Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano on Wednesday is set to announce a $3 million plan to partially restore NICE Bus cuts made last month, bringing back service for thousands of displaced transit riders, Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday.
The plan aims to restore some of the 11 routes eliminated last month by the Nassau Inter-County Express, which called the cuts necessary to shrink a $7.5 million budget deficit. Mangano originally supported the cuts, noting that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority earmarked the same routes for elimination before the county privatized its bus system in 2012.
“I think he was wise to change his mind on that particular decision,” said Democratic Minority Leader Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who was briefed about the plan by Mangano’s administration. Abrahams said all the displaced riders, which represent about 2 percent of NICE’s 100,000 daily customers, would return. “Hopefully they’ll be looking to start using the bus again.”
A Mangano spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. There were no details Tuesday on which lines would be restored or when they would be restored.
In a statement, NICE officials said they were “pleased that the county is committing additional funds for 2016.”
“We look forward to adding back service that is needed by our customers,” said NICE, a subsidiary of private bus operator Transdev. “NICE stands ready to meet with the county’s elected leaders to discuss how the money will be used and to begin developing a plan that will add back bus service.”
NICE chief executive officer Michael Setzer previously said that even if the county came up with the $3 million it would cost to continue offering the eliminated service, he would not recommend doing so, believing the money would be better spent on NICE’s busiest routes, including those that run to and from Jamaica, Queens.
NICE officials have also said that restoring the cuts would cause logistical problems and create new costs. The agency has already 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. Abrahams said while he appreciated all those concerns, “We are the decision makers.”
“The system is not that effective that we should be excluding bus riders,” Abrahams said.
Abrahams said he did not know where Mangano had found the money to restore the cuts, but expected it would be an annually-recurring revenue stream for NICE.
NICE riders’ advocate Aaron Watkins-Lopez, who also sits on NICE’s governing body, the Nassau Bus Transit Committee, called the plan “an amazing step for Nassau County.”
“I think they’re finally getting the idea that they have to hold NICE Bus responsible, and also advocate for bus riders,” said Watkins-Lopez, a member of the nonprofit Long Island Bus Riders Union.
— With Robert Brodsky