A large majority of the customers who ride Nassau County's bus system are going to be paying more starting on March 3. That will be true whether Nassau Inter-County Express raises its fares or not.
Since that's the case, it would be wise for NICE to raise all of its fares from $2.25 to $2.50, just as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is doing, rather than simply letting the MTA pocket the extra money.
According to NICE, about three-quarters of its riders use MTA MetroCards to pay. When the MTA's 25-cent increase for those who use MetroCards goes into effect, what makes the most sense is for NICE bus to also institute the same increase in its fares and get the additional money, about $4 million per year. If that does not happen, customers would have to pay an extra 25 cents to the MTA for a usually free transfer from a NICE bus to an MTA subway or bus. That's money that should go to Nassau's bus system.
The MTA is also increasing the price of its unlimited-ride, 30-day pass from $104 to $112, but NICE officials believe they would see an increased share of that money even if they don't raise fares.
Nassau's bus service was taken over by private operator Veolia Transportation on Jan. 1, 2012, a move that saved the county more than $30 million a year. Public transportation advocates and some riders fought the move, arguing that Veolia would gut the service and institute massive fare hikes.
The transition hasn't been perfect. Some routes have been cut, while others have been expanded. But the county has saved a lot of money, and customer satisfaction surveys have been generally positive. Officials say that while NICE's exact budget and next year's level of state funding are still up in the air, the money could probably be used to expand service.
Nobody wants bus fares to go up, but moderate increases are, sooner or later, inevitable. What doesn't make sense is to see Nassau bus riders pay higher fares anyway, and not have that money go to improve the system they depend on.