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NICE cuts 11 bus routes despite rescue bid by Nassau lawmaker

The N51 bus stop at Nassau Community College

The N51 bus stop at Nassau Community College on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in Garden City. Eleven NICE bus routes were eliminated Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Eleven NICE bus routes with limited ridership were eliminated as planned Sunday, despite a Nassau lawmaker’s last-minute proposal to use sales-tax dollars to avert the cancellations.

Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), in a letter Tuesday to County Executive Edward Mangano, had suggested using $4 million in higher-than-expected sales-tax revenue from the fall to help fill a $7.5 million gap in Nassau Inter-County Express’ 2016 operating budget that prompted the agency to make the cuts.

“The 11 routes . . . cost roughly $3.2 million a year to run. Why not use that money to save the routes?” Curran wrote. “Even if we just used $1 million of it, we could keep the buses running through the winter.”

But in a Tuesday memo, NICE outlined the logistical complications and added costs of postponing or canceling the planned reductions. The memo noted that NICE already has printed and distributed 80,000 new schedules, taken some buses out of service and reduced the number of drivers through attrition, all in anticipation of the cuts.

“Extending service would cause mass confusion and add to frustration,” NICE said in the memo.

In a statement Sunday, NICE spokesman Andy Kraus said: “NICE’s goal is to provide more service, not less. But, its mandate from the county is to provide only as much service as financial resources allow.”

County spokesman Brian Nevin said Mangano met with Nassau Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) on Jan. 11 and “agreed to join efforts in seeking additional state transportation dollars as we explore alternatives.” Mangano will meet with Curran on Tuesday.

NICE Chief Executive Michael Setzer has said if the agency can find a way to fill the budget gap and have money left over, it would still be against restoring the reduced service, and would prefer to put the money toward its busiest routes.

NICE officials have said the 11 axed routes, and three others facing reduced service, are used by about 2 percent of the system’s 100,000 daily riders. Even with the cuts and a fare increase earlier this month, NICE still must contend with a deficit of about $3.5 million.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed 2016 executive budget, released last week, includes $3.8 million more in state aid for NICE — enough for the agency to balance its books if it makes the service cuts.

But Curran said she believed it’s possible for the county to come up with enough money for NICE to fill its deficit, bolster its busiest lines, and still put back the eliminated routes.

In addition to her sales tax proposal, she said the county could find additional millions of dollars if it started collecting certain licensing fees.

Other Democratic lawmakers have proposed imposing fees on Uber for operating in Nassau, and selling ads on bus shelters as ways to generate more revenue for the ailing bus system.

“There are options,” Curran said Friday. “You can do it a la carte. Take some of this and some of that and make it work. But there has to be the will to do it.”

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