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After fare hike, NICE Bus plans service boost

Mike Setzer, Nice Bus Violia CEO, speaks as

Mike Setzer, Nice Bus Violia CEO, speaks as the Nassau County Bus Transit Committee meets to discuss a scheduled fare hike that would go into effect in March. (Feb. 13, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

NICE Bus plans to use nearly $8 million in additional state aid and new revenue from a MetroCard fare increase to raise service levels by about 7 percent on fixed-route buses and more than 11 percent on Able-Ride, officials said.

The plans came as the Nassau Transit Bus Committee Wednesday approved a plan to match the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's fare hike for MetroCard users. The increase, which goes into effect March 3, means MetroCard users will pay $2.50 for a single ride, up from $2.25, and also see increases in 30-day passes and other unlimited-ride MetroCards.

For cash-paying customers, fares will remain $2.25 per ride, following the recommendation of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who appointed three of the committee's five members.

NICE officials have said adopting the MTA's MetroCard increase is necessary to avoid having customers pay the step-up fees for transferring to its buses and subways. By keeping cash fares stable, NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said he believes the agency is protecting its lowest income riders, who tend to pay with coins.

The new rate plan was approved by a 3-2 vote of the committee. Chairman Sheldon Shrenk, Lawrence Blessinger Jr. and Kathy Ann Comeford voted in favor of the new rate. Livio Tony Rosario and Jean Durosea voted against the hike, arguing it was unfair for Nassau to adjust its fees whenever MTA fees change.

"I see this going down the line again with future fare increases," Rosario said. "So if their [MTA's] fare increases, are we obligated to make our fares increase also? For that reason I think it's unfair."

Setzer said after the meeting that riders have said they prefer keeping the MetroCard system in place because they get a free MTA transfer once in New York City.

Setzer released details of how he plans to spend the $3 million to be generated from the MetroCard increase, as well as more than $5 million in expected new state aid. NICE will increase its service hours to 2,981 per weekday from 2,760 hours, in part by putting more buses on the road. For Able-Ride, which serves disabled customers, service will increase to 5,005 weekday hours from 4,475.

Setzer said some improvements will take effect in April, but more increases in service will come in September.

NICE is proposing reducing the hourly rate Nassau pays for fixed bus route service to $85.25 from $87.12 to help offset the cost of providing increased service.

The extra service will largely be concentrated on busy lines where crowding can be a problem, and could include more weekend buses.

Riders will "have a better chance of getting a seat and, if we're successful, they'll be on time more often," Setzer said.

"We are heartened to hear that riders would be getting more and better service," said Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Committee, an advocacy group for mass transit improvements in the region.

But the Long Island Bus Riders Union, a transit users advocacy group, presented committee members with 1,000 petition signatures from riders opposing the increase.

Ana Giraldo, an organizer for the group, said the increase was unfair to working families and complained about long wait times for those transferring between buses.

NICE will not restore service that has been cut over the past year on some routes with few riders, despite calls from some riders and transit advocates to do so.

"I think what we've demonstrated is that we can serve more people with the same amount of money by distributing the service based on where the demand is, and not by going back to some former state," Setzer said. "We'll never have enough money to serve every last need."

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