Nassau says it won't contribute to privatized LI Bus system

Bus riders, transportation, planning, labor and civic groups Bus riders, transportation, planning, labor and civic groups hold a mock funeral to mourn the potential loss of LI Bus service in Mineola. (Oct. 6, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau County officials have no plans to contribute any money toward a newly privatized Long Island Bus system.

During an informational conference Tuesday with potential bidders to take over the county's bus system, Nassau officials disclosed that the request for bids does not include the $9.1 million the county has been paying toward its bus system, sources in attendance said.

County officials also told the representatives of a dozen possible bidders, that they would be interested in getting a piece of revenue generated from fares on the bus.

The county has been locked in a funding war over Long Island Bus with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has operated the county's bus system for nearly 40 years but recently announced it is pulling its financial support of the operation. The MTA has said it needs Nassau to contribute $25 million annually toward the system's $133-million budget.

County Executive Edward Mangano has said the county cannot afford the $25 million and has chosen instead to recruit a private company to run the system, which has about 100,000 riders on weekdays.

Transit experts said Wednesday it was highly unusual for a county government not to subsidize its own bus system, and to also seek to share in fare revenues.

"We hardly think that this would be an attractive opportunity for private operators," said Ryan Lynch, spokesman for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit advocacy group.

Lynch predicted that, without any subsidy at all from Nassau, a privatized LI Bus would be a shell of the system to which riders are accustomed, with fewer routes, sparse schedules and higher fares.

County Attorney John Ciampoli confirmed that the county has not budgeted any money for a privatized LI Bus system. While he said it was premature to discuss exactly how the system would be funded, he said he believed it was possible to run the system without county subsidies and yet not compromise service.

The deadline for bids is Oct. 30; the county is supposed to pick a new operator by Nov. 3, county officials said.

MTA board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook said the transportation authority is open to "negotiating a reasonable settlement" that would keep LI Bus under the MTA banner. Such a deal would have to be reached by Dec. 13.

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