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Rider advocates press Nassau for more NICE Bus funding

Riders board a NICE bus at the Rosa

Riders board a NICE bus at the Rosa Parks Transit center in Hempstead on Jan. 3, 2012. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Public transportation advocates Monday pressed Nassau County lawmakers to increase county funding for NICE Bus -- calling the current $2.6 million contribution level "paltry."

The rider representatives told the Nassau County Legislature that more than doubling the funding that now goes to the privately run Nassau Inter-County Express service could help address their top concerns, including crowded, frequently late buses. NICE's roughly $115 million budget is expected to be finalized soon.

"Over the past couple of years, the state has given more money and riders have paid higher fares," said Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit transit-advocacy group. "The only group that hasn't contributed more has been the county, and we think it's about time they did."

The state contributed $57 million to NICE last year, a $5 million increase from the year before. Lynch said the state aid increase in this year's budget, covering April 1 to March 31, 2015, could be just $1.2 million.

Brian Nevin, a spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said that NICE, which is run by Veolia Transportation, hasn't requested additional funding, "yet has added service, upgraded buses and maintained cash fares."

A spokesman for NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said the company "would love to be able to expand and improve service," but said it's not yet known whether NICE will request more funding from the county in its new budget.

Nassau lawmakers said they've considered a funding increase since advocates first called for one last year. Suffolk County puts $29 million into its bus system's $57 million annual budget, with the state kicking in about $22 million annually.

Lynch called Nassau's local subsidy "paltry" compared with Suffolk's, and asked for up to $7 million from county leaders.

"We're not turning a blind eye," Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) told the advocates Monday. "We're trying to do what we can to resolve the problems."

Past efforts by the legislature's Democratic minority to increase county NICE funding have stalled, but Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Monday that "we remain committed to getting more money for the riders."Other advocates told the legislature that increased county funding could be used to improve reliability issues that last year led NICE to receive a customer satisfaction score of 29 percent -- down from 52 percent during the same period in 2012, the year Veolia took the system over from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"The buses aren't inviting to people," said Aaron Watkins-Lopez of the Long Island Bus Riders' Union. "And they're not inviting to people because there isn't the money to do something to them."

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