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Nassau County Executive to privatize Long Island Bus system

In April, the Long Island Bus system in Nassau County, New York was on the verge of cutting bus service in half until a funding deal between state and local officials halted the reductions with an $8.6 million cash infusion. Now, with the temporary lifeline slated to end in December, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has announced his intention to privatize the system by 2012.

Under the deal, privately-owned Veolia Transportation would begin operating the 48 Long Island bus lines, which serve an average of 100,000 riders daily. Long Island Bus is one of the largest suburban bus systems in the country, according to Transportation Nation.

This week’s announcement was not a surprise, as Mangano has made his intention to privatize the system known for some months. Mangano ran for office and won on an aggressive anti-tax platform, steadfastly opposing new revenues and refusing to meet the requested financial commitments to the Long Island Bus system requested by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In a press release announcing the deal today, he described the New York MTA as a “bloated bureaucracy.”

Veolia officials say they can run the system at three quarters of Long Island Bus’ current operating budget of $141 million, and Mangano has estimated savings of between $2 and $4 million a year. But the math, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, just doesn’t add up. Privatization in other parts of the country has often resulted in higher costs to the county and reduced services, wrote TSTC’s Stephen Higashide:

For example, last year Veolia received a local subsidy of $77 million to operate Phoenix’s bus system, and provided 1.9 million hours of service. By contrast, Nassau County contributed only $9.1 million to LI Bus (with the MTA paying another $25 million) and received 1.2 million hours of service.

The contract requires approval from the County Legislature and the state-run Nassau Interim Finance Authority.