Last week, Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) chief Michael Setzer recommended the bus system adopt higher fares in order to maintain the same fare structure as the MTA. Because NICE buses also accept the MTA’s MetroCard, transfers between systems are free when fares are the same. If NICE fares do not increase, NICE riders transferring to MTA-run buses would have to pay a 25-cent “step-up fee” to cover the cost difference when new MTA fares take effect in March.
In testimony given last week at a public hearing at NICE’s headquarters, Tri-State’s Associate Director Ryan Lynch represented eight organizations in opposition of the fare hike because it would be a de facto tax hike on some of Nassau County’s most vulnerable populations. If higher fares are adopted, NICE customers will essentially have to pay more money for less service in 2013. According to the National Transit Database, through November of 2012, NICE provided 9.5 percent fewer miles and 10 percent fewer hours of service than in 2011. Service reductions adopted by NICE in April of 2012 contributed to approximately 4 percent fewer riders in 2012 than in 2011 through November.
Placing the burden on Nassau County’s transit riders, however, isn’t the only option, according to advocates. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and the County Legislature could find a way to prevent the fare hikes by paying the step-up fees for riders who transfer between the NICE and MTA systems. Nassau County only pays $6.4 million of the $113 million NICE operating budget, and paying for these “step-ups” would show that the County is willing to take more responsibility for its bus system.
The contract between Nassau County and Veolia Transportation requires that Nassau County’s Bus Transit Committee (BTC) vote on whether to endorse a fare hike before any is enacted. If the BTC endorses a fare hike, the $4 million (according to NICE) in estimated new revenue should be used to restore some of the $7.3 million in April 2012 service cuts or expand and enhance service on higher-ridership routes.