The 100,000 daily riders of Long Island Bus will face the most drastic service cuts in the Nassau bus system's nearly 40-year history this spring barring an unforeseen financial rescue, MTA officials said Thursday.
Without the additional $26 million the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says is needed to keep existing bus service, sweeping cuts dwarfing anything the system's riders have ever seen are increasingly likely, agency officials and transit experts said.
The MTA, which this year withdrew its financial support of LI Bus, is working on plans to stretch what's left of Nassau County's $9-million contribution to the $140-million budget over the remainder of 2011, officials said.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook said he expects the MTA would have to slash LI Bus service by at least half. LI Bus could survive through the end of the year under the agency's control only by making deep cuts in the 48 lines it now runs, he said.
"The $9 million is not going to last significantly long if you run the current system with the current rules," Pally said. "It may be that some system is better than no system."
Patrick Foye, the Nassau representative on the MTA board who resigned last month from his job as a deputy county executive, said he too expects the MTA to enact service cuts "greater in number" than at any time in LI Bus' history.
"I take the MTA at its word that continued operation of Long Island Bus without an agreement with all relevant parties is likely to result in significant service cuts, and that's bad news for the 100,000 riders of Long Island Bus each day," Foye said.
Officials have said LI Bus, operating at its current level, will run out of money as soon as May.
MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin declined to comment Thursday. Earlier this week, he said that with Nassau "failing to fund its obligation" to its bus system, the MTA is "now assessing the most efficient and effective way to continue providing bus service in Nassau County with the funding available."
Thomas Del Sorbo, MTA executive vice president, acknowledged at a meeting in Manhattan Thursday the agency is looking for ways to reduce administrative costs to minimize expected service cuts. MTA officials also have said they intend to negotiate with labor unions for further savings.
MTA officials said the agency would have to hold a public hearing before the MTA board votes on any proposed service reductions. That could happen as early as April, officials said.
Since 1973, LI Bus has been owned by the county but operated by the MTA under contract. MTA officials withdrew the agency's support this year, saying they no longer can afford to make up for Nassau's refusal to fund its bus system.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has said the cash-strapped county cannot contribute more to LI Bus. The county is considering withdrawing from the MTA and hiring a private company to operate its bus system without any subsidy from Nassau. It is considering three bids from vendors.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said county officials attended a recent MTA meeting and were left with the impression that the MTA is planning deep service cuts. Nevin said the county continues to "negotiate in good faith" with the MTA on a resolution but is prepared to move forward with its privatization plan "if that's what the MTA forces on our residents."
Asked what could trigger the county to finalize a privatization deal, Nevin replied, "We'll have to evaluate what type of service cuts they make."
Ryan Lynch, spokesman for the nonprofit advocacy group the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said Nassau's privatization plan is unrealistic. Riders more likely will get an MTA-operated LI Bus system that is a "shadow of its former self," he said.
Lynch noted that the deepest cuts in the history of LI Bus - the elimination last year of 11 entire bus lines and reductions of many more - saved the MTA just $2 million. This time around, the MTA would be looking to save 13 times as much.
"It's not going to be Long Island Bus," said Lynch, who called upon the MTA to be "more flexible" and the county to do right by its residents."The county thinks they don't have any revenue now. Imagine how much revenue they'll have when a huge component of the population can't get to and from work anymore, can't pay taxes and can't invest in the local economy."
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif suggested neither the MTA nor the county should look to the state for a bailout. "We are hopeful that the MTA and the county can reach a resolution that will address the shortfall that exists," he said.