Nassau County’s Bus Transit Committee (BTC) voted earlier this month in favor of yet another fare increase, eliminating 10 fixed routes and reducing service on one other route in order to cut $4.3 million of a projected $7.5 million deficit in the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) 2016 operating budget. Tri-State Transportation Campaign joined nearly three dozen riders and advocates in Mineola to urge the BTC to reconsider the plan.
The 25-cent fare increase for cash riders and GoMobile app customers will bring the fare up to $2.75 per ride, which is the current MetroCard rate per ride. Although NICE says that this measure will impact only 1 percent of riders, Veolia’s 2013 Rider Survey noted that 28 percent of riders use cash as a method of payment for single-use ridership. The survey also found that nearly half of riders earn under $25,000 per year, which is substantially below Nassau’s average per capita income of $42,400.
Although NICE CEO Mike Setzer has acknowledged that service cuts are unpopular with riders, the BTC voted to eliminate all 10 routes, including the N2/8, N14, N17, N46, N50, N51, N62, N73/74, N80 and N81 (along with with a service reduction on the N19 route). Setzer cited low ridership on the routes, making the 40 foot buses inefficient to operate.
Each route being eliminated serves at least one (and in some cases up to three) LIRR station(s), as well as other transit hubs, shopping centers, colleges, hospitals, workplaces and downtown business districts. And many of the riders who use these routes are highly transit-dependent:
- 88.5 percent of N17 riders are considered ride-dependent — those who ride because of cost, lack of a personal vehicle, or because they are unable to drive
- 72.8 percent of N8 riders are considered bus-dependent, meaning they ride the bus five or more times per week
- 43.5 percent of N62 riders transfer to or from a train or another bus
- 32.1 percent of N80 riders are students, one of the highest student ridership rates in the system
The top cited purpose of NICE usage was for work, with over half of riders saying that they depend on NICE for employment purposes. A 2013 study commissioned by TSTC showed that the NICE system, as it stood, contributed more than $191 million to Nassau’s economy, and is a lifeline for commuters who earn an aggregate annual income of $840 million in Nassau County. Even if only a minority of NICE riders would be impacted by a fare increase and service cuts, the economic impact to the region could be staggering.