Here is another guest post by regular reader George K.
For those of you that don't know, Nassau County officials have been neglecting to pay the MTA for providing the service run by Long Island Bus. As a result, the system has been in danger of either facing steep reductions by the MTA or facing privatization.
The situation has recently been resolved in the following way: The State Legislature has given the MTA $8.6 million on behalf of Nassau County to continue operating the bus service at the current levels. However, after January 2012, the system would be turned over to a private company to operate with a subsidy.
A small portion of the blame for the high cost of these routes is poor practices on the MTA's behalf. There are instances where buses deadhead very long distances when they could be making a revenue trip for a portion of that run, and there are several route restructurings that could be considered. For instance, combining the N24 and N51, would give riders along Merrick Avenue access to the Mineola LIRR station. Although this probably wouldn't generate enough ridership to save the N51, it would make it more cost-efficient in the interim.
Although part of the blame for these reductions lies on Nassau County executives for shortchanging the MTA, part of the blame lies in the fact that many of the people in Nassau County have an anti-transit attitude, similar to the attitude that can be found in many other parts in the country.
For instance the N22 and N73/N74 could've gotten more ridership if they were extended from the Hicksville LIRR station to the Broadway Mall, which is a short 1/2 mile trip. Since the routes end at the Hicksville LIRR station, riders must either walk or transfer to the N20, N48, N49, N50, N80, or N81 routes. Although it may appear at first that there are a lot of routes to transfer to, those routes run at a low frequency. At the height of rush hour those routes run roughly 8 buses per hour, which results in a frequency of approximately 8 minutes (though buses tend to be scheduled in pulses, to meet with LIRR trains). Off-peak frequency can range from 2-6 buses per hour. In any case, making a transfer when carrying shopping bags tends to make transit a very unattractive option, and in this case, the transfer could've been avoided by a short extension.
However this wasn't done because the owners of the mall didn't feel that it was worth the cost to maintain a bus station within the mall and residents in the community felt that the buses would attract the wrong type of people to shop at the mall.
Another part of the problem is that the wide roads in Nassau County entice people to drive, and many of those roads (particularly in Eastern Nassau County) have poor transit service, with buses running every 60 minutes without Sunday service. Here in NYC, we have some wide roads, but they generally have good transit nearby: A train, or at least a frequent bus route serves the corridor.
Another problem is the fact that park-and-rides were built to accommodate too many cars. Park-and-rides are not the answer. Stations like Hicksville have more parking spaces than daily commuters. Had there been fewer parking spaces, there would've been more of an incentive for people to buy a UniTicket and use the local bus to commute to the LIRR station, rather than driving. This program idea has been fairly successful at the other end of Nassau County in Great Neck, where, although the surrounding areas are fairly affluent, the ridership on the buses that feed into the Great Neck LIRR stations is relatively high for the simple reason that parking isn't as easy to find.
Overall, although Long Island Bus is saved for now, the reality is that Nassau County cannot go on maintaining the status quo. The fact that Long Island is more spread out means that the private operator is likely to be stingy with the service it provides, and the fact that people have an anti-transit mentality is what caused this situation in the first place. Ideally, we should encourage the building of higher density housing closer to LIRR stations, and locate office parks closer to these stations for reverse commuters from NYC. Residents would be lured to these dense developments, and would provide more support for transit subsidies rather than road subsidies.
As a result, Nassau County will become more sustainable in the face of rising oil prices. Residents working in Manhattan would be able to walk (or take a bus) to the LIRR rather than drive, and residents working in the office parks located near the LIRR would either be able to take the LIRR or take LI Bus as a crosstown service to access their jobs, and the service would run more frequently as a result. Low-income workers would no longer be faced with the financial burden of owning a car, and would be able to use the frequent east-west bus service (the dense housing would provide enough demand for transit that it could be split with the LIRR and LI Bus running in the same corridor) to access their jobs.
Some people may feel that the areas near the LIRR stations would become too ”urban” for them, since there would be more dense housing there to support the transit services in the area, and they would want an area that is quieter and more spread out. However, they can buy a larger house or apartment in a walkable area away from the LIRR, along a frequent bus route. The route doesn’t have to be as frequent as the Manhattan crosstown routes, but a headway of 10 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes during off-peak hours would be sufficient to maintain a quiet lifestyle while still not having to own a car.
The development of more dense housing surrounding the LIRR can be done in a gradual manner. First, the price for parking in LIRR stations can be raised to a point where people find it more economical to take LI Bus to the LIRR station (some people might find that it isn't worth owning a car at that point, since they won‘t even be using for their commute). Then, when the demand for parking spaces is lowered, the land can be sold off and converted into residential units or office space.
Although we could potentially see some progress with projects such as the LIRR Main Line 3rd tracking project being designed, this cannot come quickly enough, and, as a result, everybody will suffer. People will remain stuck in traffic on the LIE, while low-income workers will be faced with the choice between purchasing an automobile or relying on infrequent buses that may not be there the next day.