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NICE drops 'inefficient' bus service after Jones Beach concerts to cut costs

Glen Cove ferry riders on Sept. 1, 2017.

Glen Cove ferry riders on Sept. 1, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

Fans who take the bus to see the Dave Matthews Band perform at Jones Beach on Tuesday may find themselves asking Dave for a ride home.

The Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, has discontinued its nighttime summer bus runs from Jones Beach to Freeport and Hicksville on concert nights, calling the service costly and "inefficient."

NICE has also axed the sparsely-used N87 route, which ran between the Hicksville LIRR station and Jones Beach during the summer. The changes are expected to save NICE about $16,000 annually.

"The concert event service was very inefficient and was heavily subsidized by NICE," agency spokesman Andrew Kraus said in a statement. "As a result, NICE decided that those resources could be better used for service on other routes, especially those serving daily riders of the system."

The decision came as the agency sought ways to close a $5.3 million budget gap that would not "impact regular riders of the system, including daily commuters," Kraus said.

Nassau last week announced it was increasing its subsidy to NICE by $1.5 million, and also converting $3.8 million in state capital dollars into bus operating funds, to close the budget gap and avoid service cuts. NICE's parent company, Transdev, also said it would cut $500,000 in administrative costs.

Nassau Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said Wednesday she was surprised to learn that, despite that plan, NICE still scaled back its Jones Beach service.

"This may seem minor to people . . . but, at the same time, it is a cut," Jacobs said. "It is indicative that we're right on the edge of being able to function. The scary part is, where do they go next year?"

NICE officials said they routinely make small adjustments to service, and that the Jones Beach changes represent less than one half of 1 percent of total bus service. They also pointed out that Nassau's previous bus operator, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, had also eliminated all Jones Beach service in 2010. NICE restored it upon taking over the system in 2012.

NICE is keeping daytime service on the N88, which runs between Jones Beach and Freeport, with the last bus departing the beach at 9 p.m.

NICE made the call to shelve the N87 because it was "significantly underutilized," with buses often traveling empty, Kraus said.

But the return-trip concert buses were occasionally packed, especially following a performance by an artist that appealed to younger fans.

"I believe those buses were very well-patronized," NICE rider John Michno of Westbury told NICE's governing panel, the Nassau Bus Transit Committee, at a meeting last week. "I think that was a mistake. I don't know how those people are going to get back from the concerts."

NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said Wednesday that the agency has received no complaints about stranded customers after the two concerts Jones Beach held this season. He said while the buses were sometimes full, ridership was unpredictable -- as were the times when concerts would let out.

"We'd have a driver down there, probably on overtime, basically waiting for a concert to end, and possibly carrying a few people back to Freeport," Setzer said. "It was a very poor use of public funds, I thought."

Setzer said NICE had some preliminary discussions with Live Nation, which operates Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, about subsidizing the service, but no agreement was reached.

In a statement, Live Nation said it is "taking steps to provide alternative options which are both convenient and safe for our guests" and noted that the theater offers "many fan friendly" transportation choices, including through a national partnership with Uber.

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