LI bus (Dec. 17, 2009)

LI bus (Dec. 17, 2009) Credit: Newsday File / Kathy Kmonicek

Dozens of Long Island Bus employees held a Valentine-themed protest Monday against Nassau County's plan to privatize its bus system if it cannot soon reach a deal to continue its relationship with the MTA.

The Committee to Save Long Island Bus -- formed from members of the Transport Workers Union Local 252 -- rallied at the Mineola Intermodal Center, where they got about 100 bus riders to sign two large "Valentines" that they later delivered to the offices of County Executive Edward Mangano. The cards' messages included "We can't live without you" and "Love our mass transit."

Committee chairwoman Cindy Tropeano said LI Bus drivers and mechanics could have their wages slashed by up to 40 percent if Mangano finalizes a plan for a private vendor to operate the county bus system in place of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The MTA has run LI Bus for nearly 40 years, but said last year it could no longer afford to make up for the county's funding shortfalls. Nassau contributes just over $9 million to LI Bus' $133 million budget.

Mangano has said the county, whose finances were taken over by a state authority last month, cannot afford to significantly increase its bus subsidy. The MTA wants Nassau to pay about $35 million a year.

The county has received three bids from private bus companies interested in taking over a more streamlined operation. Tropeano said such a system would likely lead to a dozen or more routes cut and possible layoffs.

"It's not only the drivers that we're concerned about. We're mostly concerned about the public," Tropeano said. "If they cut all these lines, people will have no way to get to work."

Katie Grilli-Robles, spokeswoman for Mangano, said the protesters "should direct their concerns toward the MTA."

In the meantime, the MTA will continue to provide as much bus service as it can with the limited funds, spokesman Jeremy Soffin said. "With Nassau County failing to fully fund its obligation to Long Island Bus - and no subsidy available in the MTA budget - we are now assessing the most efficient and effective way to continue providing bus service in Nassau County with the funding available," he said.

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