By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
As I drove home last week from a community gathering in Ramapo, it occurred to me that it’s time to give my car a bath. My job as County Executive puts me behind the wheel every day, rolling from busy highway to dusty back road in all weather conditions. Realizing my schedule was tight the following day, I held off on the car wash until the weekend. I made this decision without placing myself or my family in danger. Yes, my car was dirty, but not unsafe. I knew it was unlikely to burst into flames if not soaped-up that evening. Oddly, some of your county legislators might disagree with me.
This week, I will veto nonsensical legislation directing the daily washing of the entire Rockland County bus fleet in the name of safety. The sponsors of this ill-conceived measure somehow believe washing all 62 buses every day, instead of once a week, would make the vehicles less prone to catching fire. This is simply absurd.
Resolution Number 384 of 2014 is the Legislature’s response to the February 8th fire that destroyed a Transport of Rockland (TOR) bus in Orangetown. While the exact cause of the blaze has yet to be officially pinpointed by investigators with the New York State Public Transportation Safety Board, some legislators are blaming it on road salt and other residue that coats our cars, trucks and buses every winter.
In a post-accident report issued to the Legislature, officials with Brega Transport Corp. revealed that Bus #184 caught fire just two days after a full inspection. Company bosses said the driver smelled a burning odor while picking up passengers in Spring Valley. After reporting the odor to a company dispatcher via radio, the driver was told to continue the route, a decision which needlessly and recklessly placed his passengers and others in grave danger. By the time the bus erupted into flames in Pearl River, the damage was done.
To provide some historical perspective, Coach USA operated Rockland County’s bus fleet for two decades, regularly washing its fleet just once each week. Not surprisingly, Coach USA never suffered an onboard fire due to filth. For some legislators to assert that vehicles spontaneously combust due to road grime is a fantasy. This resolution is based on a totally unsupported premise!
According to the five-year, fixed-price contract between Rockland County and operator Brega Transport Corp, our 62 buses are required to receive at least one weekly exterior wash. (Brega estimates each wash at a cost of $45, for a total of $145,000 annually.) As part of the existing flat fee agreement, the cost of any additional washings would be absorbed by the operator. However, the legislative sponsors of this deeply flawed measure want to pay Brega an additional $864,900 annually for daily washings, outside the scope of the existing agreement! By the end of this deal, Rockland County taxpayers would get soaked for nearly $3.6 million in extra soap, wasted water and unnecessary labor just to keep the buses “safe.”
What’s most disturbing is the Legislature’s wandering into an area of government operations. As set forth by the County Charter, the Legislature appropriates funding based on the operational needs, as defined by the County Executive. In this case, several of our legislators have decided they know how best to run bus operations. The resolution to amend our contract and provide additional bus washing will certainly open the County to lawsuits from rejected bidders who challenged Brega to win the $70 million contract.
As your County Executive, I am obligated to ensure that our bus customers can count on TOR, Tappan ZEExpress (TZx) and TRIPS to take them where they want to go – safely, efficiently and reliably. I have been distressed to hear some of our elected leaders engage in fear-mongering. Many of the same legislators who claim our bus fleet is unsafe today voted to select Brega as our transportation vendor less than a year ago. We must not let hyperbole stand in the way of the truth!
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand that February’s bus fire – which apparently sparked in a rear wheel well – was the result of a maintenance problem, not a bus washing problem. Any other assertion defies logic.
My Administration agrees that our buses should be clean, both inside and out. Going forward, I expect Brega mechanics to keep our buses in good working condition under the terms of the existing contract. At a time when County residents are being squeezed, the decision to spend an additional $3.6 million on unnecessary bus washing is a waste of taxpayer money. I will urge the Legislature to sustain this veto.