NICE bus cuts will hurt ‘real people,’ Nassau lawmaker says

Nassau Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) takes a NICE

Nassau Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) takes a NICE bus Tuesday, March 28, 2017, from Hicksville to Plainview to demonstrate the need for the n78/79 routes. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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A Nassau lawmaker stepped aboard a Nassau bus Tuesday to meet some of the 5,000 riders who would be impacted by deep NICE service cuts planned next month.

Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) rode two n78/79 buses with staff members, advocates and journalists to shed light on the proposed cuts, which would take effect April 9.

“The purpose here today is to put faces behind that struggle — to show the Mangano administration, show NICE Bus and show Albany that these are real people that face devastating cuts,” Drucker said Tuesday, just before swiping his MetroCard onboard an n78 bus departing the Hicksville LIRR station.

Although that bus was largely empty, Drucker later transferred at Plainview to a standing-room-only n79, where his vow to “make sure your voices are heard” was met with rousing applause by riders.

Among them was Sherril Fraser, whose commute from her Brooklyn home to her housekeeping job in Old Bethpage takes about four hours each way and includes rides on two buses, a subway and the Long Island Rail Road. “If I had to take a taxi, do you know how much [it would cost] to get to there?” Fraser asked. “It’s too much.”

Other riders complained to Drucker about the bus being late too often and implored him to get the county to keep the n78/79 — among 10 routes on the chopping block — running at least during the morning and evening rush hours.

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Patent attorney George Kaplan, who lives in Manhattan and takes the bus to his job in Woodbury daily, was celebrating his 65th birthday, and asked Drucker to save the route as a gift to him.

“I’m eligible for a half-fare just in time for them to cut the route,” Kaplan said.

NICE is proposing to eliminate the n19, n36, n45, n47, n51, n57, n78/79, Rockville Centre Community Shuttle and Freeport Community Shuttle.

Pols: More than $6M NICE Bus bailout to avert route cuts coming

A tentative deal between Nassau County and state lawmakers could generate more than $6 million for the county’s ailing bus system and avert the worst of several planned service cuts scheduled to take effect next month, officials said Monday.

At a Mineola meeting of the Nassau County Legislature, presiding officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said that the county was in talks with the state on a deal to evenly split an additional $3 million is funding for the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, which is set to eliminate 10 routes April 9 in an effort to close a $6.8 million budget deficit. The cuts would affect more than 5,000 riders.

“My understanding is the state will match whatever we put in. And I think the bottom line is $1.5 million. And I’m still not sure where that $1.5 million is coming from,” Gonsalves said, responding to a question from Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union, a nonprofit advocacy group. “It’s something that we have to keep working on ... But we’re not going to give up.”

Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick) confirmed that the $3 million rescue plan is in the works, and said the Senate and Assembly are also both working on boosting state, non-Metropolitan Transportation Authority transit aid to downstate counties by $10 million as part of a state budget package that could be approved this week.

Nassau’s share of that additional $10 million could be more than $3 million — bringing the total amount of potential new revenue to NICE to more than $6 million.

“I think it will happen. And I’ll be surprised — very, very surprised if it doesn’t,” said McDonough, the ranking minority member on the Assembly Transportation Committee, who said he met with NICE Chief Executive Officer Michael Setzer last week to discuss a plan to avert cutting at least the routes with the heaviest ridership.

The agency is proposing to eliminate the N19, N36, N45, N47, N51, N57, N78/79, Rockville Centre Community Shuttle, and Freeport Community Shuttle.

“You cannot eliminate that type of service,” McDonough said. “The people who ride the bus have no other form of transportation.”

Nassau County Interim Finance Authority spokesman David Chauvin said he had no details on a potential deal and could not discuss it.

NICE has blamed a $6.8 million reduction in the county’s subsidy to the bus system for the budget gap. In a statement Monday, NICE spokesman Andrew Kraus thanked elected officials “who made it a priority to restore a portion” of those dollars, but added that NICE has not been formally advised of how much, or when, additional money may be coming its way.

“NICE is hopeful that funding restored prior to April 9 can be used to maintain some existing routes where service eliminations or reductions would have had significant negative impacts,” Kraus said.

He added that to avoid future service cuts, long-term funding solutions in the form of “predictable, dedicated revenue streams” are necessary. Some Nassau transit advocates have lobbied for Nassau to share in the MTA’s payroll mobility tax or to be able to keep any fees generated from the expected legalization of ride-sharing services, such as Uber, to put toward NICE.

“If the money comes through, we’ll be able to stave off the cuts for the next year. But, once again, it’s a Band-Aid,” Watkins-Lopez said after the legislative meeting. “We need a recurring investment — and a substantial investment.”

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On Monday, state and county lawmakers revealed they are working on a proposal that could generate more than $6 million in new revenue for NICE, which faces a $6.8 million deficit. The plan would include the state and county both providing $1.5 million, and the state separately raising its annual non-Metropolitan Transportation Authority transit operating assistance to downstate counties by $10 million — about a third of which could go to Nassau.

State and NICE officials have said that with new revenue, they would prioritize keeping the endangered routes with the highest ridership, including the n78/79.

Drucker said the county should come up with a plan to keep all the routes, and suggested earmarking a portion of better-than-expected county sales tax revenue to the bus system. He said the concern over the impending cuts was apparent among the bus riders he met Tuesday.

“I see the looks on their faces,” Drucker said. “They’re worried. We can’t allow that to happen. We have to find a way to get the money to save the bus routes.”

Republican Nassau Legis. Steven Rhoads (R-Bellmore), who lobbied state lawmakers in Albany last week for increased transit aid, commended Drucker for straphanging with county bus riders.

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“I think that’s wonderful that he did that,” Rhoads said. “Busing shouldn’t be a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It’s a county issue. It’s something we should be working together on.”

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