Nassau County Bus Transit Committee Chairman Sheldon Shrenkel speaks during...

Nassau County Bus Transit Committee Chairman Sheldon Shrenkel speaks during a Nassau County Bus Transit Committee public hearing in Garden City on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

Cash fares will rise 25 cents each way for riders of the NICE bus system beginning Sept. 1.

Nassau's Bus Transit Committee, after two public hearings Wednesday marked with criticism from riders and advocates, voted to help balance the service's budget by raising fares for riders of the Nassau Inter-County Express who pay by cash from $2.25 each way to $2.50.

A handful of people raised concerns about the impact on the poor and working families who depend on the bus for work and daily living. The five-person committee oversees the bus service.

"It's not appropriate to ask the poorest of the poor to fill this deficit. We need to think of better long-term planning . . . We can't continue to come back year after year asking bus riders to fill a deficit," said Anita Halasz, a representative of Long Island Bus Riders Union and executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, who attended both hearings.

MetroCard riders have been paying the higher fare since last year.

The increase is meant to help close a $3.3 million budget deficit. NICE expects the increase to generate $400,000 in annual revenue. The changes would maintain the current level of service.

About a quarter of NICE's 100,000 daily riders pay in cash. They would see their commuting expenses rise by $130 a year under the plan.

County officials defended the vote.

"It was the fairest thing to do under the circumstances," committee chairman Sheldon Shrenkel said in an brief interview. "There will be no cut in services."

Almost from the start of NICE in January 2012, the company running the service for Nassau, Veolia Transportation, said it was operating at a deficit. Service was cut a little more than a month later.

County Executive Edward Mangano, who engineered the privatization from the MTA, said in a emailed statement, "NICE Bus continues to save taxpayers over $30 million annually."

Under the plan, Nassau will contribute an additional $1.8 million to NICE, a nearly 70 percent increase over the $2.6 million subsidy the county has been paying since Veolia took over.

Veolia has also agreed to kick in $400,000.

NICE's increases in expenses are caused by several factors, including the rising cost of natural gas and rising employee health benefits costs.

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