Reverse commuters fuel Bee-Line's success

Bee-line buses travel along Martine Avenue in White Bee-line buses travel along Martine Avenue in White Plains. (Feb. 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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New Yorkers reverse-commuting from homes in the city to work in Westchester County are now coming from as far away as Brooklyn and Queens to ride county buses along with the Bee-Line's traditional ridership.

"The Bee-Line is primarily an economic engine that brings people to jobs and reverse commuters are an important component," said Westchester County Department of Transportation Planning Director Naomi Klein. Day trips from the city are also on the rise as New Yorkers travel to Yonkers to visit Empire City Casino and shop at both the seven-month-old Ridge Hill complex and the Cross County Shopping Center, she added.

Bee-Line riders who come from New York City now account for 20 percent of all passengers, according to the department's 2010 ridership survey. Bronx-based riders have decreased to 18 percent from 14 percent but are still a "significant" presence, Klein said. The survey also showed that for the first time, a steady 1 percent of Bee-Line passengers begin their journey to the county bus system from Brooklyn, with another 1 percent coming from Queens. The volume of customers originating from Manhattan is up to 4 percent from 1 percent in 2007.

The Bee-Line's reverse ridership took off in 2007 after automated fare boxes were installed on all county buses to handle the MetroCard, which is used on New York City subways and buses run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. MTA riders qualify for a free transfer onto the county's bus system if they board within 2 1/2 hours of initially swiping their yellow-and-blue plastic transit fare passes, which are now used by 64 percent of all Bee-Line passengers.

To boost ridership among low-income employee heading to their jobs, the county received $8.7 million through 10 grants that were awarded from 2001 to 2010 by the federal Transit Administration's Job Access and Reverse Commute program. The funds were used to extend service hours and add stops along a dozen of the lines among Bee-Line's 60 routes. A Ridge Hill stop was added last year on the No. 78 route, which boosted the line's ridership by 8.3 percent to 150,000 last year, Klein said.

About a third of the Bee-Line's customers take the bus five days a week for work. More than two-thirds of the general ridership is Hispanic or African-American, according to the DOT, with 32 percent of all survey respondents indicating that they make less than $10,000 a year. Some 62 percent said they do not have access to a car.

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Bee-Line also operates limited-run shuttle bus service from its Transcenter depot next to Metro-North's busy White Plains station to nearby office parks. The runs start at about 6:30 a.m. and continue for nearly four more hours. At 2 p.m., they begin carrying workers back to White Plains, with the last pickup on all lines at 6:48 p.m.

Although 75 percent of those passengers do not have cars, 38 percent earn more than $125,000 a year, according to DOT data.

The shuttles, which first launched in 1993, grew to eight loops by 2011. Though one route travels as far north as Armonk, most of the limited-run buses loop around White Plains-based companies located on Westchester Avenue, including a stretch known as Platinum Mile.

But two loops were shut down last year as overall ridership declined from 203,316 in 2009 to 197,378 in 2011. As for the future, "Currently no loops are anticipated to be cut," Klein said. She attributed the drop in passengers to a "weakened office park economy," the increasing number of employers that hire private van operators to run their own express shuttles and the continuing growth of downtown White Plains as a walk-to-work business hub.

The Bee-Line system carries 32 million passengers a year on a fleet of 347 buses that collectively make 3,100 daily stops.

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