Testimony of Ryan Lynch
Nassau County Legislature Budget Hearing
October 18, 2010
Tri-State is here, as we are every year, to advocate for increased funding for Long Island Bus.
This year, things are even worse than usual. As we all know, the MTA is proposing to hastily withdraw its $26 million contribution to LI Bus, essentially decimating the system in the process.
We have actively opposed this cut, lobbying MTA officials, testifying at MTA hearings and holding rallies and even mock funerals to highlight the importance that LI Bus plays in Nassau County’s economy, environment and quality of life. Our funeral service served to provide future insight into what life will be like in Nassau County if this service goes away: increased congestion, decreased economic productivity, reduced quality of life and increased demand on County provided social services because of the potential for massive job losses due to the lack of access to transportation.
However, the MTA is far from the only entity to blame.
Over multiple Nassau County administrations, elected officials have failed to even match funding levels to inflation for LI Bus. Nassau County is now contributing at its lowest level of funding in seven years and half as much as it was contributing a decade ago.
Unfortunately, County Executive Mangano’s budget continues this trend and his recent actions have only served to exacerbate the situation.
This budget fails to increase the County’s contribution to LI Bus even in the face of its decimation. Instead of substantive policy prescriptions, bus riders have received red herrings like moves towards privatization, suing the MTA and calling for Jay Walder’s resignation.
These actions do nothing to solve the problem, but rather attempt to deflect attention from the fact that the County has not lived up to its responsibility to fund the system, and more importantly, have potentially poisoned the negotiating well with the MTA.
We understand that Nassau County is struggling to make ends meet in these tough economic times. However, in collaboration with Vision Long Island, we have provided all of you with possible ways to meet your funding obligations while working within your existing budget and new, non-tax revenue. Other ideas like dedicating new Red Light Camera revenues to LI Bus, a welcome idea proposed by Legislator Wink, should also be further explored.
What should not be pursued is an attempt to privatize the system. Doing so would turn LI Bus into a shadow of it is today.
LI Bus was created in 1973 because of the failure of the private market to adequately provide good bus service at reasonable fares. By privatizing now, County Executive Mangano is proposing to bring LI Bus, currently one of the largest and most efficient suburban bus systems in the country, to the heydays of 1970s transit. Is that a place we really want to go back to?
We all know that privatization will mean the County will pay more for service. But the premise that privatization can deliver the same levels of service at the same service efficiency is also a false one.
According to the FTA’s 2008 National Transit Database, the privately operated Westchester County Bee Line system, a system that is comparable in size to LI Bus, costs $1.60 more to operate per vehicle mile than LI Bus and $.70 more to operate per vehicle hour of service. And while Westchester’s system is more cost effective by $.03, it is important to point out that LI Bus provides almost 170,000 more hours of service compared to Westchester.
If LI Bus is handed over to a private operator like Westchester’s system it is most likely that those extra 170,000 hours would be cut back by eliminating the least ‘profitable’ lines. This means cutting lines that are not paying for themselves, which if we look at ridership levels alone, are the following and others:
Only two legislative districts could potentially be spared, but one would imagine that service in these districts could be curtailed as well. This means that every elected official on the dais will see increased congestion, a reduction in economic development and a decreased quality of life in their districts if this budget does not reflect the importance of LI Bus.
We urge you to prioritize LI Bus riders in the 2011 budget and increase the County’s contribution to a system that has been integral in making Nassau County a great place to live, work and recreate. Doing so would show LI Bus riders that you care and would be a strong indication to the MTA that you would like to work with them to find a sustainable solution to LI Bus’ funding woes.