Commuters ride the N58 bus in Great Neck. (March 1,...

Commuters ride the N58 bus in Great Neck. (March 1, 2011) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A key MTA committee Thursday voted to terminate the contract under which the agency has operated Long Island Bus for nearly 40 years, despite pleas from riders and transit advocates not to create a "transit crisis" in Nassau County.

The MTA board's bus committee Thursday unanimously approved the resolution to end its lease and operation agreement with Nassau, which owns Long Island Bus.

Saying that the MTA does not efficiently run the bus system, which has a $140-million annual budget, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano plans to turn over LI Bus to a private operator on Jan. 1. The MTA has said Nassau has not lived up to its funding obligations to the bus system.

As people held signs in the audience that read "Don't vote" and "Keep negotiating," board members explained that Nassau officials had made up their minds, and it was the MTA's responsibility to begin the transition process.

The full MTA board will vote on Wednesday.

"If this is what Nassau County wants . . . then the board should agree," said board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, adding that the MTA has done its best to "protect riders."

But Jan Wells, assistant director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said the vote was "at best premature and at worst a recipe for disaster." She noted that Nassau has not chosen a bidder or revealed any plan details.

"This board should not be voting on a scheme that has no foundation or backup plan," Wells said.

Opponents of the privatization effort have said bus service in Nassau will decline and fares could go up. Union officials fear job losses and salary cuts.

Also Thursday, MTA officials announced plans to sell their swank Madison Avenue headquarters and unload several other properties to save at least $150 million and make the best use of real estate.

MTA director of real estate Jeff Rosen said that recent reductions in staff mean that the agency can make do with the more modest office space the agency owns at 2 Broadway in Manhattan's Financial District.

MTA officials said they expect to be out of their current home at 347 Madison Ave. in two to three years. They also plan to terminate eight property leases by September.

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