Nassau County Thursday approved the elimination of several NICE bus routes, even as riders implored the agency to reconsider the cost-cutting plan they said would cut off vital access to jobs, education and medical care.
The riders spoke at a pair of public hearings in Mineola Thursday about the plan by the Nassau Inter-County Express to eliminate the N2/8, N14, N17, N46, N50, N51, N62, N73/74, N80 and N81, and to reduce service on the N19.
NICE has said the measures, combined with a 25-cent fare increase for cash and GoMobile app customers, are necessary to shrink a projected $7.5 million gap in the agency's 2016 operating budget. After the hearings, the Nassau Bus Transit Committee, which oversees NICE, approved the measures.
NICE officials have said they are only targeting inefficient routes that carry relatively few riders and that were pegged for elimination by the MTA before NICE's parent company, TransDev, took over the system in 2012. But several bus riders said the low ridership figures belie how important the lines are for the people who use them.
"Instead of being called 'NICE,' they should be called 'Not-NICE,' and also 'Not-Clean,' " N46 rider Ken Brown said at one of the hearings. "They should concentrate on cleaning the buses and keeping the routes, not canceling them."
Sister Mary Alice Aschenbach, who works at Mercy Medical Center, told members that without N17, employees and patients would struggle to get to and from the hospital.
"It seems to me that something could still be worked out, not only for our staff and patients, but for the betterment of the NICE bus company," Aschenbach said. "I remain cautiously optimistic. Nuns tend to do that."
Responding to the upset riders, NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said the service cuts and fare hike, which both take effect in January, are "forced choices" driven by increased labor costs and flat government aid levels. The measures are expected to generate $4.3 million in savings -- still $3.2 million short of the agency's goal.
To make up the difference, Setzer said NICE will "hope for the best" -- namely, increased aid from the county, state or federal governments. But, even if it had more money, Setzer said NICE would likely put the funds toward its busiest routes, where it could benefit the most riders.
"I hope it didn't sound as if we are saying that these bus routes don't matter because they're inefficient. They are vital to the people that do use them," Setzer said. "This is a resource problem. This is a funding problem . . . There are simply not sufficient dollars presently that we can foresee to maintain everything that we have. We would like to do that."