At yesterday’s Transit Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting, Nassau bus riders got what seemed to be good news: the county is planning to allocate an additional $7 million to the NICE Bus system’s budget. A jolt of one-time state and federal funds will let Nassau County increase the system’s total budget to about $113 million. But hard-hit riders hoping to see some of the Easter Sunday route cuts restored with that money were disappointed. It turns out that the county had been telling the transit operator to expect the $7 million since early this year, and that NICE had already figured the money into its balance sheet.
“We’ve been running at the $113 million level because the county told us to, so this is really the culmination of the process,” NICE Bus CEO Michael Setzer told Newsday. As a result, no system improvements are expected.
While the cash aid to Nassau County’s bus system is necessary and certainly welcome, it is not a sustainable funding solution. Almost half of the infusion comes from a one-time $3 million federal grant, funding that is not guaranteed for next year. The rest, some $4 million, comes from an increase in state aid—the result of a change to funding distribution included in this year’s state budget—that is only guaranteed for one year. If funding sources for the bus system are not identified and the state and federal government don’t step in with one-shot infusions again, NICE Bus could start the 2013 budget cycle $7 million short of current funding levels. This perilous financial situation undermines NICE Bus’ ability to plan for the future, and to think innovatively about how to provide the high quality bus service that Nassau County residents deserve.
As Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano gets ready to introduce his budget next month, he should begin working with the county legislature to identify a more sustainable means of funding Nassau’s bus system.