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NICE fare hike prompts bus riders advocacy group to issue demands

Riders wait to board a NICE bus at

Riders wait to board a NICE bus at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in Hempstead on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Nassau County and NICE owe bus riders a debt of gratitude for bailing them out of a budget deficit, according to one transit advocacy group.

The nonprofit Long Island Bus Riders Union has released a list of demands, including better bus driver training, that it says should be met in exchange for the extra 25 cents that 25,000 Nassau Inter County Express customers began paying Monday.

The group sent the list to NICE chief executive Michael Setzer earlier this week and will read it to the county legislature Monday.

"We can no longer afford to pay more for less. We can no longer make the decision between a bus fare and a meal," the group said in its statement. "We take very seriously the current state of our bus system, and we hope that [NICE's parent company] Veolia and Nassau County do the same by meeting the . . . demands of Nassau County bus riders."

The Riders Union demands also include a county oversight hearing into NICE's finances, a riders' representative on NICE's governing body, the Nassau Bus Transit Committee, and more convenient locations and times for the committee's meetings. They are typically held weekday afternoons at NICE's Garden City offices.

The group also demanded a "public 'Thank You' to bus riders for bailing out NICE" as it faced the $3.3 million budget shortfall earlier this year.

NICE filled the deficit using $400,000 expected to be generated from the fare hike, an additional $1.9 million in county funding, and a $400,000 contribution from Veolia. The remainder was filled through assorted savings.

The fare hike, approved by Nassau's Bus Transit Committee in July, brings the cost of a bus ride to $2.50, from $2.25, for cash-paying customers -- about a quarter of all NICE customers. Riders paying with MetroCards or NICE's new mobile fare payment application already paid $2.50.

In a statement, NICE said it did not take lightly its recommendation to raise cash fares, but noted that the alternative of cutting service to fill its budget gap was worse.

"NICE recognizes that any fare increase is a burden for some riders and appreciates the shared role they play in supporting the system," the agency said in its statement. "NICE welcomes the opportunity to discuss LIBRU concerns directly."

NICE also noted that, since taking over Nassau's bus system from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in January 2012, the system has seen improvements totaling $50 million, including increased service and major technology upgrades.

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