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Elmont Online

Long Island Bus - What is wrong with Privatization?


For many right-wingers privatization is a panacea, a remedy for all that ails; a cure-all.  After carefully reviewing County Executive Mangano’s positions on privatizing Long Island Bus’ operation, listening to the recent Metropolitan Transit Authority Hearings about Long Island Bus at Hofstra University and reviewing the state’s intervention that maintains service through the end of the year, a simple question comes to mind.  What is this about, bus service, management contract privatization or both?

We at Elmont Online wanted to take a deeper look at Mangano’s privatization of LIB because it appears to have all the factors typically required for this philosophical, political and economic model to take root:

  1. Public officials or in this case Nassau County, which ignores important facts and generally misrepresent the costs and benefits of putting public assets into the hands of private business owners.
  2. A demonized public sector organization, the MTA in this case.  Some call them an ATM – because they appear to be unscrupulous actors raising fares, and reducing services while getting government subsidy.
  3. An enabler in state government, in this case the Democrat’s passage of the 2009 “MTA Payroll Tax” which served to demonize further the MTA and angered almost everyone, plus the State’s silence on privatization of LIB while providing enough funds to “keep service till the end of the year”.
  4. The public, the LIB riders, pushed into a corner scared and angry.  The “esoteric” deeper public policy matter is not a concern to people wanting simply to get to work, school, or a doctor, the old adage hold true “any port in a storm”.

Nassau County Executive, Edward P. Mangano, postulates that by privatizing the LIB operation he can get the service for less and save [some] Long Island taxpayers money.  He posits his “solution” with the full knowledge that Westchester County pays in excess of 33 million taxpayer dollars to subsidize their privately run service and Suffolk County pays in excess of 20 million taxpayer dollars to subsidize their system.  Mangano should also know that both Westchester and Suffolk systems provide less service than Nassau County and cover roughly the same demographics and similar geographic territory.  During the hearing on March 23 at Hofstra University, a speaker said “simply put, County Executive Mangano is dreaming,” she adds, “Let me make this clear — no other system in the country does what Mangano wants to do. Most county governments with private systems provide much more in the way of government funding, not less.”

The Metropolitan Transit Authority, MTA, has claimed for years that Nassau County shortchanges them.  The County has disputed the accusation but records show that Nassau County has for more that a decade not paid what the MTA requests.  The county simply claims the MTA LIB can service the county at a lower cost.  Now, the MTA is infamous for having multiple accounting books and thus should not be completely trusted.  Nevertheless, in light of the Westchester and Suffolk numbers, it appears that the MTA demand may in part be reasonable.  Certainly, they can provide the service at a cost somewhere between Nassau County’s offering and the surrounding area numbers.

In 2009, the Democratic Party lead State government enacted the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax otherwise known as the MTA Payroll tax.  The tax is unpopular.  Many lawmakers, suburban business owners, school districts, and the public argued that the tax unfairly burdened Long Islanders.  Bus service in Nassau County is not as available as in NYC.  Many in Elmont and Nassau County in general thought the tax disproportionately burdened them and favored the NYC operation of the MTA.  The MTA Payroll taxes in part lead to the ouster of Craig Johnson as senator of the 7th Senate District.

The Long Island Bus rider appears to be a class of citizen that Mangano represents as “other than taxpayer” His language cleverly pits taxpayer against LIB rider and that is reprehensible.  Apparently, he believes the LIB rider is a lesser citizen of Nassau County.  Ed, just visit a bus stop between 6-9 am and see the faces, hear the accents, observe the persistence as these proud people carry their weeks’ change of cloth while walking to and from the homes in the gated communities where they are the nannies and companions to the rich.  Or, Ed, come with me to the bus stop at the corner of Elmont Road and Baylis Ave between 5 and 7 AM and meet the nurse, the student, the attorney, the professor on their way to work, and then you may stop pitting the “taxpayer against the bus rider”.

So what does all this mean?  Mangano, is a self-professed conservative.  His public policy choices confirm it.  As such, on one hand, he dogmatically defends concepts like low and no tax, small government, the holiness of the private sector, individualism … On the other hand his dogma ignores what I call the Poor Tax.  Mangano and his ilk never understand or care about poor taxes, because they have carved it out of the privatization equation.  You see, once privatization occurs it’s to them not a tax but a fee for service.  But let’s look at just two such poor taxes and the real impact on those subjected to them:

  1. When Mangano privatizes Long Island Bus services, he will proclaim that he saved taxes (government collected).  Assuming he is able to get the service at the outrageously low rate he quotes ($2 - $8 million) the for profit bus operator will have to increase fares or cut services to be profitable.  Therefore, the bus rider will inevitably have to pay more to ride the bus.  That is a Poor and Middle Class Tax.
  2. Add the banking industry attempts to limit the use of ATM card purchases to $50.00/day and charge up to $5.00 per transaction as a fee.  Nothing to do with bus service you say.  Well think again.  Every train, and bus station is now equipped with fare machines that accept debit cards/credit cards.  The POOR AND MIDDLE CLASS will pay the bulk these fees.  The poor and middle class will not have the outrageous limits to retain free banking or the platinum, gold and silver credit cards they can pay off in thirty days.  It is the poor and middle class’ bus fares that will be fares plus fees, and yes, this too is a Poor and Middle Class Tax.

Republican privatization and Democratic public service dogma invariably setup these false dichotomies.  On the one hand, Republicans may at some point try to privatize “breathing” as means of curbing global warming while Democrats will defend to the death outrageous work rules like Last Hired First Fired in teacher contracts without regard for merit.

The Long Island Bus issue is not just about service, it is about Mangano’s dogmatic defense and march toward privatizing Nassau County.  It is about the unchecked ideology that suggests privatization is the cure to all that ails Nassau County.  Mr. Mangano should stop the nonsense.  Man-up and own your idealogy or sit down with the MTA and hammer out a reasonable solution that includes the fact the Nassau County pays a significant portion of the MTA Payroll Tax.

However, it appears this is a done deal.  Both Mangano and MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder said in a statement that they will use the time bought by the state’s intervention to usher in a smooth transition from the MTA to the private operator on Jan. 1, 2012.

The LIB rider, scared and tired just want service, and is unlikely to fight against the deeper issue of privatization.  “Any port in a storm”, until fares double or triple, services halved, and gas prices cause the disinterested car and SUV drivers to be bus riders.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 13 April 2011 17:16 )  


0 # Kevin 2011-04-12 21:25
You are right in some senses however, the (MTA) Payroll Tax is really also considering in the Metro-North Railroad & Long Island Railroad. However the Long Island Bus should be kept considering the crowds on the routes out of Jamaica and Flushing as well as several routes in county. I think Ed Mangano does not know how effective LI Bus is and he doesn't know the difference between LI Bus Riders and Taxpayers. Those 'taxpayers' who don't ride the bus, it's their decision not to ride a quality service provided 24/7/365 even battling thru severe storms.

I do think the (MTA) should trim out some fat however, Nassau County should fund a bit more to the MTA. I had considered moving to Nassau (as I live in Queens and not too far from the border), now thanks to Mangano's decision, I withdrew my decision. He also seem to forget LIRR, an MTA operated/owned railroad) exists. If he does not want Nassau Co. "Tax-Payers" to pay the MTA the "Payroll Tax", LIRR should not be required not to stop at Nassau Stations and go to Suffolk County...
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0 # Frank 2011-04-09 08:41
You are right on the money with your article. In 1973 Nassau County formed MSBA to take over the bus service from 10 private bus companies because it did not work. Here are some other points to look at. Will the private company accept metro card with free transfers? Will they hire qualified bus drivers? Will they raise fares to make a profit? Will they run only the busiest bus routes and cut the rest? Will they maintain the buses up to standards? Will they follow the 19a federal mandatory procedures the mta drivers go through every year? I am sure there many other problems with privatization. The solutition is for Albany to come up with dedicated funding that goes directly to Long Island Bus. The MTA payroll tax goes to New York City only is this fair? Nassau, Sufflok and Westchester pay this tax receive nothing. How does The Long Island Transportation Authority sound?
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