurrence, but could also compound maintenance costs several times their current value.

The resolution, which was approved by the county’s Planning and Public Works Committee and Budget & Finance Committee last week and will be considered at tonight’s legislative meeting, would require all vehicles in Rockland County’s bus fleet to undergo daily cleaning. The fleet is currently washed on average once every week for every bus. Exceptions are made during winter weather when dirt accumulates faster on busses due to slush and salt.

Initially, it was suggested by legislators that the money would come from the coffers of the Federal Transportation Association. However, the resolution itself contains no such language.

Funding became a matter of some debate between the legislature and executive branch. County Executive Ed Day expressed skepticism of the resolution, explaining to the Rockland County Times that the funding mechanism has yet to be determined but was likely to come from local taxes. Day argued the costs to be borne by Brega Transportation Co., which services the county’s bus routes, instead.

On Wednesday, another option might have emerged. According to Legislator Jay Hood, about $300,000 in non-allocated, non-local share funds were identified which might be used to support the bus washes.

The legislation was spurred in part by a fire on a bus run by Brega Transportation Corp. The fire, which occurred in Pearl River on February 8, forced an evacuation but resulted in no injuries. It is believed the fire, which was explicitly mentioned in the resolution, began in the right rear wheel well.

Expenses associated with bus cleaning are by no means cheap. According to the county’s contract with Brega Transportation Corp., which took over county bus operations earlier this year, each bus costs $45 for a single cleaning.

Frequent Brega critic John Leopoldo, a 40-year veteran of the bussing industry currently employed by New York City, was the first to alert local media of the situation and said his math shows the cost of daily bus washing could be as much as $1 million per year, or $4.6 million increase over Brega’s five-year contract.

Leopoldo maintained it is not the industry standard to do a full bus washing every day and weekly is fine. He also questioned the conclusion of legislators that the issue was a public safety matter. Lastly he said that much additional revenue to Brega would cancel out much of the savings in the company’s bid to the county, and much could simply end up in Brega’s pockets.

However, Democratic lawmakers Ilan Schoenberger, Alden Wolfe and Jay Hood, Jr. said they believed the washing increase could be mostly covered by the quarter million dollars or so of annual funds they hope to receive from the federal government.

Now that non-taxpayer funding has been located and the legislature sees the bill as necessary for public safety, Hood declared he would support the resolution.

“If it’s something that everybody thinks needs to be done, I’m going to have to support it,” Hood said. “It would not come out of the local taxpayers.”

Hood also said he did not believe it would cost $1 million per year to wash the busses, and that he would not support such funding if it came before him.

The safety issue is the one which seems to be driving most legislative votes for the resolution. Legislator Pat Moroney, whose district runs close to the location of the bus fire, has been among the most vociferous supporters of increased bus cleaning. Leopoldo on the other hand counters that it has not been determined what caused the fire and he doubts uncleanliness had anything to do with it.

Legislator Frank Sparaco (R) said he supports the measure, arguing daily washes are already an industry standard.

“Every other municipality washes their buses once a day,” Sparaco stated. “It’s the right thing to do.”