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Debt Has Doomed The MTA: You Can’t Get There From Here


Nassau County “has historically gotten a generous deal on Long Island Bus,” said Ryan Lynch of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group. “This year it contributed just $9.1 million toward a system with an operating budget of approximately $133 million a year, while the MTA kicked in $26 million, a perk no other county system in the metropolitan region enjoys.” Indeed, Suffolk County contributes $18.6 million to its bus system, Suffolk County Transit.

Meanwhile, some 33 million people a year who ride Long Island Bus—making it one of the largest bus systems in America—are stuck in limbo as the dispute rages on between Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and MTA Chairman Jay Walder. Mangano has said the county is looking to privatize the bus system or explore some kind of public-private partnership. Mass transit advocates claim that the county executive has told private bidders that Nassau won’t contribute to the bus service in the future yet wants a cut of the fare box. County spokesmen say no decision has been made. The reason the government took over the bus service in the 1970s is that the free market failed and the private companies went broke.


Early this autumn Mangano’s office rejected out of hand an enterprising effort by Kate Slevin, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Lynch and Eric Alexander, head of Vision Long Island, along with some other nonprofit groups, to help the county come up with its fair share to placate the MTA. Their plan would have redirected millions of dollars in Nassau’s operating budget and capital program as well as draw upon a proposal from the Nassau County comptroller’s office to generate more non-tax revenue through parking fines and building code violations.

Their proposal, which the advocates figured would have raised the county’s contribution to $23 million, never left the depot.

Morale at Long Island Bus can’t be riding high these days. Joseph Smith, president of the bus company, has resigned, effective the end of this month, ending a career that began 33 years ago when he was a bus driver in Manhattan. The 55-year-old executive did not respond to requests for comment. A woman who works at Long Island Bus, who would not share her name, said, “We’re just taking it day by day.” The MTA promises it will give the county 60 days’ notice once it decides to pull the plug, but it’s put off the decision until after Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes office next year.

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