Nassau officials said Wednesday it will take several weeks to undo last month’s NICE Bus service cuts and made no guarantees that the $3 million needed would be there to keep the routes next year and beyond.
A bipartisan coalition of Nassau lawmakers, led by Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, Wednesday announced the plan to spend $3 million to restore some or all of the 11 bus lines eliminated by the Nassau Inter-County Express as the agency sought to shrink a $7.5 million budget deficit.
“Collectively, we all want to see our transportation system as robust as possible,” Mangano said at the Mineola news conference. “We want a transportation system that our ridership can depend on.”
Mangano did not offer a specific timeline for the restorations to occur but said that over the next two weeks NICE officials will develop a plan and present it to the county, which will open it up to public comment before finalizing it.
NICE CEO Michael Setzer said that there was a lot to be done before the eliminated service could come back, including hiring new drivers, recertifying decommissioned buses and working out some labor issues with unions.
“It can’t happen overnight,” said Setzer, who joined lawmakers in celebrating the service restoration, despite previously saying that he thought any additional money that came to NICE would be best spent on the county’s busiest routes. “We like to put service out and carry passengers, rather than take it back in. So we’re pleased.”
Nassau officials did not specify which routes would return, but Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) mentioned Valley Stream, Elmont, Franklin Square, Baldwin and Rockville Centre as communities whose routes Democratic lawmakers have fought to restore.
“This is a priority for all Nassau County residents, not just the ones that use the bus service,” said Abrahams, noting that Nassau residents count on buses to bring their employees to work and their students to school. “These are all things that have a ripple effect . . . We want to build a bus system that’s going to be great.”
Mangano said he would use $3 million from a just-discovered $45 million county surplus from 2015 to restore the bus cuts, while the remaining $42 million would serve as a backstop in case Nassau does not meet NIFA-imposed spending or revenue targets.
But, Mangano warned, Democratic and Republican lawmakers will have to work together to make sure the funding is there next year to keep the restored routes. He said all ideas to fund NICE, including through bus shelter advertising and a fee on Uber vehicles, “are on the table.”
– With Robert Brodsky