Sources: Compromise plan may keep LI Bus rolling

Updated: Jul 20, 2010 07:09 PM
By ALFONSO A. CASTILLO

While the MTA does not plan to set any money aside to fund Long Island Bus in the future, agency officials may be willing to keep the system moving temporarily if Nassau County shows a commitment to stepping up its financial support for the ailing bus company, transit sources said Tuesday.

Transit sources said Monday that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority intends to withdraw all financial support from Long Island Bus in its 2011 budget. Long Island Bus is owned by Nassau County but largely subsidized by the MTA.

Without the $40 million that the MTA usually kicks in – roughly a third of LI Bus’ budget after fare revenue – experts say the system could afford to maintain only sparse service, or it could cease to exist altogether.

But transit sources said Tuesday that the MTA may soften its stance if Nassau agrees to a schedule of increased subsidies over the next several years that would eventually lead to the county covering the full $40 million.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has not said whether he would consider increasing the county’s subsidy to Long Island Bus, but has noted that, when including the state payroll tax enacted last year to support public transportation, Nassau is paying more than it has in years to the MTA.

Until about 10 years ago, Nassau County made up the difference of Long Island Bus’ budget after fare revenue and state aid. But over the years, the county has gradually decreased its subsidy. Last year, Nassau cut its subsidy for the bus system from $10.5 million to $9.1 million.

The MTA has made up the difference for years, but has said that in its current economic crisis, which includes an $800-million budget deficit, it can no longer afford to do so.

While Nassau may look to the state for help in paying its share, Assemb. Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, said the request would come as several other counties, which receive far less state aid for their bus systems, are also looking for help.

New York State contributes about $44 million a year to Long Island Bus. Suffolk gets about half that for its bus system, and no help from the MTA.

“They do better than any other county in the state,” Brodsky said of Nassau. “I just think other counties are starting to ask why they have to pick up the burden of their own system, plus Nassau’s.”

Lisa Tyson, executive director of the nonprofit Long Island Progressive Coalition, said it would be “irresponsible” for the MTA and Nassau not to reach a resolution.

“Nassau County would shut down without the bus system,” Tyson said. “With the amount of cars it takes off the roads and the amount of people it brings to jobs, it would clearly devastate the county.”