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County's Privatization of Long Island Bus Questioned

Residents fear inability to commute to school, work if buses privatized.

Several Town of Hempstead residents came before the County Legislature during Monday's session to both plead with and chide the body over a proposal to privatize the Long Island Bus. "How are people going to get to work? How are the students going to get to school?" the man asked.

Faced with a $800 million budget gap, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced plans in September to eliminate $26 million in funding for Long Island Bus and increase bus and subway fares in an effort to increase its revenue by 7.5%. The move would leave upwards of 100,000 riders stranded.

New York State enacted a payroll tax to help fund the agency. The tax charges all employers within the area serviced by the MTA 34 cents for every $100 of payroll. Nassau recently filed a lawsuit, claiming the tax is unconstitutional.

"The State of New York slapped an MTA payroll tax on the backs of every business and every resident of this county," Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, R-Massapequa, said. "They extract that money and they take it into the state and then they turned around and they raised the fares, and then they turned around and they cut the funding to the bus service to zero."

Schmitt agreed with the man that a Federal audit should be conducted on the MTA. "We don't want to shut it down and stop the busses from running," Schmitt said, "what's left is to explore if privatization offers a lifeline that can keep those busses running and keep people having transportation to get back and forth to work." The speaker later added that no conclusions should be drawn as no proposals for privatization have come forth.

At a hearing on September 16 at the Garden City Hotel, Legislator Wayne Wink, D-Roslyn, questioned the MTA board as to capital plan money available to conduct a study of the regionalization of the bus system.  "To my understanding that money has never been utilized and they have no plans to do that study," Wink said Monday.  "That to me is the first thing that should be done here."

"Privatization sounds like a good word but it hasn't worked because the cost hurts the very people that you're trying to (help) by replacing public transportation with private," Judy Jacobs, D-Woodbury, said.

The MTA agreed to take over the Long Island bus system in 1973 when private operators were on the verge of bankruptcy, at first contributing $14 million to the bus system.  That has since climbed to an estimated $41 million.  "Where did that come from at all?" Wink asked.  "In studying it the only basis for that dramatic increase that I find is just accounting."

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