Home Buses MTA Board votes to terminate LI Bus contract

MTA Board votes to terminate LI Bus contract

by Benjamin Kabak

Nassau County has not invested in its own bus system. (Graph via TSTC)

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.

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Alex C April 28, 2011 - 1:00 am

Good. Serves them right. They wanted bus service without paying for it, having the rest of us pay for them. They want a private company to come in? Have at it, Nassau County. You thought the MTA raised fares and lowered service? Wait till you see a company whose objective is to turn a profit come in. And have fun finding one who will want to waste time and money on this.

Michael Sypolt April 28, 2011 - 7:31 am

We have been experiencing similar issues here in Pennsylvania and more specifically Pittsburgh. Here it has been just a political football game where the biggest losers are the riders. Many media outlets slant stories to paint our transit agency so poorly by lies that about 90% of the population want to see the system privatized. The big problem is if they privatize our Port Authority, the biggest fare increases and worst service cuts would occur.

I think a better solution is to increase the County’s share in funding to counteract the reduced state funding. Also, the funding sources need to be dedicated and growing with the transit costs. Most importantly, riders need to pressure their lawmakers to adequately fund transit!

Scott E April 28, 2011 - 8:42 am

So Nassau will privatize. Do they contract to the MTA for just operations, or the whole thing… including buses, garages, etc? I’m wondering what infrastructure/capital costs the county or private company will need to attend to. Thoughts of a common fare collection will be interesting too. The Atlantic Beach Bridge in Nassau County which crosses to the Rockaway Peninsula doesn’t even take E-ZPass.

pete April 29, 2011 - 2:50 pm

E-ZPass is not an MTA entity. Any and very many multi-state tolling authorities use it.

Frank B. April 28, 2011 - 8:46 am

Well, it’s about time. These loonies are going to have to learn that you’re going to have to pay the piper; I say, good riddance. The MTA has many more important things to fund than Long Island Bus.

ferryboi April 28, 2011 - 10:47 am

Funny nobody complains when taxpayers fund BILLIONS of dollars toward “failing” banks and auto companies, but everybody gets pissed about funding bus service for the poorest citizens in an otherwise wealthy county. Welcome thru the looking glass, Alice. Bankers get away with robbing everyone blind, but it’s those poor day-workers riding the bus that are sending us all to the poorhouse.

petey April 28, 2011 - 11:09 am

well, lots of people complain when the fatcats get their bailouts, but i certainly agree that it’s the poor who get the screw, and the blame. it’s sickening. but any attempt to hold the actually responsible parties responsible will be hit immediately with rhetoric about ‘socialism’. task #1 is to blast through the corporate/rightwing media machine and get the story of working people onto the airwaves. (see what Peter says below.)

Peter April 28, 2011 - 10:58 am

I live in Nassau and News12 Long Island news will spend more time talking about Madden NFL and Lindsey Lohan then this issue.

I am curious to see the economic impact in Nassau in the coming years because of this. Our roads during rush hour are bumper to bumper and now with reduced and probably poorly performing bus service, I wonder how this change will effect traffic and local businesses along those routes.

I am willing to bet businesses will see a reduction in revenue, our roads will get busier, less parking spaces, more neighborhood traffic noise thanks to increased traffic.

Nassau county residents voted Ed Mangano in. He is a weasel and voters wanted this, let them have it.

SEAN April 28, 2011 - 10:59 am


Tell me what opperator would be foolish enough to take on Long Island bus operations based on what is currently known?

This may sound like something way out in left field, but is the actual goal to KILL the transit system by hook or by crook?

Bolwerk April 28, 2011 - 12:56 pm

Maybe fans of Atlas Shrugged? If any actually have the capital to take on such an operation, that is….

Eric F. April 28, 2011 - 11:31 am

What’s odd about the graph is that it shows “funding” as stictly a measure of cash subsidy. What’s the farebox revenue like on these systems? Also, I bet if Nassau could apply payroll tax revenue genrated in Nassau to pay for the system, you might get a deal to keep it in place there and fund up the system.

Bolwerk April 28, 2011 - 1:06 pm

This (PDF) may give you some idea.

I’d be curious to see where that payroll tax even goes. Obviously Nassau has LIRR and the buses (for now), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an inflow of revenue from NYC payroll taxes to the suburban railroads and bus systems.

busguy April 28, 2011 - 12:06 pm

Anyone who thinks that a public agency is more efficient than a private company is a moron. I deal with the MTA on a regular basis, and also deal with private bus companies that operate fixed route bus service in other cities. The difference in attitude is like night and day. Private companies are forced to innovate and remain competitive, public agencies are beholden to numerous political constituencies, not what their costs are. Managano is right – the MTA is a bloated bureaucracy with excessive layers of management and a bunch of fat lazy overpaid unionized drivers and mechanics. Privatization will save money and provide better service.

Benjamin Kabak April 28, 2011 - 12:08 pm

Saving money and providing better service at two competing goals. It’s no doubt that some private companies are more efficient than public agencies, but that’s because they eliminate routes that aren’t making profits. The MTA, as a public agencies, has to provide those buses as a public service. Once a private company takes over, those routes will be axed. If you think it can save money while also providing better service, I have a bridge a few miles away to sell you.

Al D April 28, 2011 - 12:38 pm

Many times, these private companies receive government subsidies to operate. For example, NJT (or just NJ) has a public/private partnership with many such companies, Lakeland and Academy for example. Can you reveal the names of the private operators?

Bolwerk April 28, 2011 - 12:55 pm

It could just as easily be the other way around: the privatization fans are morons (okay, I don’t think that, but at least you could make that case). Private companies have two rather large disadvantages over public agencies: (1) they have to pay federal and state income taxes and, more importantly, (2) they have far higher financing expenses, that are not tax-free but are much riskier because there is no government behind them to bail them out. Of course, this is why public authorities exist in the first place; it was hoped they’d meld the advantages of both systems. And sorry, but a private company with a transit franchise may have an incentive to help the bottom line, but they don’t have an incentive to innovate against competition because by definition they probably don’t have competitors.

None of that is to say privatization can’t work, but it’s certainly not a magic bullet, and definitely has no inherent efficiency advantage.

Alon Levy April 28, 2011 - 6:23 pm

Meh. There are plenty of efficient state-owned companies: the national railways of Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Spain, South Korea, China, Russia, and especially Switzerland; the municipal subways of Japan and Russia; the regional rail agencies of the German-speaking countries and Scandinavia; the nominally-private-but-still-majority-state-owned subways in Hong Kong and Singapore; and the nominally-private-but-still-fully-state-owned subway in Tokyo and the railways of Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido.

It doesn’t mean public is always better than private. There are certain problems with public agencies, especially in Japan, that privatization solved – namely, some overstaffing, and the construction of low-performing lines for political reasons. The overstaffing in the US could be partly fixed with privatization, but much of it is mandated by the FRA, and therefore would force wholesale regulatory reform anyway. Unfortunately, the contracts offered by agencies seeking to privatize, such as Caltrain, often set the staffing levels in stone, leaving private operators with no way to reduce operating costs except underpay employees.

Bolwerk April 28, 2011 - 6:39 pm

Even DB might be described as “nominally-private-but-still-fully-state-owned,” right?

Alon Levy April 28, 2011 - 10:24 pm

DB and SNCF are fully public, but act increasingly like private entities, complete with not caring too much about regional service, trying to use their government connections to get a monopoly on home services, competing for contracts abroad, and not cooperating on transcontinental freight service. They’re increasingly HSR companies with some side businesses, especially SNCF.

Walter April 28, 2011 - 3:41 pm

If Nassau wants to play games, then the MTA should play them back. If the MTA were vindictive, Nassau County would right now be receiving a bill for the Long Island Rail Road. Play a game of chicken with Mangano. Make him cut the LIRR, or contradict himself. At the least, the MTA should make it’s Nassau trains make more stops in the City to both irritate the county’s riders and make the LIRR more useful for people in the City.

The MTA is going to get slammed in the press for this anyway, so why not go all out.


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