Nassau County lawmakers have increased the county subsidy by $2 million, creating a total of $4.6 million for the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) bus system.
When Veolia, a privately owned, Illinois-based company, took over the bus system in 2012, it became a public-private owned operator for NICE buses. In a public-private partnership, the private sector is responsible for implementing key decisions that affect the functioning of the transit agency, while the county is in charge of setting transit policies, fare structures and service standards.
Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for Long Island Bus Riders Union, said the bus system receives 50 percent of its funding from the state, 40 percent from fare box revenue and the rest from a mixture of federal, county and other miscellaneous funds.
NICE bus riders may face an impending fare increase. LIR Photo Credit: Long Island Bus Riders Union
This is not the first time the county has experienced a fare hike. In May, Michael Setzer, CEO of the Nassau County Bus System, proposed a $.25 fare increase for NICE riders, which bumped the fare from $2.25 up to $2.50 per person, not including the cost of transfers. The new fare became effective in September.
When asked if Nassau County residents will be affected by the transit increase, District 2 legislator Seila Bynoe said that it will stabilize what services are currently in place, but there will be increases at the fare box.
“Approximately $5.4 million will be implemented through the fare box increases. The Democratic Caucus, we came together and submitted an amendment that would’ve increased $7.4 million to the NICE bus budget,” said Bynoe. “That $7.4 million would have, in fact, eliminated any requirements for there to be any fare box increases.
The Suffolk County Transit (SCT) riders have their own set of concerns, including evening schedules, Sunday operations and fare costs. In September, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone, proposed a $2.88 million budget plan for 2015.
“The 2015 budget plan, which is under the New York State property tax cap, continues to freeze general fund taxes, provides for a historic tax freeze in the Southwest Sewer District and dramatically reduces the deficit while protecting and enhancing vital services for Suffolk County residents,” said Bellone.
Suffolk County legislature proposed an amendment to the budget plan, which includes a $500,000 increase to expand Sunday bus service. Bellone has a few routes in mind for extended evening hours and plans to make his final decision later this year.
“As far as added evening service, we have roughly five to six routes that we would run an additional trip in each direction—i.e. a southbound and a northbound trip,” said Bellone. “We will make a determination as to which routes will be increased after we hold our public hearings later this year where we look for the public’s input.”
SCT bus fares are currently $2.00 per person.To increase Sunday services and expand evening hours, riders would be charged an extra $.25.
One Suffolk County resident, Cynthia Rossi, said all bus routes should be included in the evening extension for SCT buses.
Rossi, a 38 year-old resident of Ridge, is one of many Suffolk County residents experiencing difficulties with Sunday and evening hours of operation.
“I haven’t been able to go to any of the Unitarian churches in Stony Brook that I like [on my own] since I came back to Long Island in 2008,” said Rossi. “The only way I would be able to go to church, is if I stay for a weekend at a friend’s house.”
Rossi said that every public official should be required to spend one week taking SCT buses to get to work.
“You would think they would be a little more caring about those of us who rely on those buses,” said Rossi.
Bellone believes that with additional funding, Suffolk County residents will receive adequate transportation.
“We will continue to seek grants and proactively identify any additional federal and state monies for transportation to ensure we provide Suffolk County residents with viable transportation options,” said Bellone.