Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano released his $2.79 billion 2014 Proposed Budget earlier this week, and unfortunately for Nassau County Inter-County Express (NICE) riders, no new transit funding was included in his budget plan. For the third year in a row, the County Executive is proposing to keep the County’s contribution to its bus system at a paltry $2.5 million. According to the budget’s Executive Summary, this level of funding only exists because it is a “mandated County match to the STOA (State Transit Operating Assistance) program.”
While New York State has tried to pick up the funding slack by contributing 20 percent more to the bus system since NICE replaced Long Island Bus in 2012, and riders have seen a fare hike totaling $3 million, Nassau County has stubbornly refused to take its responsibility to fund its bus system seriously. And in recent months it has become increasingly clear that Nassau County’s failure to prioritize this funding is significantly impacting what was once one of the largest suburban bus systems in the country. Ridership in 2012 was the lowest since 1998 and ridership through July of 2013 is approximately 5 percent lower than 2012 ridership over the same time period. In addition, rider satisfaction rates from 2012 to 2013 have dropped precipitously. According to a NICE survey, overall satisfaction rates for the second quarter of 2013 dropped by 32 points, or nearly 52 percent, from Q2 of 2012 to Q2 of 2013.
In order to reverse these troubling trends, the County’s final budget must increase its funding to its beleaguered bus system.
According to the contract between Veolia Transportation and Nassau County, the hourly rate to operate fixed-route service is $87.12. That means, even if Nassau County provided just $7.3 million more in this year’s final budget — equal to the total “savings” achieved from last year’s service cuts – NICE would be able to add approximately 83,800 hours of service. The restoration of these hours would almost match the number of hours of service provided under the last year of Long Island Bus operations, according to the National Transit Database, while only representing .26 percent of the County’s proposed $2.79 billion budget.