Comptroller Says MTA Shortchanging LI Bus

The story is nothing new, Long Island Bus has always been the least funded branch of the MTA’s operations as Nassau County continuously shortchanges its riders. However this reality does not matter as county officials continue to pass the blame torch mainly to the transit agency.

The latest elected official to chime in was Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos who released a study claiming that both the MTA & Nassau County are underfunding Long Island Bus, however focusing on howthe MTA is especially shortchanging its riders. Here is a press release on the study with some key points courtesy of comptroller’s office:

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, at a press conference in Mineola, released the results of a study his office conducted providing options to save the Long Island Bus System (LIBS) and called on the MTA to treat County commuters fairly.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has threatened to cease operating the LIBS in 2011 unless Nassau County quadruples its subsidy from the current $9.1 million to $36.1 million. In response, the Mangano Administration stated that it cannot pay more and is exploring privatizing the LIBS.

“Nassau County residents depend on LI Bus to get to work, to school, visit doctors, shop and enjoy everything Nassau has to offer,” Comptroller Maragos said. “Nassau’s economy depends on LI Bus. This is not the right time for the MTA to pull the plug on the Nassau County subsidy.”

The report recommended that the best option for the County is to negotiate with the MTA to continue with the current service, with a more equitable subsidy. The MTA should first decrease the LIBS operating expense by about 4%, so that no increase in subsidies is required for 2011 by either the MTA or the County. If an increase is necessary, then both the County and the MTA should proportionately increase their subsidies in order to keep the LIBS running.

However, if negotiations fail and the County is forced to contribute the full subsidy demanded by the MTA of over $36 million for 2011, then we recommend that privatization be pursued.

The study evaluated the following options for the County to keep the LIBS running:

Stay with MTA Operation:

The MTA currently subsidizes the LIBS by $21.2 million or $0.69 per commuter while it subsidizes the Commuter Rail Division by $257 million or $1.60 per commuter annually. In fairness, if the MTA matched the Commuter Rail contribution this would result in a total annual subsidy to LIBS of $49 million, well above the current $21 million.

Given the current economic situation of both the MTA and Nassau County the most equitable compromise would appear to be for both to proportionately increase their subsidies and for the MTA to continue operating the LIBS. The study also noted that if the MTA can better control costs by about 4%, then no increase in the current year subsidies would be required in 2011 by the MTA or the County.

Privatize Using Peer County Models:

The study compared LIBS to bus systems in Rochester, Niagara, Westchester and Suffolk Counties. The study found that the privatized systems in other counties can cost about the same or more than the MTA run LIBS and can require substantially more in local contributions. Our study shows that private operators require Suffolk and Westchester Counties to pay $27.3 million and $13.8 million respectively.

Using the Westchester model which approximates the LIBS in ridership, we estimate that Nassau County would have to increase its subsidy from $9.1 million to $17.2 million. Therefore this model only makes sense if the MTA option will cost the County more than $17.3 million annually.

Selecting one of the bidders to the RFP recently issued by the County:

The third option is privatization through the current RFP process undertaken by the Mangano Administration. We understand that the Administration has received three bids from large municipal bus operators. The Administration further requested and received bids without subsidies. Our due diligence on the bidders found that there are no instances where these operators have run a municipal system without local subsidies.

Additionally, these bidders may require a significant fare increase of up to 20%. Furthermore, without a County matching subsidy, New York State subsidies to the LIBS would be lost, putting further strain on a private operator and risk of an even higher subsidy or fares. For these reasons, we do not consider the current private bidders as viable long-term solutions.

Comptroller Maragos concluded by stressing that, “Most LI Bus system riders cannot afford to lose this trusted form of transportation. The MTA and the County must find a resolution to this debate without interrupting service to a very important part of Nassau’s economic engine. Our report recommends that the MTA and the County can save LI Bus by contributing proportionately towards its operation.”

Click here for the complete .pdf report.

I will preface this by saying I have not read the complete report. However from my years of following this situation, I feel strongly about certain issues. First & foremost, is the MTA 100% perfect in their funding & operation of Long Island Bus? Absolutely not, however it is pretty clear that the biggest culprit as to why this service is severely underfunded & under performing is Nassau County itself.

For years, the county has wanted to have its cake & eat it too. Repeatedly they failed to add any new money to their funding portion even though their residents benefited from the service from less LIRR riders, to less drivers on the road. However all of this is foreign to them as they expect a great service without wanting to rightfully foot a fair share of the bill.

I agree with the comptroller, that both sides should continue to negotiate & work this situation out as privatizing is not the answer. However if the county will continue to negotiate in bad faith, why even bother? It is clear that they want to reap the maximum benefits of the service while putting the costs on the MTA & in the long run, the same riders they claim to be fighting for. Sorry Nassau County, you can’t have your cake & eat it too!

xoxo Transit Blogger

If you enjoyed this post, please consider to leave a comment or subscribe to the feed and get future articles delivered to your feed reader.


No comments yet.

Leave a comment