At a time when government should be doing everything possible to encourage commuters to get out of their cars and use mass transit, it is unacceptable that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has decided to abandon Nassau County. On April 27 the MTA voted unanimously to sever ties with the county at the end of the year.
Trying to make the best of a very bad situation, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said, “Nassau County will move forward with a public-private partnership that maintains bus service without demanding an additional $26 million from taxpayers.” With more than a little bravado, he concluded, “MTA’s monopoly over transportation in Nassau County ends now.”
Not everyone shares his enthusiasm. The county tried privatization in 1973. It didn’t work. It was a disaster then and there is every reason to believe that it will be a disaster again in January.
Despite the aggressive position taken by the county leadership, at least some elected officials are hoping that the MTA will come back to the negotiating table.
“It’s very disheartening for the 100,000 people who rely on Long Island bus to get to home, work, and every other major place,” said Nassau County Legislator Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn). “It’s very unfortunate for them, but quite frankly I feel it was inevitable given the very hostile tone the county executive took when negotiating with the MTA.”
The TWU, the union that represents the bus drivers, warned that the privatization could result in county bus riders paying more money for less service.
The MTA was created to serve the hundreds of thousands of commuters in the metropolitan area. It shares in the responsibility for the impending disaster. The roads in the county are already clogged at rush hour. If more commuters feel forced to drive their cars each day, this would be a major step backward.
By January gas could cost $5 a gallon and air quality would continue to decline. Families lucky enough to still have bus service would have to choose between higher bus fares and high-priced gas.
We are not confident that Mangano can find private contractors who can provide the same level of service at the same price. Who are these bus operators? What is their offer? Are they willing to hire the hundreds of MTA bus drivers who will be losing their jobs? Will they take over all of the existing routes or just the most profitable ones?
Unlike the private bus companies, the MTA was not created to make a profit. Its mandate is to provide bus service at affordable prices. The best hope for riders in Nassau County is for the MTA and the county executive to start talking again until they find an arrangement that everyone can live with.
A Blank Slate Editorial