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Edward Mangano’s proposed fare hike ‘premature’, NICE chief says

A Nice bus at Roosevelt Field Mall in

A Nice bus at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City on Feb. 22, 2014. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is backing off plans to raise bus fares by 50 cents after NICE's chief said he never recommended any such increase. Photo Credit: Chris Ware

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is backing off plans to raise bus fares by 50 cents after NICE’s chief said he never recommended any such increase.

In his proposed 2017 county budget, released earlier this week, Mangano projected that the public works department would see an increase of $2.3 million “primarily due to an anticipated increase in bus fare price of $0.50 per ride, from $2.75 to $3.25.”

Asked to clarify the projection, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin on Thursday said the fare hike was included in the budget “at the request of the bus company” to maintain existing service levels.

Later Thursday, Nassau Inter-County Express chief executive Michael Setzer denied making any such recommendation to the Republican county executive, calling talk of any specific fare increase “premature.”

“It’s not in there at the suggestion of NICE,” Setzer said of the 18 percent fare increase in Mangano’s budget. “I’m not saying I’m for or against that. I’m just saying that’s not originating with us.”

Nevin responded that while Mangano’s office understood the fare increase recommendation to have come from the bus company, “if NICE says it does not need money from the fare box, we will not move forward with an increase.”

Setzer said the agency, which has a $131 million operating budget, does expect costs to grow next year by up to $4 million, and that NICE will need additional revenue to maintain existing levels of service.

But Setzer said NICE would likely not make any fare recommendation until the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which administers the MetroCard used by about half of NICE’s riders, releases the details of its own projected fare hike later this year. The MTA’s fare increase is expected to be about 4 percent.

NICE could also see additional revenue next year from increased state aid.

The confusion comes as NICE recently restored some service it eliminated in January as the agency faced another budget gap earlier this year. A one-time $3 million bailout from Nassau allowed NICE to put back some of the routes.

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), Nassau’s minority leader, said he believes Mangano’s inclusion of a 50-cent fare hike was no miscommunication, and rather just part of a strategy of raising fees to fund his proposed $2.98 billion county budget.

“It’s got nothing to do with the amount of service that we added or restored earlier this year. It’s got everything to do with trying to balance the county’s books,” Abrahams said Friday. “You shouldn’t be balancing the budget on the folks that ride the bus and did not create the problem.”

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