Long Island Bus. The MTA wants to unload the service,...

Long Island Bus. The MTA wants to unload the service, leaving Nassau County to face a $26 million expense. (June 23, 2009) Credit: Newsday / Howard Schnapp

A group of civic, labor, environmental, business and transportation agencies fired off their own letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo yesterday -- asking for help in finding an alternative to privatizing Long Island Bus.

"Bus riders are staring into the abyss," according to the letter, signed by representatives of 17 organizations, including Vision Long Island, the Elmont and Hicksville chambers of commerce and a student activist from Mineola.

"Details of a privately owned bus system in Nassau County currently are unknown, yet no alternative currently exists that will protect bus riders' interests," the letter said.

In September, state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) sent off a letter to Cuomo with a different kind of request -- a backup plan should Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's proposal to privatize Long Island Bus fall through.

The calls for Cuomo's assistance should come as good news to the 100,000 passengers who use LI Bus daily.

All they want is a bus system that provides a needed service at a reasonable price. Should the county legislature or the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state monitoring board that controls county finances, fail to approve the proposal by year's end, there would be no bus service come Jan. 1.

"I don't know anything about what is supposed to happen with a new company," rider Angela Davis, 58, of Hempstead, said in an interview yesterday. "What I do know is that I'm in danger of losing my freedom and losing my independence."

On Monday, Davis went before the Nassau Legislature to request a public hearing on Mangano's proposal to have a private vendor, Veolia Transportation of Lombard, Ill., assume control of Long Island Bus as of Jan. 1.

Davis, a member of the county's Human Rights Commission who was born with cerebral palsy, estimates she's been to more than 10 legislative meetings with the same request.

"If I thought it would help, I'd camp out in the legislative chambers," she said, with only a hint of a laugh.

Davis boards the bus to Garden City to shop at Roosevelt Field or to see her doctor. She boards the bus to see friends, who are scattered from East Meadow to Levittown.

After days of being without electricity following Tropical Storm Irene, firefighters carried Davis down three flights of stairs. She couldn't get a bus but managed to get a taxi -- spending $45 for a cab ride to a friend's home in Point Lookout.

To get to meetings in Mineola, she pays $7.50 for the round-trip on the bus.

Over the past year, Davis and other riders have seen cutbacks in Able Ride, a service for the disabled. And it took last-minute maneuvering earlier this year to get enough state money to keep most LI Bus routes going after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had threatened significant cuts.

But a funding dispute caused Nassau and the MTA -- which had run LI Bus for 38 years -- to finally part ways. Mangano announced a vendor, Veolia, in June. But legislators, NIFA and riders have yet to see details of the contracts.

And they probably won't until after they pass the county budget at the end of the month. Why wait?