Despite hail and freezing rain, over 500 people came to last night’s hearing on the future of Long Island Bus, held at Hofstra University’s Adams Playhouse for 7 hours. The hearing covered plans to cut 25 of the system’s 48 routes, as well as the possibility that Nassau County may cancel its agreement with the MTA, which runs the system.
The county pays just $9.1 million of the system’s budget, with the MTA paying about $25 million and the state covering the rest. Nassau now wants to cut bus funding further and have a private operator take over the system. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano did not attend the hearing. If he had, he would have heard rider after rider explain, in personal terms, how essential the bus system is to a functioning Nassau County. Newsday reports:
At the more than seven-hour hearing, college students, low-income mothers, senior citizens and disabled customers offered sometimes tearful accounts of LI Bus’ vital role in their lives. Kevin Christman, who has cerebral palsy and works as a teacher assistant in Roosevelt, said losing his bus is “unimaginable.”
“You can’t cut these services, because people like myself won’t be able to work, won’t be able to see our doctors,” said Christman, 28, of Wantagh.”Then we will be a drain on the county.”
Lorenzo Simpson, student government president at Nassau Community College, said the proposed cuts would affect thousands of students — many of whom chose the college because of its accessibility by public transportation.
Simpson quoted one student as saying, “If you cut the buses, my college career would be over.”
Though the county executive did not attend the hearing, a poster of Mangano, brought to the podium by Tri-State’s Ryan Lynch, was booed by the audience. Advocates also passed out cards urging bus riders to call Mangano’s office.
Tri-State executive director Kate Slevin offered a reality check on the county’s privatization plan in her hearing testimony. “Simply put, County Executive Mangano is dreaming… no other system in the country does what Mangano wants to do.” Westchester County contributes $33 million to its Bee-Line system; Suffolk pays $24 million for Suffolk County Transit. But Nassau officials have suggested the county would pay just $2 to 4 million for a private system.
Advocates, workers, and bus riders rallied and held a press conference before the hearing.
“Privatizing the bus system while contributing nothing, or very little, to its operations has been proven time and time again to be a loser for bus riders and workers,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of Long Island Jobs with Justice.
“Hundreds of LI Bus workers are set to lose their jobs for lack of a transit option,” said John Durso of the LI Federation of Labor. “In addition, untold numbers of riders could lose their jobs, and small and large businesses alike could suffer from employees not being able to get to work, earn income and use that to invest back in Long Island communities.”
The proposed cuts will almost certainly be voted on at the MTA’s next board meeting in April. If the county and MTA don’t come to an agreement, the cuts will happen this summer. Several bus riders who called the county executive today told advocates that they were hung up on without being transferred to a staff member (it’s not clear whether this was intentional, or a sign that the county switchboard has become overloaded).
Images: Tri-State Transportation Campaign.