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Dedicated funding needed for Nassau bus system, group says

Nice bus at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden

Nice bus at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City on Feb. 22, 2012. Credit: Chris Ware

A steep drop in funding for Nassau’s bus system over the past decade has caused ridership to plunge and service to be scaled back, according to an analysis released Thursday by a transportation advocacy group.

Data from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign shows that subsidies to the Nassau Inter-County Express are down 20 percent since 2006. The steepest declines occurred after the county transferred the service from MTA Long Island Bus to Transdev, an Illinois-based private company, in 2011.

County funding for the bus system has plummeted 71 percent — from $13 million in 2006 to $4 million in 2017, the report shows.

To partially make up the difference, Nassau has relied on an increase in state funding. In the 2017 budget, the state will allocate $66.5 million for the system — a 13 percent increase since 2006, according to the data.

“The county continues to shun its responsibilities to fund the bus system,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Transportation Campaign, which is calling on the county to restore its $13 million subsidy and to develop a permanent funding source for the system.

Eric Naughton, Nassau’s deputy county executive for finance, said the privatization of the bus system saved taxpayers $33 million annually, largely by eliminating subsidy payments to the MTA.

“We will be considering the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s analysis as we formulate the 2018 budget,” he said.

The proposed budget will be released next month.

A lack of funding for the bus system, Vanterpool said, has led to years of service cuts, including the elimination of six routes in April and reduced service in four others.

The group found that total service miles covered by Nassau buses are down 10 percent since 2008 and ridership, which peaked at 32.5 million in 2008, has fallen to just over 27 million — a drop of 16 percent since 2006.

NICE spokesman Andy Kraus conceded that the system has been “challenged” to meet service demands with limited financial resources.

“A dedicated source of funding for NICE is needed that would allow it to consistently meet rider needs and allow for effective planning and innovation,” Kraus said. “The MTA and most other U.S. transit systems have such dedicated funding sources.”

The county has also increased bus fares in each of the past four years, even as services were cut, the Transportation Campaign said. “It seems riders are the only ones paying to fund the system,” Vanterpool said.

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