NICE chief recommends county raise bus fares

A possible fare hike for NICE buses was one of the issues on the agenda at a�public hearing held by the Nassau Bus Transit Committee. Videojournalist: Jim Staubister (Jan. 10, 2013)

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Most Nassau bus customers will pay more to travel come March, regardless of whether NICE chooses to adopt the MTA's new fares, the agency's chief said as he recommended that the county raise bus fares to keep millions in new revenue.

Michael Setzer, chief executive of Nassau Inter-County Express Bus, said last week that he would make no recommendation at a public hearing Thursday on whether the county should raise fares. But new information NICE has learned from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority drove Setzer to urge the Nassau Bus Transit Committee to vote to approve the adoption of the MTA's fare hike -- and do so quickly.

Setzer shared the information with the committee at a public hearing Thursday afternoon at NICE's Garden City offices. A second hearing was scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.

Although not part of the MTA, NICE accepts the MetroCard, and about three-quarters of its riders use it, Setzer said. Earlier this week, MTA officials told NICE that they need an answer by the end of this week as to whether NICE intends to adopt the MTA's planned fare hike, which calls for bus rides to climb from $2.25 to $2.50 and includes increases for unlimited-ride MetroCards.

The MTA's new fares take effect March 3, but if NICE waits to adopt the new fares, it would not be able to implement them until June. Until then, the MTA would pocket about $400,000 in 25-cent "step-up fees" that NICE riders would have to pay to transfer to an MTA bus or subway, Setzer said.

That step-up fee would remain in place permanently if NICE chose to keep its existing fares. NICE riders would also be impacted by the MTA lowering the discount on multiride MetroCards from 7 percent to 5 percent, and would pay the new cost of an unlimited ride MetroCard. Thirty-day MetroCards are increasing to $112 from $104.

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Setzer said before the meeting Thursday morning that he intended to tell the five-member committee that "Three-quarters of our customers will get a fare increase no matter what you do." And so Setzer said Nassau should adopt the MTA's new fares and benefit from about $4 million in new revenue -- much of which would otherwise go to the MTA.

NICE, which carries about 82,000 riders a day, generates about $40 million in fares each year and has an annual budget of about $113 million. Veolia Transportation, a private company from Lombard, Ill., took over Nassau's bus system a year ago, after it was run by the MTA for 37 years.

Setzer said the newly clarified picture of how NICE is affected by the MTA's fare structure likely means that the agency will have to mirror any future MTA fare increases and will not be able to raise or lower fares outside of the MTA structure -- at least as long at the MetroCard is around.

"I think we are probably married to their fare structure," Setzer. "I don't see a way of having a different fare structure."

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