NICE budget to get $7-million boost

Passengers board the n16 NICE bus at the

Passengers board the n16 NICE bus at the Roosevelt Field Bus Stop in East New York. (Aug. 2, 2012) (Credit: Nancy Borowick)

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Nassau County plans to increase NICE Bus' budget by about $7 million next week, but bus officials say it's money they've been counting on all along this year and can't be used for any service improvements.

Nassau's Transit Advisory Committee met Thursday to hear the county's plan to amend NICE's 2012 operating budget from $106 million to just more than $113 million. The county legislature will vote to allocate the money to NICE on Monday.

The new money comes from about $3 million in increased federal aid and $4 million in increased state aid.

"Nassau County taxpayers are not paying one more dollar," Nassau County Chief Deputy Executive Rob Walker said at the meeting.

Transit advocates who attended the Garden City meeting applauded the plan, and proposed using the increased funding to restore some of the cuts in service made in April. But county and bus officials quickly clarified that NICE had already been counting on the new funding early in 2012, and took it into consideration even when reducing some service in April to close a $7 million budget gap.

"We've been running at the $113 million level because the county told us to, so this is really the culmination of the process," NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said.

Since January, Nassau's bus system has been privately operated by Veolia Transportation, which renamed it NICE. It was previously run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for 37 years. MTA Long Island Bus' 2011 operating budget was about $141 million.

Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit transit advocacy group, said the increase in government aid from last year was "great news," but warned that "one-shot revenues and bailouts from the state and federal government" were not long-term solutions for NICE.

"We need to find a way where Mike [Setzer] and his team can better plan to expand bus service and think really innovatively," Lynch told the committee. "We need a way for the county legislature and the county executive to identify a sustainable funding stream to support this bus system."

This year, NICE received about $54 million from the state, $9 million from the federal government and $2.5 million from the county. The rest of its revenue came from fares. NICE will release its 2013 budget sometime between January and March. Setzer said he did not yet know whether a fare hike will be pushed next year.

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