Following months of political maneuvering between Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and the MTA over Nassau County bus service, which included a last-minute reprieve earlier this month, the authority’s board has voted to terminate its agreement with the county at the end of the year. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the MTA will, after 40 years, cease operating the county’s bus service following a bitter dispute over payments.
Board members, according to numerous reports over the past few months, are incensed at the county — one of the richest in the state — for its failure to fund transit, and those who spoke with reporters did not mince their words. “To take care of the riders of Nassau County, the MTA has provided $140 million, which has not been provided to the riders of Suffolk County, Westchester County, Dutchess County, Rockland County, Orange County, Putnam County and the City of New York for the bus systems that we took over,” Mitchell Pally, an MTA board member and Suffolk County resident said. “I think it’s clear to say that the only people who have been protecting the riders for the last 10 years in Nassau County is this board, not Nassau County.”
This vote comes after months of public wrangling between Mangano and the MTA, and it has not been a good experience for Long Island Bus riders. When the MTA first asked Nassau County to contribute to bus service, Mangano essentially called for Jay Walder’s resignation. The county, it seems, wanted its bus service without paying for it. After the MTA voted to terminate service this month, state representatives pushed through a plan in Albany to siphon some state capital funds to cover operating costs for the remainder of the year. Now the deal will be dead come December 31.
Mangano, of course, tried his typical appeal to the “bloated bureaucracy.” It might ring true with partisan voters, but it’s an empty threat considering the state of Long Island Bus funding. “It’s a sad day in America when a government agency such as the MTA chooses to maintain its bloated bureaucracy over the services it is charged to provide its residents,” he said. “Because the MTA has failed taxpayers time and time again, Nassau County will move forward with a public-private partnership that maintains bus service without demanding an additional $26 million from taxpayers. The MTA’s monopoly over transportation in Nassau County ends now.”
Of course, one might argue that it is a sad day in America with government officials want other county’s taxpayers to foot the bill for $26 million worth of bus service for someone else’s residents. One could say it is a sad day when zeroing out Nassau County’s financial reserves on the backs of bus riders becomes a political game. Nassau County, remember, contributed just $9.1 million toward the $140 million it costs to operate the county’s bus system, and the remainder has to come out of someone else’s pocket.
With the vote today, the MTA is being more than generous with Nassau County. The contract requires just 60 days’ notice of termination, but the board is giving the county an extra eight months to finalize privatization plans. Nassau County has been working toward a private solution since early fall, but no concrete proposals have materialized. County officials still maintain they can find a carrier to provide the same comprehensive bus service at lower costs than the MTA does, but my gut feeling is that the private solution will lead to numerous cuts of unprofitable routes or more pressure on Nassau County to pony up for transit service.
While I hate to draw too many sweeping conclusions from this saga, it’s hard not to see Nassau County’s maneuverings as indicative of transit policy throughout New York. Politicians want more and better service on the one hand, and they want to contribute fewer and fewer dollars to the operating costs on the other. The people who end up suffering the most are the riders who can least afford it.