Frustrated with a lack of public hearings and information about the planned takeover of Nassau County’s portion of MTA Long Island Bus by a private operator, residents and county politicians held their own hearing.
Dubbed the “people’s hearing,” it was standing room only at the Ethical Humanist Society building in Garden City Wednesday night as dozens of residents attacked the county’s plan to turn over bus operations to Veolia Transportation on Jan. 1. The Illinois-based firm has come under scrutiny for raising fares, a lack of service and inadequate repairs to vehicles.
“We’re worried the county executive is taking our public transportation system back to the 1970s,” said Kate Slevin, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, noting that the MTA took over LI Bus when a private company was not able to provide adequate service.
The county began seeking a private operator as talks with the MTA stalled over the amount of subsidies the county would provide to keep the busses running. The MTA had proposed several options, including contributing $25 million in subsidies or a $9 million contribution, but face substantial cuts in service.
Nassau provided a $9.1 million subsidy to the MTA to operate the service with additional subsidies from the state and Federal levels, which it intends to maintain at a minimum level in order to maintain Federal matching grants.
“The negotiation is between the administration and the MTA — neither of them can find middle ground,” said Jostyn Hernandez, communications director for Nassau Comptroller George Maragos. The comptroller’s office has requested details of the new contract be submitted before Oct. 1 for a proper review.
County Executive Ed Mangano and Veoila have guaranteed that service will not be cut and fares will remain the same through 2012 and insist riders will get better service. However, subsequent years are worrisome to many, including disabled riders who utilize the AbleRide system.
“We were not put on this earth to be shut in. We can contribute to the community but we need to be able to get to work ... and we need to be able to get to school,” Hempstead resident Angela Davis said.
It was speculated that Veolia would use the first year as a loss-leader in order to raise fares in subsequent years.
“It looks like you’re bringing in a company that will raise costs, eliminate some bus lines, decrease safety and will not pay their own workers a living wage,” Dr. Karen Carlo from Garden City Community Church said. “When people can’t get to work they have no choice but to rely on various forms of public assistance.”
State Sen. Jack Martins, one of the few Republicans in attendance at the hearing, was asking for more information anyway possible, including a hearing. “The last thing we need is to put 100,000 people home when they should be either going to school, learning a trade or getting to work,” he said.
The county does reportedly plan to hold a public hearing on the contract in October, however, Legis. Wayne Wink, D-Roslyn, stated that it was his understanding that the contract would only be subject to approval from the Rules Committee, and not the full legislature. The committee consists of four Republicans and three Democrats.