Home Buses MTA planning steep cuts to Long Island Bus

MTA planning steep cuts to Long Island Bus

by Benjamin Kabak

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

The game of chicken between the cash-strapped MTA and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano is about to leave approximately 16,000 residents of Nassau County without bus service. As Newsday reported this morning, the authority has failed to reach a funding agreement with the delinquent county and will cut 25 of Long Island Bus’ 48 routes.

According to Alfonso Castillo’s report, Bethpage, Elmont and Lindenhurst will be left without bus service and two other lines will enjoy weekday-only buses. “I can’t tell you that people will not be hurt by this. People will be hurt by this,” MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder said to Newsday. “We can only provide the services that are being funded.”

Castillo has more on the long-standing conflict between Mangano and the MTA:

Walder said the bare-bones bus services are all the MTA can afford to run, given that Nassau County contributes only $9.1 million to the bus system’s $141-million annual budget. By comparison, Suffolk pays about $24 million toward its bus system’s $48.6 million budget.

MTA officials say the service cuts will save $12.2 million a year, including salaries of more than 200 LI Bus employees who will be laid off. Walder said the cuts target lines with the fewest passengers. Service for about 85 percent of riders will be kept. Because Nassau ‘s paratransit bus service – Able-Ride – mirrors fixed bus routes, about 18 percent of disabled bus riders also face losing their transportation.

Walder said the decision follows several failed attempts for more than a year to convince County Executive Edward Mangano that Nassau must give LI Bus the same support other counties give their bus services. “The reality is in this case the county has a mismatch. It has put in the funding for one level of service, but it expects a level of service that is much larger than that,” Walder said.

Once upon a time, Nassau County vowed to cover the difference between fare revenue and operating costs for the LI Bus routes, but lately, the suburban county has scaled back its contributions. Mangano’s office claims it cannot find the $24 million necessary to support bus service, and it continues to look toward private operators as a potential way out of this problem. As of early November, three companies had submitted bids.

Meanwhile, the MTA is defending this action and has highlighted how the county has failed to compromise. The agency has cut administrative costs by 33 percent and has been attempted to eke every last dollar out of the Long Island Bus holdings. “At the end of the day, even at the lowest possible costs, it’s costing more than the county is providing,” Walder said.

The people who stand to lose the most also spoke out against the cuts. As one Nassau County resident spoke of her decision to move to Forest Hills for the sake of her commute, another expressed his dismay. “I think it’s the most ridiculous thing people have ever thought of,” a Levittown bus rider said. “This is like crippling you from getting to work.”

The MTA will hold a hearing on the cuts on March 23. It’s still not too late for legislative action, but timing is slowly running short as the MTA plans to vote on the cuts in April. “It’s devastating,” Kate Slevin of the Tri-State Transprotation Campaign said. “These are people who are struggling as it is – a lot of the working poor, lots of students, lots of senior citizens who can no longer drive.”

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Douglas John Bowen March 2, 2011 - 2:58 pm

Once upon a time not so long ago, many New York-area suburbanites in three states, convinced of their moral superiority as evidenced by their choice of address, would have been the first to say “to heck with anything remotely city-connected; we don’t need it.”

Nassau County may be the first where the issue of “How can you cut us off from the core?” gets raised in such plaintive tones. It may not be the last. May city residents resist the sweeping urge to treat the needs of the ‘burbs as callously as the ‘burbs and (many of, not all of) their residents treated the core for so many, many years.

Change is now.

pete March 2, 2011 - 7:57 pm

Change is residential street parking permits for NYC. No more foreigners parking on residential streets near subway to avoid LIRR or garage fees.

Mark March 2, 2011 - 3:51 pm

Nassau county is broker than broke – in part because one of Magnano’s first actions as County Executive was to repeal the home energy tax enacted by Suozzi (an average of $7.27 a month) – such that NIFA has stepped in to take over the county’s finances. Now Magnano is using taxpayer dollars to sue NIFA over the action – using law firms with whom he was formerly associated. The Tea Party in action!

The lost tax revenue already left a budget shortfall which prompted NIFA’s actions, so clearly Nassau has no money with which to prop up their transit budget.

As painful as the service cuts are for the commuters who rely on them, Walder is right in this instance, and I think has done a good job keeping 85% of the service intact.

Nassau is going to have to figure something out, but the MTA has its own fiscal problems to deal with, don’t blame them at all.

pea-jay March 2, 2011 - 4:05 pm

I’m a little confused. Will the MTA provide any subsidy after these cuts or will MTA post-cut service be akin to the other counties: supported only by state and county dollars?

If I were the execs of the other two counties, i’d be a bit cheesed off about the deference given to Nassau on funding local bus service.

Marc Shepherd March 2, 2011 - 4:27 pm

As I understand it, the MTA will subsidize Nassau County bus service to the same extent it does other counties. Their deal will be no better or worse than the deal everyone else gets.

Albany Surveillance March 2, 2011 - 4:12 pm

Tsk tsk tsk! What do they propose that the Nassau constituents do? What does the local government officials plan to do for its Nassau constituents?

Scott E March 2, 2011 - 4:35 pm

When this story breaks on tonight’s 5:00 and 6:00 news, who will come across as “the bad guy”? Will it be Mangano or Walder? Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.

It stinks that this has to happen, but like last year’s Student Metrocard PR debacle, the MTA has to stop letting itself be bullied into providing financial support outside of its means and outside of its responsibility. This is no different than a kid in the schoolyard finally standing up for himself after constantly having his lunch money stolen. Let’s just hope the MTA doesn’t cower and takes a public stance with conviction and authority.

Oh, and Nassau should be hosting the public hearings, not the MTA.

big d March 2, 2011 - 5:29 pm

Maybe nassau county should let suffolk county run thieir bus system. they get NO funding from the MTA, and the costs are kept in check by using private contractors, who are not subject to the salary and benefits, and work rules that are put in place by the unions who are associated with MTA Long Island Bus. The private contractors have different union contracts (i believe thare are one or two contractors who do not have unions affiliation at all)which are fair and equitable, and have other means to supplement transit operating costs by operating school buses, charter coaches, etc. which Long island bus could never do.
The private contractors may not be able to pay MTA Salaries, but it will keep people employed and still provide service, even if it is somewhat modified.
Nassau county stated they have 3 bids for a private takeover. Perhaps they should award all three bisdders a contract, to cover the townships in Nassau (oysterbay, hempstead, north hempstead.) Also, i believe Hempstead, long beach, great neck, port Washington, rockville Centre, Freeport- through grants- may be able to supplement a private bus system with community based transportation, which would cover the areas the private contractors or a smaller MTA Long island bus cannot cover. Again, it may not be able to pay what the MTA pays in salary, but it will put people to work.

Donald March 2, 2011 - 5:45 pm

Private bus companies will also raise the fare significantly. You left that part out of your post…

Donald March 2, 2011 - 5:51 pm

Privatization should not be touted as a “cure all” for MTA budget problems. Yes, private compnanies will pay lower wages to their workers, but they are NOT going to pass those savings on to the passenger. You will never see a dime of those savings. They will go toward 7 digit executive salaries and dividend payments.

big d March 3, 2011 - 7:42 pm

In suffolk county, the bus fares are determined by the county legislator and are subject to public hearings before they are instituted, just like the MTA Does. If Naussau does go private, they will need to include in those contracts that the county will set the fare structure, and will be equal throughout the county. The private bus companies in the 5 boroughs, prior to being taken over by the MTA, were governed this way.

Donald March 2, 2011 - 5:44 pm

Ed Mangano is so corrupt I would not be surprised if he is recalled or indicted before the end of his term.

Frank B. March 2, 2011 - 6:11 pm

I’m glad the MTA is finally sticking up for itself. It’s a simple matter of economics; money goes in, services go out. No money goes in, no services come out.

If the MTA can’t afford it, it shouldn’t be running that service. Simple as that.

SEAN March 2, 2011 - 6:27 pm

Let me get this streight, nearly half of the routes will either get cut parcially or discontinued completely & yet that only = 15% of the total service? Sounds like fuzzy math to me.

The best thing that could be done is for the MTA to append the Queens service into & through Nassau. Example – N24 busses from Jamaica to Roosevelt Field would be extended along Hillside Avenue. However the route number would be what ever Q route opperates along there. Routes that opperate within Nassau County would still be prifixed with N.

pete March 2, 2011 - 8:02 pm

Ridership is not proportional between bus lines. 1/2 of all routes move only 15% of LI Bus riders, AKA bus routes in rich, non minority, low density, car owning communities.

Different Pete, Peter March 2, 2011 - 8:30 pm

I’m familiar with the N31 and N33 routes since I’ve used them a lot. I can tell you if they get rid of those routes a lot of people will be hurt. These routes pass through wealthy upper class neighborhoods and they are the only way for lower class minority workers to get to those areas. I am not sure how they can get into those areas without long walks. And let me tell you, in the heatwave of summer, or the biting cold of winter, those areas will be hell to get to or leave if you don’t have a car.

And those are the 2 routes that I know about. I can only imagine how much pain will be felt on the other routes. Those buses were a welcome sight in heat waves because they were air-conditioned, and in winter they were nice and warm. You never know what you have until you lose it.

We do have a tea party retard running our county so I’m sure these routes will be cut, but I have to wonder how much the unions are to blame. Remember when an audit showed mechanics making 300,000 a year fixing the train? And a ticket collector on the LIRR making 175k? They were posted right here on 2nd avenue sagas. So there is probably abuse by union workers here as well.

Nassau county is one of the wealthiest areas in this nation. It’s a shame we are letting the poor and minority that clean the homes of the wealthiest be treated like this. Cutting taxes and voting has repercussions.

SomeGuy32 March 3, 2011 - 10:50 pm

N31 and N32 are almost completely redundant, so there is little problem there.

As for N33 – i figure the City of Long Beach will take it over and run it similar to the N69 that it took over years ago.

JAzumah March 2, 2011 - 10:06 pm

Yes, the math is fuzzy. The ridership loss will be at least 25,000 per day because of something we call transfers.

No, NYCT buses have no business covering LIB routes, except at zero subsidy. We can’t scream at the MTA for wasting money and then tell them to waste more money by subsidizing counties. This is not fair.

Nathanael March 3, 2011 - 2:17 pm

This sounds completely plausible; low-frequency, low-ridership routes get cut first. They’re also the most expensive to run, per passenger and per passenger-mile. The retained routes are probably the busiest ones.

Joseph Alacchi March 2, 2011 - 9:22 pm

This simply appalling! Why didn’t they opt to at least keep bare-bones service to each community so that they are not totally cut off. Like every 60-90 minutes at rush hour and 2-3 hours outside of rush hour to at least keep people from being isolated and losing their jobs.

Nathanael March 3, 2011 - 2:18 pm

Because that would cost far more money for the MTA than keeping the highest-ridership routes and dropping the rest. It would also hurt more people.

The MTA is doing its best considering that Nassau County has a jackass government which won’t pay for bus service.

ajedrez March 2, 2011 - 9:53 pm

Some of the reductions I agree with, even if they affect a lot of people, simply because the LIRR acts as an alternative. For example, the N19 is duplicated by the LIRR, which is a 10 minute walk away (assuming you live near a cross-street that intersects an LIRR station), and the fare is a comparable $2.75.

Some cuts I disagree with. For example, the N55 and N79 run in areas with no alternatives, and are relatively efficient. At the same time, the N27, which parallels the LIRR is remaining. It gets high ridership, but, like the N19, there is an alternative.

Al D March 3, 2011 - 9:31 am

I never quite understood this arrangement. Is MTA a ‘contractor’ of Nassau, operating its buses, or is it the, I guess, legally charged public authority with providing certain transportation services (if this is even the right way of saying it) as it is in NYC, and its other services, etc.

tacony palmyra March 3, 2011 - 9:56 am

I don’t understand the logic behind any of this either. Ben, could you do a “suburban New York bus systems for dummies” article? Why is Nassau setup differently from Westchester and Suffolk (and for that matter, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess– I know their bus systems are a joke, but they’re within the MTA region). What’s the history behind all these disparities between how the different suburban counties are handled?

That funding graph from TSTC is begging to be compared to ridership… I would assume the Bee-Line moves more riders than Long Island Bus, but I could be wrong. But Westchester receives no MTA funding for Bee-Line, yet Nassau thinks it doesn’t receive enough? Huh? When Westchester made a couple bus cuts last year people were up in arms, and the express bus to Manhattan was mostly restored after public outcry. The situation in Nassau seems fare more dire.

JK March 3, 2011 - 10:15 am

Yes please: “Ben, could you do a “suburban New York bus systems for dummies” article? Why is Nassau setup differently from Westchester and Suffolk (and for that matter, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess…”

JAzumah March 3, 2011 - 12:58 pm

Actually, the MTA is a contractor for Nassau. All of the counties in the MTA service area must cough up cash towards their transit system. Nassau was the only one to join the Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority, which was the suburban bus operating unit of the MTA. While Nassau pays the MTA, the others pay private operators.

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