Testimony of Ryan Lynch
Tri-State is here, as we are every year, to advocate for increased funding for Long Island Bus, funding that has remained stagnant for the past decade, without even being indexed to inflation. This means the County is actually contributing less now to LI Bus than it was ten years ago.
This year, things are even worse than usual. County Executive Suozzi has chosen to cut Nassau's contribution to the system by a little more than 25%, or approximately $2.8 million. We are here to ensure that Long Island bus riders don't face the possibility of two fare increases and drastic service cuts in the same year.
Though Long Island Bus has not released its proposed service cuts yet, we estimate that such a County reduction could threaten service on the following routes:
Unfortunately the riders of these routes, many whom are elderly, young, or low-income, often have no other modes of transportation. The decision to cut the Nassau County contribution will most likely result in socially isolating senior citizens, a continued out flux of Long Island's young people and the loss of work for those that can't get to and from their jobs. Not exactly outcomes the County is striving to achieve, I imagine.
This doesn’t even account for the regressiveness of the proposed budget cuts. According to the most recent census data, LI Bus riders earn roughly $20,000 less than commuters who drive alone to work and approximately $62,000 less than rail riders. Yet the County will possibly ask them to pay more.
The County Executive, and if nothing is done to support LI Bus, the Nassau County Legislature will be balancing the budget on the backs of bus riders.
County Executive Suozzi’s rationale for the cuts to the nation’s largest suburban bus system is that Nassau's contribution to the payroll tax makes up for it.
But when he says this he’s being disingenuous. That's because the payroll tax goes to the MTA and not to LI Bus. Nassau County knows this, we know this and the MTA knows this. We'll do everything in our power to make sure that Nassau County residents know this too.
This budget is just another political ploy by County Executive Suozzi to force the MTA to take over LI Bus and wash the County's hands of LI Bus funding. Like County Executive Suozzi, we support a regional bus system run by the MTA, a study of which is currently in the draft 2010-2014 Capital Program. But until this idea becomes a reality, cutting the County’s contribution to the system is only politics as usual, and will only end up hurting Long Island Bus riders.
We do not believe that County Executive Suozzi and the members of the Legislature are being malicious when they impose such hardships on LI Bus riders. But we do think many of you may be unaware of what it is like to ride LI Bus on a regular basis.
This is why we are again issuing a challenge to Nassau County's elected officials. We will be holding a LI Bus challenge this coming tomorrow. We will be holding a press conference at 10 am at the Hempstead Transit Center following which we will board the N41 bus from the at around 10:45 am and travel to the Mineola Intermodal facility.We urge and hope you all can attend.
In the meantime, instead of playing politics with the lives and livelihoods of bus riders, County Executive Suozzi and the Nassau County Legislature must negotiate a clearer and more transparent funding agreement with the MTA and the State. Doing so will end the yearly budget battles, create a more sustainable funding system and allow LI Bus to expand and address the needs of LI Bus riders and the future of Nassau County's economy.
This is especially important if the County Executive intends to pursue his 'New Suburbia' and 'Cool Downtowns' vision. While we applaud this vision, without a robust transit system to get people to and from these destinations there is nothing new or cool about it. It's just the same old, same old suburbia which will drive; pun intended; Long Island into the ground. Fully funding Long Island Bus to meet this vision would be a good start.
The system’s 33 million annual riders are depending on you.