Nassau County’s pell-mell rush to have Illinois-based bus company Veolia Transportation takeover Long Island Bus on New Year’s Day drew a packed crowd Wednesday night at a “people’s hearing” in Garden City.
When Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, announced the pending deal in June, he said the county legislature would hold a public hearing only after the details of the contract had been worked out. But the legislature’s presiding officer, Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), has said only the seven members of the legislature’s rules committee would get to vote on the new contract, instead of the full body of the legislature. A small number of politicians, it seems, will determine the fate of some 100,000 daily riders.
So far, Mangano has said that the company has agreed to hold fares steady and maintain current bus routes for one year. What happens in 2013 was a constant refrain on people’s lips as they took to the microphone at the Ethical Humanist Society auditorium to address a bipartisan panel of legislators sympathetic to the riders’ plight.
“We want answers so we’ll know what we’re getting,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She urged those attending to “not leave this room without taking some action.”
Tables had been set up in the back to fascilitate a letter-writing campaign to elected officials. At the least, the organizers want Mangano’s deal with Veolia extended to five years.
Slevin repeatedly reminded the speakers at the microphone that it wasn’t a partisan, political event, but she didn’t have to remind the audience, some 150 or more in number, about the urgency of the meeting, which was also sponsored by the Long Island Progressive Coalition and Vision Long Island.
On hand was Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach), Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), Legis. Jodi Bosworth (D-Great Neck), Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn), Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Westbury), as well as the spokesperson for Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, whose office has audited the county-subsidized bus program. Also speaking was state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and several candidates for office.
“We have been rebuffed in every instance when we’ve tried to ask the county legislature and the county executive to hold a public hearing on this,” Ryan Lynch of Tri-State told the Press. “Riders and business owners and workers should be very scared of what happens in 2013….
“You can’t say you’re going to have the same fares and the same levels of service and still think you’re only going to contribute $2 million to $4 million [annually], as [Mangano's] saying,” he said. “It defies the laws of economics.” Lynch pointed out that Suffolk County subsidizes its bus service with $25 million, and Westchester contributes $33 million to its system.
Wheel-chair bound Angela Davis, an elderly special needs Able-Ride customer, may have been the most poignant of those who spoke during the almost three-hour session.
“If fares rise,” Davis said, “I won’t be able to get around… If there are more cuts in service, poor disabled people will end up as shut-ins, which is unacceptable. We weren’t put on this Earth to be shut-ins!”