The Rockland County Legislature voted to extend contracts for its two bus services Wednesday night, avoiding a potential shutdown of services while the county continues to deal with the ongoing bidding process for the new contracts.
While the bidding process has been going on for more than two years, the county has extended the current contracts with the Hudson Transit Corp. The latest extension expired March 31, and at Wednesday’s meeting the legislature voted 16-0 in favor of extending the contracts. Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan was absent from the meeting.
The contracts are extended for three months with an option for a second three-month extension, but to put that in place the county executive would have to bring it before the legislature so they could vote on it first.
At committee meetings two weeks ago, items about the contract extensions were pulled from the agenda. They were allowed into the full legislature meeting Wednesday night because Legislator Michael Grant, chair of the Budget & Finance Committee, declared immediate action on the items. The legislature voted unanimously to put them on the agenda.
Legislator Alden Wolfe said the items were pulled from the committee agendas because of “a feeling amongst many of us that by continually giving extensions on these contracts we are simply enabling the administration and giving them no incentive to end what I perceived as a practice of trying to get around this legislature’s determination that we wanted to move forward with a different vendor.”
The process to award the two bids — Transport of Rockland (TOR) and Tappan ZEExpress — had three companies vying for the bids: Brega Transport, MV Transportation and Coach USA, which owns the Hudson Transit Corp and operates the two current services. In September of last year, the legislature voted to award the bids to Brega and County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef vetoed their ruling. The legislature voted to overrule the veto.
However, MV protested the decision, so Vanderhoef voided the contracts and the case went to the state Supreme Court where Justice Francis Nicolai, of Putnam, ordered the county to award the bids to Brega. That decision was appealed by the county.
Wolfe said what changed his mind were conversations in the previous two weeks with the county executive and his staff.
“In my conversation with the county executive, he essentially gave his assurance that if the decision on the first appeal, which is pending now and which a decision is expected shortly, if that decision upholds the process that the county engaged in, in terms of the biding process, then he will commit to moving forward with the new contract being awarded to Brega,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he intends to hold the county executive to his word.
Legislator Ilan Schoenberger, chair of the Planning & Public Works Committee, said he decided to vote for the extension out of a responsibility to the people of Rockland.
“The people who ride our buses are the innocent victims in this entire process,” he said. “They’re innocent victims in this divergence of opinion between the county executive branch of government and legislative branch of government. They’re innocent victims in the court case and court decisions.”
He said the buses are used by a wide range of people from those going to work to those going to school to those using the bus to get to train stations in Westchester.
“The harm that would befall them and the places they work at and their ability to get their education is too great a potential harm to push this county to the equivalent of a transportation cliff, similar to the federal government’s fiscal cliff,” he said. “In the interest of those innocent people who would be adversely harmed if we did not extend this contract tonight, I am going to vote to extend it for three more months.”
The extended contracts run from April 1, 2013, through June 30, 2013. The contract with the Hudson Transit Corp. to operate the TOR Route 93 partial bus service is for an amount to not exceed $74,021.73, no county tax dollars. The contract with Hudson to operate the Tappan ZEEXPRESS service is for an amount to not exceed $842,904.68, no county tax dollars. The contract with Hudson to operate the TOR Routes 59, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95 and 97, and Loop 1, 2, and 3 is for an amount to not exceed $2,853,153.48, no county tax dollars.
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