Privatizing of LI buses shows flaws in system

December 8, 2011 4:34:49 AM PST
Commuting can be tough enough, but it's even more frustrating when you're packed onto a crowded bus.

Even worse, imagine not knowing if that bus is even running.

Big changes on Long Island have commuters worried about their daily ride. The privatization of the Long Island bus system is experiencing some growing pains. Before Veolia Transportation takes over on January 1, every bus must be inspected. At least half have failed and have been taken out of service for repairs. That has triggered long lines and overcrowding.

"They've been extremely crowded," one commuter said. "And then two buses come at once, and they're both crowded, because they're late. It's really bad."

The MTA-maintained buses have been failing state DOT inspections at a rate of 50 percent since early October. The MTA notes almost all of those buses passed after minor repairs were made. Forty buses from elsewhere in the MTA's system have been shifted to Nassau County to help out. The MTA has also adjusted schedules to run buses less frequently on some lines.

Veteran driver Roy Kohle is hearing plenty of rider complaints.

"The MTA hasn't hired since the beginning of the year," he said. "So all the people that left, retired, fired, they didn't replace any of those drivers. That's the reason that the service is like it is today."

Kohle started a petition against privatizing the Long Island buses, but the chances of stopping the switch-over is unlikely.

Long Island officials say in the long run, they believe the private company will be more reliable and provide cleaner buses. Riders say anything is better than the current situation.

"They have a shortage of buses and it hasn't been enough for each route," a commuter said. "The thing about it is, it delays my morning commute to where I'm going."

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano proposed the public-private partnership after talks broke down with the MTA, which wanted the county to increase its $9 million annual contribution by $26 million to keep the buses. Otherwise, the MTA threatened to cut more than half of the routes.