According to the National Transit Database, the primary source for transit information in the United States, Nassau County bus ridership dipped below the 30 million mark for the first time in over a decade with 29,199,475 rides in 2012. It was the lowest ridership level since 1998. The decrease reflects an approximately 3.7 percent drop below 2011 numbers. Further east in Suffolk County, ridership also declined by about 3.5 percent below 2011 numbers.
While Superstorm Sandy knocked out service for a few days immediately following the storm and can account for a small portion of the ridership drop, ridership had been declining steadily for both systems in the months before the storm. A dramatic drop in Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) ridership began in April when service was cut by roughly $7.3 million and ridership began to drop for Suffolk County Transit (SCT) in May after the system raised fares for the first time in 20 years.
The decline in ridership in both Nassau and Suffolk County reinforces the need for greater investment in Long Island’s bus systems. Nassau County contributed only $6.4 million to the NICE system in 2012, roughly 2 percent of the total operating budget, while New York State taxpayers contributed $56 million or almost 50 percent of NICE’s operating budget. Now, roughly 75 percent of riders are about to be asked to pay more for less service, and NICE officials have refused to commit to restoring previously cut service with new fare revenue or the expected $5 million increase in revenue included in Governor Cuomo’s executive budget. In order to grow ridership in Nassau County, County Executive Mangano and the Nassau County Legislature are going to need to find the political will to support its bus system more substantially, and NICE officials must be more responsive to rider needs.
To bolster ridership in Suffolk County, SCT must expand bus service later into the evening on weekdays and to Sundays, where no service currently exists outside of two eastern Long Island routes during the summer. Suffolk has done well to support its bus system, but the County’s representatives in Albany need to do more. While Governor Cuomo’s budget allocates approximately $2 million more in state funding for SCT, New York State will still only contribute $23.9 million, or approximately 30 percent of SCT’s operating budget.