Nassau County and the MTA have both been shortchanging Long Island Bus riders, according to Nassau's comptroller, who Wednesday urged both sides to pay up if county buses are to keep running.
George Maragos issued a report analyzing the future options for LI Bus. The agency is caught in a funding dispute between the county, which owns the system, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates it and has largely subsidized it for years.
The MTA has said it will no longer fund Long Island Bus as of January - a move that could spell the end of the system used by 100,000 daily riders, unless Nassau can come up with about $26 million a year in subsidies.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the county cannot afford to significantly increase its current $9.1 million subsidy, and is exploring bringing in a private operator to run the bus system in place of the MTA.
The MTA pays about 44 cents per year for each bus rider, as compared with $1.60 for each Long Island Rail Road rider, according to Maragos' report.
"They need to treat all commuters equally," Maragos said.
MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin disputed Maragos' assertion, and noted that the MTA does not have a statutorial responsibility to subsidize Nassau's bus system. The MTA pays nothing toward MTA Bus, the city bus service that is fully subsidized by New York City, he said.
According to Maragos, Nassau's subsidy to LI Bus is even less adequate when compared with other counties' contributions to their bus systems. Nassau pays about 29 cents a year per rider, as compared with Westchester, which pays 44 cents, and Suffolk, which pays $4.20 for each Suffolk County Transit customer.
County officials have said they are aiming to find a private vendor to run LI Bus without any subsidies from Nassau.
But Maragos said the county's plans to privatize its bus operation are "not currently viable" and would cost LI Bus millions more in state and federal matching funds.
Mangano, however, said Wednesday that the county will continue to pursue privatization because "Nassau homeowners and employers cannot afford a property tax hike to further fund LI Bus."
Maragos said the best option for LI Bus is for both Nassau and the MTA to continue their current funding levels, and cut costs to avoid having to increase their funding or cut service.
Soffin said Maragos' "solution" isn't much of a solution at all.
"Unfortunately, the comptroller's report doesn't address the core issue, which is the county's responsibility for funding its bus system," Soffin said.
Transit advocates, however, applauded Maragos' for helping to put the problem in perspective.
"Finally, we have some real numbers that the MTA and Nassau County could use to negotiate a deal to save Long Island Bus," said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing use of vehicles in the metropolitan area.