NICE seeks 25-cent fare hike for cash, app customers

Riders board a NICE bus at the Rosa Riders board a NICE bus at the Rosa Parks Transit center in Hempstead on Jan. 3, 2012. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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About 25,000 NICE customers could pay 25 cents more for a bus ride under a plan unveiled Wednesday to close the Nassau transit system's $3.3 million budget deficit.

If the plan is approved, cash-paying Nassau Inter-County Express customers in September would see the cost of a trip increase to $2.50 from $2.25. MetroCard users have been paying the higher fare since last year.

"Nobody likes to see the price of anything go up, so I don't expect anybody to be pleased with it," NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said Wednesday. He added that, working with Nassau, NICE made the decision to prioritize maintaining current bus service levels over keeping the current cash fare. "It would be nice to do both. But when you have to choose, fares get adjusted."

About a quarter of NICE's 100,000 daily customers pay their fares in cash. They would see their annual commuting expenses rise by $130 under the plan. NICE also plans to charge the $2.50 price to users of its new fare payment mobile app, which is expected to be rolled out this summer.

Nassau's Bus Transit Committee, which oversees NICE, will vote on the fare increase proposal later this year, after public hearings expected to take place in July. If approved, the new fares would take effect in September.

Under the plan, Nassau will also contribute an additional $1.8 million to NICE -- a nearly 70 percent increase over the $2.6 million subsidy that the county has been paying since Veolia Transportation took over the system from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2012.

Other gap-closing measures include adjusting NICE's fiscal year, which currently ends in March, to instead end in December -- reducing the budget shortfall to $2.7 million. Veolia, NICE's parent company, has also agreed to kick in $400,000 to eliminate the deficit, which NICE has said was caused by rising energy and labor costs.

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NICE customers could see another fare increase next year, as the MTA is planning a 4 percent fare increase. NICE officials have said they are typically bound to comply with the MTA's set fares for MetroCard customers.

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