At June’s Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) Bus Transit Committee meeting, NICE riders were greeted with good news about plans to use increased funding from New York State, as well as additional revenues generated from a March 2013 fare hike, for new and restored service scheduled to begin in September.
At the same meeting NICE released its Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of 2013 for January-March, providing the first opportunity to review how NICE customers see the system today versus how they viewed the system when NICE first launched last year. While there is some good news (bus breakdowns per day have dropped dramatically and the farebox recovery ratio is up slightly), the year-over-year NICE report indicates the system still has a long way to go.
According to the KPI, overall customer satisfaction dropped 18 points from 47 percent in the first quarter of 2012 to just 29 percent in the first quarter of 2013. Riders were dissatisfied in the survey’s sub-categories as well:
- Bus cleanliness satisfaction dropped 30 points, from 48 percent to 18 percent;
- Stop cleanliness satisfaction dropped 26 points, from 49 percent to 23 percent and;
- On-time perception fell 13 points, from 42 percent to 29 percent.
This precipitous drop in service satisfaction comes as no surprise to riders who for the past year-and-a-half have been hit hard with fare hikes and service cuts. The survey results also bolster another indication of rider dissatisfaction: a large drop in ridership. Annual ridership fell to a 14 year low in 2012, and according to the National Transit Database, NICE ridership through June 2013–the most recent data available–is down by 5.7 percent compared to the same time period in 2012.
Save for ceding its contract fees, NICE is doing what it can with the limited funding resources it has at its disposal. The restored and new service will use just $8 million in additional state funding and fare hike revenue, showing that a relatively small amount of funding can go a long way to improve service. But in order to reverse these ridership and satisfaction trends, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and the Nassau County Legislature should follow the lead of State elected officials, who have provided roughly 20 percent more in State funding since the beginning of NICE’s tenure, and find a way to increase the County’s contribution to its bus system.