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NICE proposing to cut 10 routes, reduce service on 4 others

Passengers leave the N19 NICE bus, which runs

Passengers leave the N19 NICE bus, which runs from Freeport to the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, at a stop on Merrick Road in Massapequa Park, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. The N19 service is set to be cut. Credit: Steve Pfost

Nassau’s bus operator is proposing to eliminate 10 routes and to reduce service on another four unless lawmakers come up with a better way to fill a looming $6.8 million deficit, according to NICE’s chief.

In a letter sent to Nassau legislators, Michael Setzer, chief executive for the Nassau Inter-County Express, urged them to “help NICE avoid major, disruptive service cuts that will result” from the $6.8 million gap in the agency’s 2017 operating budget, which must be balanced by Feb. 15. All changes would take effect in April, according to the letter.

“We are writing this letter to advise that the scale of these cuts will be significant, and you must be made aware of the effect this will have on many people,” wrote Setzer, adding that the cuts will impact about 5,400 passengers each weekday. “These eliminations and reductions will have consequences for many riders who rely on transit for access to jobs, college, health care, child care and more.”

Specifically, NICE would eliminate its Freeport, Hicksville-Wantagh and Rockville Centre community shuttles, which were introduced last year to restore service in communities that lost routes in another round of budget-related service cuts in 2016, according to the letter sent Friday. Also axed would be the N19, which runs between Freeport and Massapequa; the N36, which runs between Lynbrook and Freeport; the N45, which runs between Bellmore and Roosevelt Field; the N47, which runs between Hempstead and Bellmore; the N51, which runs between Roosevelt Field and Merrick; the N57 Great Neck loop; and the N78/79, which runs between Hicksville and Plainview.

NICE would also make “major reductions” to the newly created Elmont Flexi; the N27, which runs between Roslyn and Glen Cove; the N70/71/72, which runs between Hempstead and Babylon; and the N80/81, which runs between Hicksville and Massapequa.

The cuts, which amount to about 12.75 percent of NICE’s total service, come as Nassau, under pressure from its interim finance board to cut costs, recently reduced its planned contribution to NICE by $6.8 million. The county budget now includes just $2.5 million for NICE, which has an annual operating budget of about $130 million. The subsidy is the minimum the county can provide in order to keep state transit aid.

Nassau lawmakers on Monday urged state lawmakers to help them create a dedicated revenue stream to fund NICE, including by allowing the county to keep a portion of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s payroll mobility tax or by committing a 50-cent surcharge from ride-share services in the county, such as Uber, to fund transit in the county.

Democratic county legislators have also suggested tapping $7 million in undesignated county funding to help prevent the cuts, but Nassau Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said doing so would come at the expense of the county’s youth services program. “I’m not going there,” she said Monday.

“It would be hard to tell anybody that in a $3 billion budget . . . we don’t have $6.7 million to make sure the service remains whole,” Nassau Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Tuesday. “This just seems to be absurd.”

Setzer said in his letter that NICE was able to shrink the size of its deficit from the original $12 million because of “painful actions,” including closing facilities and laying off workers, and because NICE stands to gain some revenue from the MTA’s recent MetroCard fare increase.

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