Like the other MTA agencies, Long Island Bus is facing deep service cuts and steep fare increases. However, the MTA plan to balance LI Bus’s budget is unique in that it assumes other government entities will increase their funding to the agency. If this does not happen, Long Island Bus would need to double its fare increase or cut service further.
The MTA Plan
Along with an unspecified fare increase of about 23%, the plan would end service on eight local bus routes:
- The N51, which connects the Merrick LIRR station with Nassau Community College and Roosevelt Field in Garden City.
- The N53, a loop route in Merrick which connects the LIRR station with major intersections.
- The N65 and N66, which link East Rockaway, Lynbrook, Malverne, West Hempstead, Hempstead, and Uniondale.
- The N80, which workers and shoppers use to get from malls in Hicksville and Massapequa to the nearest LIRR stations.
- The N87, which provides seasonal service to Jones Beach.
- The N93, which runs between Hofstra University and nearby malls and attractions.
The plan also includes “streamlining” eight routes, which probably means eliminating some stops. The affected buses are the N1, N2, N15, N20, N24, N27, N73, and N81. Long Island Bus has also consolidated its management structure, increased employee health plan contributions, and expects to save money on fuel.
On top of the fare increase and service cuts, the MTA plans to reduce its contribution to Long Island Bus by $4 million, a 20% cut in its subsidy. Ominously, in the 2009 Final Proposed Budget the MTA writes that “it is anticipated that other government entities responsible for funding [Long Island Bus] will provide sufficient aid so that the Agency achieves a balanced budget. Absent such funding, additional fare increases and/or service cuts may be necessary.“
What kind of increases or cuts? According to the MTA, if Nassau County does not increase its contribution to the bus system Long Island Bus will need to make cuts or raise fares to deal with budget holes of $5 million in 2009, $3 million in 2010, and $2 million in 2011 and 2012. LI Bus could fill those holes itself by raising fares another 20% and doubling paratransit fares. Nassau County has not increased bus funding in 5 years and gives less to the system now than it did in 1999, but there is cruel irony in the MTA asking other entities to give more while it gives less.
Taking Options Away From Those Who Need It Most
In Nassau County, the 8% of households without cars make an average of $40,000 annually, compared to about $100,000 for those with cars. Testifying at the MTA board meeting this morning, ACORN member Sonia Wilchard talked about how she relied on Long Island Bus to go to dialysis treatment and how her colleagues used the bus to get to work. Service cuts would put enormous burdens on many riders, many of whom are not well-served by existing service:
We [ACORN] have members whose routes do not commence departing from the transit center until the exact time they are supposed to be present at their jobs. We’ve had a member who used to ask security at the mall where she was employed to allow her to stay there overnight, because there was no bus to bring her home on Sundays.
The funding structure of Long Island Bus has historically led to annual games of chicken, where the MTA, state, and Nassau County fight over how much each entity should give to LI Bus. TSTC has advocated for reform of this structure in the past, but in the short term the only way out is increased funding. Without real leadership from local and state elected officials, this year’s game will end the way games of chicken often do — in tragedy, with Long Island’s bus riders the victims.