NICE bus funding increase shut down by Nassau GOP lawmakers

A NICE bus picks up passengers in Mineola A NICE bus picks up passengers in Mineola on Oct. 9, 2013. Photo Credit: Chuck Fadely

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Republican Nassau lawmakers Monday shut down a proposal to boost funding for NICE Bus by $4 million, but vowed to do their part to increase support for the county transit system.

The increase in county aid for the Nassau Inter-County Express was included among several amendments offered by Democrats to County Executive Edward Mangano's proposed 2014 Nassau budget.

While rejecting the package of proposed amendments, which included cutting Mangano's salary, Republican majority members said at a Mineola meeting Monday that they would meet with Democrats to discuss increasing NICE aid.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) gave her "commitment that we will continue the dialogue to keep the NICE system going."

Nassau currently contributes $2.6 million to NICE's $113 million annual budget. The rest is made up by fare revenue and state subsidies. Transit advocates say increased aid by Nassau could help fill bus service gaps in some areas, including for disabled riders, and address other issues, such as technical glitches with MetroCards.

"We can ask ourselves how many million dollars we can afford . . . but I also think we have to ask what kind of bus system is acceptable for our residents," Charlene Obernauer, founder of the nonprofit Long Island Bus Riders Union, said.

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Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit policy group, said he was encouraged by Republicans' commitment to revisit the issue.

Lynch's group on Monday released a report on NICE's economic impact that concluded the system generates $191.5 million in economic activity in Nassau, or more than $73 for every dollar the county puts into it.

"This is a huge, huge economic boon for the county," Lynch told legislators. "There's a lot of bang for your buck in investing in transit."

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who proposed the $4 million hike, said the prospect of increasing aid for NICE appears "more hopeful than it has been in the past," but added, "does this translate into more service? I don't know."

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