Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials Wednesday voted unanimously to cut ties with Nassau County, clearing the way for a private operator to take over Long Island Bus after nearly four decades of MTA control.
Bus riders, transit advocates and union leaders pleaded for a delay in the vote, urging continued negotiations with Nassau officials, but MTA board members voted to terminate the lease and operating agreement with the county effective Dec. 31.
Under Nassau Executive Edward Mangano's drive toward privatization, a private operator would take over the system the next day. Nassau is considering bids from three companies.
While opponents of privatization -- including some board members -- voiced grim predictions, MTA chairman Jay Walder for the first time offered an optimistic outlook for a privately run LI Bus.
He said it is possible the system could continue to accept MetroCards, just as Westchester County's privately operated Bee Line does.
"There is no reason to believe it couldn't do that. . . . Many of the things that come from privatization, they don't by necessity say they have to break the regional aspect of what we have," Walder said. "I don't agree that a privatized system has to be doomed to failure."
The MTA, which has run LI Bus under a lease agreement since 1973, said last year it no longer would make up for the funding shortfalls of Nassau, which this year contributed $9.1 million to the system's $140-million annual contract.
Mangano said the county could not afford to pay the additional $26 million a year the MTA said was needed to keep existing levels of bus service. He has said he believes a private operator will run the system more efficiently.
"My actions stop the MTA from further subsidizing NYC's transportation system with Nassau tax dollars," Mangano said in a statement Wednesday. "The MTA's monopoly over transportation in Nassau County will soon end."
LI Bus rider John Michno, of Westbury, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said he wished the MTA board had done more to stop the privatization plan, which he believes will result in increased fares and less service.
"I understand where . . . [MTA officials] are coming from, but they're not doing enough to look out for us. They should be fighting harder to stop the privatization," said Michno, 35, who uses the N22 and N35 buses. "They have a large team of lawyers. Why aren't they using them to keep Long Island Bus service and sue Nassau County?"
The MTA, under its contract with the county, was required to give only 60 days' notice before terminating the agreement, but MTA officials said that doing so early would help the complicated transition process. The change will include turning over LI Bus' fleet of vehicles and all of its depots to a private operator and removing all the MTA fare boxes from the buses.