Readers Write: Reopen Rockville Centre bus station

Readers Write: Reopen Rockville Centre bus station

April 9 is the first anniversary of the closing of the Rockville Centre Bus Depot. 

The old Bee Line Bus Garage in Rockville Centre was rebuilt in the late 1980s with funding provided by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (today known as the Federal Transit Administration).  

At a total cost of $10 million, Washington provided $8 million.  

Local matching funds of $1 million each were provided by New York State Department of Transportation and Nassau County. 

All Federal Transit Administration capital improvements have a useful life requirement contained in the master grant agreements with Nassau County. Work was completed with beneficial use in the late 1980s. 

The useful life of the overall facility was more than 27 years.  

As a result of NICE bus closing this depot on April 9, 2017, Nassau County was on the hook with both FTA and NYSDOT.  

The shut down may have resulted in FTA requesting reimbursement by Nassau County, based upon straight-line depreciation for the remaining value of this investment. 

The same could have been true with New York State DOT.  What happened last year when Nassau County on behalf of NICE Bus approached FTA & NYSDOT with a plan to either temporarily mothball the garage (with the clear intent to reopen the facility at a later date) or permanently shut it down? 

What happened to other capital investments to the Rockville Centre Bus Depot, including compressed natural gas fueling stations, facility modifications to accommodate Compressed Natural Gas buses inside, new roof, doors, bus washers, HVAC and other support equipment necessary to run the facility. 

Just like a homeowner, items require constant maintenance, periodic upgrades and eventual replacement years later.   

Capital physical assets of any bus system eventually reach the end of their useful life based upon straight-line depreciation and/or the manufacturer’s warranty.

Significant changes in technology may also require replacement of outdated equipment.  What was the remaining value for millions of dollars in additional FTA funded capital improvements and new fixed assets to Rockville Centre Bus Depot between 1990 and today that never reached their useful life?  Were they accounted for?   

What did Nassau County do with any active NICE capital improvement contracts at Rockville Centre? 

Did Nassau County have to reimburse both FTA and NYSDOT for remaining useful life value of numerous capital improvements made to the Rockville Centre Bus Depot over the past 27 years?

How were the number of issues to contend with in the consolidation of up to 100 buses previously assigned to Rockville Centre with the Mitchell Field Bus Depot ever resolved?  Mitchell Field was designed and constructed in the 1980’s to provide heavy maintenance for a total fleet of 325 buses.

It was also designed to accommodate a fleet of 225 buses for day to day operations, light maintenance and indoor storage for routes based out of Mitchell Field.

There is no indoor storage capacity for up to 308 buses.

As a result, how many buses reassigned from Rockville Centre to Mitchell Field had to be stored outside this past winter? 

Exposing buses to rain, snow, sleet and cold weather impacts the useful life of a bus, by the acceleration of physical deterioration. 

How have compressed natural gas fueling stations, bus washers and another day to day support equipment been affected? 

Did more buses returning to the garage result in longer waits before being fueled, washed and stored overnight? 

There are insufficient bays, pits and lifts to provide light maintenance for 308 versus 225 buses. Consolidation of two bus garages results in a reduction of the total bus fleet. 

FTA allows a peak fleet and up to 20 percent for spares.  

By cutting some routes, NICE Bus reduced the peak fleet bus requirements.  Did Nassau County, on behalf of NICE Bus ever request both  FTA and NYSDOT permission to either temporarily increase the spare ratio above 20 percent, move buses over 12 years old or with 500,000 plus mileage that have met the useful life requirement into a contingency fleet, sold them off at auction or transfer some surplus buses less than 12 years old to another transit operator? 

What happened to any current order for new replacement buses?  Were they reduced or canceled? 

Were any bus procurements, which had yet to be awarded, postponed?

What have the additional costs been for buses operating out of Mitchell Field versus Rockville Centre on routes assigned to Nassau County south shore? 

How many millions of dollars did NICE Bus require from Nassau County to modify the Mitchell Field facility, especially expanding indoor storage capacity?  

This was necessary to accommodate many of the 90 buses formerly assigned to the Rockville Center Bus Depot.  How much additional time and mileage has been accumulated on buses starting out each day and deadheading back to the bus depot after completing the last trip?

The success of both MTA Long Island Rail Road $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, along with $10.8 billion and growing East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal projects are also dependent upon NICE Bus being able to expand feeder service to various LIRR stations. Opening of the new Islanders Hockey team stadium at Belmont Park Arena by 2022 may also require new feeder bus service for fans. 

How will NICE bus be able to accommodate any future expansion of the existing bus fleet with only one working bus depot when these additional services are required?  

Even with adding thousands of commuter parking spots at various LIRR stations, there will still be the need to accommodate some of the many new LIRR riders with new additional service provided by NICE Bus.

How will NICE Bus be able to accommodate the needs of any new bus services as a result of implementing any recommendations from the ongoing Nassau Hub Transportation Study? 

What was the final resolution for Nassau County on behalf of NICE bus on completion of a dialogue with the Federal Transit Administration & New York State Department of Transportation to resolve all of these issues?  

Has resolution been achieved on these complex issues? What was the final costs to Nassau County taxpayers?  Is Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, County Comptroller Jack Schneiderman and members of the Nassau County Legislature aware of all the above? 

If Gov. Cuomo found $2.6 billion in new money for the MTA LIRR Main Line Third Track, why not several million so NICE Bus could reopen the Rockville Center bus depot?

For 45 years since the takeover of private bus operators in 1973, Nassau County has been expanding the bus system capital infrastructure and facilities (Mitchel Field & Rockville Centre bus depots, Stewart Avenue Paratransit Facility & Hempstead MultiModal Bus Terminal), buses and other equipment.

Nassau County and most recently NICE bus have partnered together in successfully attracting millions in discretionary federal and state capital dollars.  

Consolidation and closing of facilities, elimination of bus routes and reductions to the bus fleet is not the best way to build credibility with both the Federal Transit Administration and state Department of Transportation when asking for additional future discretionary funding for NICE Bus and Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project.  

Larry Penner

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.)

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