Bronx resident Gwendolyn Johnson will receive $285,000 in a settlement after being hit by a Bee-Line bus on July 11, 2012. The terms were approved by the county Board of Legislators and Westchester County taxpayers will not have to fund the payout.
Johnson was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital nearly six years ago, where she was diagnosed with a right-sided brain contusion, according to case documents. She received surgery, physical therapy and chiropractic therapy over the course of two years following the incident.
The contract between Westchester and Yonkers-based Liberty Lines, which operates the Bee-Line system, allows Liberty to negotiate lawsuits stemming from bus crashes. The county owns the buses in the deal, while Liberty hires and trains the drivers. The contract set to expire at the end of the year unless a five-year extension is approved. Some officials have voiced their concern that they believe the arrangement could indicate the county is unjustly covering for Liberty, as it does not negotiate the settlements.
Settlement payouts of $75,000 or more require approval from the legislature, while under $75,000, the county Board of Acquisition and Contract can sign off and those below $10,000 only need approval from the county attorney’s office. Recently, officials have been non-committal about their potential intent to extend the contract over concerns Liberty, as a large donor to former County Executive Rob Astorino, might have a sweetheart deal to move into its current position.
In 2017, Liberty paid the county $700,000 annually, disbursed each month, to reimburse the county for settlement cases. In 2018, that figure jumped to $900,000. The Bee-Line system provides 2.5 million rides monthly, primarily to people without other means of transportation and need public transportation. Meanwhile, Bee-Line just announced it will be receiving $3.6 million to buy new buses.
The grant comes from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration as part of its Bus and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program. “Thousands of Westchester residents depend on a reliable public transportation system in their daily lives,” said Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey. Reliable, perhaps, but the bus system certainly has a sordid history in the Bronx area.
In 2015, Ronald Dingman was rush to North Central Bronx Hospital after a sudden and unprovoked attack by a passenger in which the driver was stabbed. “He just came up and stabbed me,” Dingman told Transport Workers Union Local 100 Vice President Angel Giboyeaux. In his twelve years with the service, Dingman had never expected he’d receive injuries from someone on board. This left passengers leery of the safety precautions exercised on Bee-Lines.
Bee-Line routes are operated by the Westchester government with restrictions where drivers can pick up and drop off passengers in the Bronx. Company policy states drivers heading to Westchester are not supposed to drop off passengers until they have entered that county. Despite the rule, the enraged passenger demanded Dingman drop him in the Bronx. He was told he would have to wait until the next MTA bus stop, and that didn’t sit well. Dingman said, “I had no argument with this guy. I was going to let him off and he just came up and stabbed me.”
With the ease at which Johnson’s settlement was passed, and the future of Bee-Line still up in the air, only time will tell if the funds will be tangible and she will actually receive the money owed to her.