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Nassau: Private company to run LI Bus

A passenger exits the N50 bus, one that

A passenger exits the N50 bus, one that is slated to be eliminated by the MTA, as it pulls away from a stop in Bellmore. (March 1, 2011) Credit: Newsday File / Thomas A. Ferrara

Nassau County officials say they will turn over Long Island Bus to a private operator and end their relationship with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has run the financially beleaguered county bus system for nearly four decades.

The announcement came as County Executive Edward Mangano Wednesday outlined cost-cutting measures that include slashing the county's annual contribution to LI Bus by more than half, from $9.1 million to $4.1 million.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said the cut is an indication of the county's plan to privatize its bus operation. Nassau will receive "best final offers" from three bidders on Monday and will choose from them over the next few weeks, he said.

"The county has decided that funding the MTA's bloated bureaucracy is simply unaffordable for taxpayers," said Nevin, adding that the county's goal is to turn over its bus system to a company that can offer better service and be more efficient than the MTA.

The county must give the MTA 60 days' notice before ending its agreement with the transit agency. Nevin said the county will request a date to meet with the MTA to discuss the matter.

"The bus system belongs to Nassau County and we respect the county's decision to privatize the system," MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.

Earlier this month, the MTA announced plans to eliminate more than half of LI Bus' 48 lines, blaming inadequate funding of the system's $140-million annual budget from Nassau. The proposed cuts to 27 routes would affect about 16,000 of LI Bus' 100,000 daily riders, and come less than a year after the MTA axed 11 lines.

Advocates for maintaining the MTA's operation of LI Bus have said it is unlikely a private company will be able to offer comparable service for less money. But Nevin said one private bidder has said his company would need just $2.1 million to run the county's system. The county owns the fleet of about 300 buses.

Nevin said it is unclear whether privatization would result in fare hikes or service cuts. The base fare now is $2.25.

Because it is not known when a private operator would take over LI Bus, MTA officials said they still plan to hold a public hearing Wednesday at Hofstra University about the proposed service reductions, which would take effect in the summer.Ryan Lynch, spokesman for the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said he worries about the lack of accountability by a private operator, which could hike fares, cut service and compromise safety without the checks and balances of the MTA.

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