Nassau's NICE Bus announced that they will be launching a line of "mini" buses on part of the South Shore that will operate like Uber or Lyft, rather than following a fixed bus route. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

A new on-demand bus service has been bringing commuters on Nassau’s South Shore door to door, at no cost — for now, officials said.

The Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, earlier this month rolled out its new NICE MINI service, which allows customers to hail a ride using a mobile app, get picked up at any location, and dropped off anywhere in the service area.

The pilot program, which NICE officials said will last at least 6 to 12 months, is free through June, and will then cost $2.75 per trip, the same as NICE’s standard bus fare.

The service is the latest in a growing trend of “microtransit” models, wherein bus providers use smaller, more efficient vehicles to transport customers for the first, or last, leg of their commutes. NICE uses re-purposed 18-foot-long Able-Ride buses to provide the service. Passengers share rides with others traveling within the service area, which includes Merrick, Freeport, Baldwin, Oceanside, East Rockaway and Lynbrook.

NICE officials said they plan to expand the service to other corridors throughout Nassau over the next three years.

“It’s a first mile, last mile ride share solution,” said Jonathan Feldman, NICE’s director of planning and scheduling. “Anywhere on the South Shore in our service area you can hail a ride just like you can with Uber or Lyft, and we’ll come pick you up right away. Or you can schedule a ride later in the day.”

NICE, which has an annual operating budget of about $134 million, is largely subsidized by county, state and federal aid. About 16% of the NICE's revenue comes from fares, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

The new service fills a void left by NICE when it eliminated its n36 route, which ran from Lynbrook to Freeport, in 2017, as a cost-cutting measure. At the time, East Rockaway resident Dan Caracciolo led protests against the move, which he said left his community, and others, cut off from transit.

“I’ve seen neighbors who used to work in Freeport . . . who were unable to access those jobs and had to leave those jobs and were forced to fund work for less pay that was walkable,” said Caracciolo, 41, who now owns a plant-based food business in Oceanside, and hopes the new MINI service will expand the pool of possible employees.

“I’m grateful that there’s going to be opportunity for people in East Rockaway to at least know that they can have a ride somewhere," Caracciolo said.

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