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Five Towns Bus Lines on MTA Chopping Block

MTA claims county has not contributed enough to the bus service.

Five Towns and Atlantic Beach residents and visitors who rely on Long Island Bus to get around may soon see their service reduced or dropped altogether.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Wednesday morning that it is proposing the elimination of more than half of the lines on Long Island Bus and reducing weekend service on some routes.

"Nassau County's failure to provide the funds necessary to operate at current service levels is what forced us to have to consider these service reductions," MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz told Patch.

According to the MTA, Nassau is the only county in New York that doesn't fund the full amount necessary to operate the services provided by LI Bus after fares and state grants are collected. Ortiz explained that since 2000, the county has only contributed a portion — $9.1 million in 2010, for example — toward the budget shortfall. The rest has fallen on the shoulders of the MTA, which has contributed over $140 million since 2000 to fill the funding gaps.

"The MTA does not fund service at all in any other county in the state including Westchester and Suffolk," Ortiz said. "This is an issue of Nassau not recognizing its obligation to fund its bus system."

This year, the county's funding will fall $24 million short of what is needed to operate the current local bus and Able-Ride network, he said, and due to MTA's fragile fiscal condition, it can no longer afford to subsidize it. 

"This is a certainly a difficult choice that we had to make," Ortiz said. "We did our best to mitigate the impact on riders by identifying low volume routes."

But County Executive Ed Mangano said this week that it is the MTA that created the problem.

“We were happy with the MTA operating the bus service,” he said. “It is the MTA that a few weeks into my administration decided that they needed an additional $26 million to operate bus service. For our subsidy to go from $9.1 million to $35 million in one year in this fiscal environment was just not sustainable to the taxpayers here in Nassau County.”

The proposed actions would impact 27 of 48 routes and affect about 15 percent of local bus ridership. Local routes on the chopping block include the N-31 Hempstead to Far Rockaway line which runs through Lawrence, Woodmere and Hewlett. According to the MTA, this line had "moderate ridership," about 1,458 on an average day, and was costing the authority about $3.21 per passenger. (Riders would still have the N-32, which follows a similar route, but expect these buses to be more crowded if the other line is cut.)

"Public transportation is important, and to the extent it’s being infringed upon, we’re going backwards," said Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner. "It’s horrible that any transportation is being curtailed."

Other lines on the MTA chopping block include the N1, which provides service to the Hewlett and Gibson areas, and the N33, the only bus that goes through Atlantic Beach.

"This is a place that shouldn’t be eliminated because of the isolated nature of the area," said Atlantic Beach Mayor Stephen Mahler, who added that the move would most affect people who work in the village, like nannies. "When there’s a public hearing, we’ll go to it."

According to the statement released by the MTA, "Complementary paratransit (Able-Ride) services associated with discontinued fixed route service would no longer be provided after such discontinuance; ADA-required complementary paratransit services would continue in association with remaining fixed route service."

Ortiz said MTA's board would take all written and verbal testimony into consideration before making a decision on the proposed service reductions. It would vote on the issue on April 27 and any changes would be implemented in July.

He pointed out that the MTA has exhausted all efforts to cut costs internally — eliminating $16 million (about 31 percent) in administrative costs over the past 2 years — before resorting to service reductions.

"Most importantly, Ortiz said, "we are still very open to working with [Nassau] County to prevent the service reductions from happening."

Nassau has  to operate the bus system. (The county owns both the buses and the terminal in Hempstead.) Mangano intends to approach the MTA proposal similarly to the solicited bids from the public-private partnership.

The county has received three bids from outside companies, all of which include continuing Able Ride service for disabled and handicapped riders.

Mangano intends to hold public hearings on any proposal from a private company and give residents the opportunity to weigh in on “at least” two plans, one being the MTA and the other the private option.

The county executive was “not certain” about any timetable for the county’s hearings, but hoped the committee in charge of evaluating the bids would have a decision within the next few weeks.

“[MTA's] proposal will be measured against the responses that we have received,” he said. “We have no other choice but to measure the public-private responses to operate our bus system against the MTA proposal. We intend to continue bus service.”

Editor's note: This story was updated with a quote from Atlantic Beach Mayor Stephen Mahler.

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