Gregory Spandy of Westbury rides the bus early Wednesday morning...

Gregory Spandy of Westbury rides the bus early Wednesday morning in Levittown. (March 2, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said a privatized Long Island Bus could be a better alternative to one decimated by MTA cuts announced Tuesday, but bus drivers and advocates disagree.

Ryan Lynch, senior planner for the non-profit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said it was very unlikely that a private operator could offer the level of service that the MTA has for nearly 40 years at a cheaper price. He cited Suffolk's bus system, which is operated by private vendors. It costs Suffolk nearly three times as much in subsidies as Nassau's contribution to LI Bus, and it is a far smaller system without weekend service.

"The county would be better served, and bus riders would be better served, if Nassau partnered with the MTA," Lynch said.

Mangano said yesterday the county might subsidize bus service even if a private company takes the wheel. He told Newsday he awaits a county committee's assessment of three offers to privatize the service before deciding how to proceed. Such a decision would come "within the next several weeks."

The county contributes $9.1 million toward LI Bus' $140 million budget - $24 million short of what is needed to keep existing service, the MTA says.

"The MTA just wants more and more money. Now they want more money and they're giving us half the service," said Mangano, adding he is still not convinced the MTA is running LI Bus as efficiently as possible.

Passengers on some of the affected routes said they were baffled by the MTA's proposed cuts - 25 routes out of 48 in service - which would force them to walk, take cabs or stay home.

"I think it's the most ridiculous thing people have ever thought of," said Roberto Chavez, 58, of Levittown. The proposed elimination of the N73 route threatens his commute to Manhattan, where he works as a music technician. "This is like crippling you from getting to work."

Mangano said he is committed to delivering bus service and that he's not sure a private bus service would be better than what MTA has to offer. The county continues its discussions with MTA.

MTA officials said Tuesday they plan to shut down the 25 routes July, blaming Nassau's inadequate funding of the county-owned bus service for the drastic measure. Spokesman Kevin Ortiz said Wednesday the agency cut costs at LI Bus by almost 30 percent over the past two years. Still, the county's funds fall far short, he said.

"Mr. Mangano is more interested in shifting blame than in providing the service Nassau bus riders need and deserve," Ortiz said.

LI Bus driver Cindy Tropeano, who heads the Committee to Save Long Island Bus, said she did not buy privatization as much of an option. She said such a plan would likely include service cuts and steep fare hikes - plus 40 percent salary cuts for drivers, who make about $55,000 a year.

"It would be worse, if not the same," Tropeano said. "We're hoping that they wise up and that somebody put some money into it so that all of this can go away."

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