An N47 Long Island Bus turns onto Hempstead Turnpike in...

An N47 Long Island Bus turns onto Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Opponents of Nassau's plan to turn over Long Island Bus to a private operator next year are holding out hope that a new MTA chief may equal a new opportunity to keep the bus system under MTA control.

About 100 transit advocates, community leaders and LI Bus employees gathered outside the Nassau Legislative Building in Mineola on Monday to voice their concerns over Nassau's decision to pull LI Bus out of the MTA and have Lombard, Ill.-based Veolia Transportation run the system beginning in January.

Nassau withdrew from the MTA, which has operated LI Bus for 38 years, after MTA chairman and chief executive Jay Walder decided his agency would no longer make up for the county's underfunding of LI Bus. Walder said Nassau, which had been contributing about $9.1 million a year to LI Bus, would have to add another $26 million to keep existing service levels.

The MTA Board in December adopted a budget with no financial assistance for Nassau. But Walder's decision to leave the MTA this month may open the window for new talks between Nassau and the MTA, said Cindy Tropeano, an LI Bus driver for 18 years and head of the Committee to Save Long Island Bus.

"I think there's a glimmer of hope," said Tropeano, who believes Walder drove too hard a line with Nassau.

Veolia has begun setting up its operations in Nassau and interviewing new employees but still has not finalized a contract with Nassau. County Executive Edward Mangano said he is "is open to any discussions that continue bus service while protecting taxpayers."

A committee appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is looking for a new MTA chief, but it is unlikely he or she would be confirmed by the State Senate before Veolia takes over LI Bus in January. The Senate is adjourned for the rest of this year.

Kate Slevin, executive director of the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said advocates have collected more than 100 letters from LI Bus riders expressing their concerns over Nassau's privatization plan and will deliver them to the county legislature this week.

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