Eight months after the privatization of Nassau County’s bus system, there is still room for improvement, according to a new Tri-State Transportation Campaign survey.*
According to Tri-State’s results, 49% of surveyed NICE Bus riders said that they were “somewhat dissatisfied” or “dissatisfied” with current service, while 37% said that they were “somewhat satisfied” or “satisfied.”
The survey data also suggested that n6/n6x bus riders were dissatisfied, perhaps as a result of the Easter Sunday route cuts that reconfigured their bus service (on April 8, NICE Bus implemented significant service changes, reducing weekday service by over 20% on some routes and eliminating entire days of service outright on others). Among surveyed n6/n6x bus riders, 53% were “somewhat dissatisfied” or “dissatisfied” with NICE Bus service, while only 35% were “satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.”
n22 riders, on the other hand, were happier with their service than the average NICE Bus customer, once again, perhaps as a result of the Easter Sunday service changes that brought express service to the n22.
While NICE Bus bears some responsibility for the low satisfaction ratings, just as much falls on the shoulders of County Executive Ed Mangano and the Nassau County Legislature, who have yet to identify a way to sustainably fund Nassau’s bus system. This year’s service levels—even with the route cuts—have only been possible because of several one shot revenues, including a $4 million dollar state funding infusion that is not guaranteed in 2013, an additional $3 million in federal grant money, and $3.8 million in “additional county funding” in NICE Bus’ budget. NICE Bus’ budget projections also suggest that they are providing an additional $1.6 million in service free of charge.
While the additional county funding has been explained as higher than anticipated farebox revenues, this projection may not hold—National Transit Database data suggests that ridership was down about 3.8% between April (when service cuts took effect) and July, and down roughly .6% since January, compared to 2011 ridership levels. In addition, the goodwill from a company trying to make a profit surely won’t last long, and riders can’t bank on any of these one-time bailouts from the state and federal government next year. It is a precarious arrangement that could lead to further service cuts or fare increases in 2013. Even NICE Bus officials say that they have not ruled out a fare hike next year.
Last month, a lucid Newsday editorial put things clearly: “With this much financial dancing in such a short period, it’s impossible to guess how much NICE will cost in the future, or how much service will have to be cut.”
With Nassau County set to release its budget next week, the county executive and legislature must find the funds that will keep fares affordable, restore service cuts, allow NICE Bus to raise customer satisfaction scores, and build the 21st century transit system that Nassau County taxpayers deserve.
*Tri-State Transportation Campaign, with the help of the Long Island Bus Riders Union, conducted 539 surveys at various bus terminals throughout Nassau County and Queens, including Hempstead, Mineola, Hicksville, and Jamaica during the week of June 25, 2012.