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NICE Bus fare hike would boost service, agency says

Commuters wait to board NICE buses at The

Commuters wait to board NICE buses at The Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center. (Jan. 31, 2013) Credit: Alejandra Villa

NICE Bus doesn't need the millions of dollars it expects to generate from a proposed fare hike, but would use the extra money to improve service throughout Nassau County, agency officials said.

The Nassau County Bus Transit Committee is scheduled to vote Feb. 13 on a proposal to adopt the same fare increase approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The cost of a bus ride would climb to $2.50 from $2.25. Fares for unlimited-ride MetroCards, such as those valid for 30 days, also would increase.

NICE officials have urged the committee to approve the plan, calling it necessary to avoid losing millions of dollars in "step-up" fees that Nassau bus riders would be charged for transferring to MTA buses or subways.

But the NICE fare increase likely will be smaller than originally planned, after Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano this week urged that fares for cash-paying customers be kept at current levels. Mangano appointed three of the committee's five members.

About 73 percent of NICE riders use MetroCards. About 25 percent of riders transfer to MTA buses or subways.

NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said last month that, regardless of the MTA's plan, a fare hike for Nassau bus riders may be necessary to fill a budget gap. But the agency has since determined that increased state aid will help cover the system's $109 million budget, officials said.

NICE spokesman Andrew Kraus said the extra money from the fare increase "can be used to enhance both the quantity and quality of service for its riders."

In pushing for cash fares to remain at current rates, Mangano noted that "NICE Bus has proven to be a successful public-private partnership that saved Nassau County taxpayers over $33 million."

NICE officials have said that increasing MetroCard and cash fares would raise about $4 million in new revenue. Kraus said that holding cash fares at $2.25 "will not significantly impact NICE's financial picture."

Charlene Obernauer, founder of the Long Island Bus Riders Union, a nonprofit advocacy group, called the likely vote against a cash fare hike a "victory" for low-income bus riders.

Extra revenue generated by MetroCard increases should go toward making all buses handicapped-accessible and also for restoring service cuts NICE has made since taking over Nassau's bus system from the MTA in January 2012, Obernauer said.

"With decreased services, you can't expect people to pay more," she said.

Bus Transit Committee member Livio Tony Rosario called the new fare revenue "found money" that should go to restoring midday service eliminated in some areas.

"We're moving in the right direction," Rosario said.

This story has been changed to correct the date the Nassau County Bus Transit Committee is scheduled to vote on a proposal to adopt the fare increase. It is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Feb. 13.

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