Nassau bus riders will be able to sound off Thursday on a proposal to cut NICE service to help fill a budget deficit that may be much larger than originally thought.
County Executive Edward Mangano’s proposal to reduce by $3.8 million Nassau’s subsidy to its transit system could mean that NICE’s projected shortfall next year — originally thought to be as much as $7 million — could grow to nearly 12 million.
That would leave NICE with just $2.5 million in county funding, down substantially from about $9 million in 2016. NICE, which transports about 91,000 passengers on an average weekday, has an annual operating budget of about $130 million. NICE Chief Executive Michael Setzer said the company’s costs are expected to grow next year, in part because of a new contract with union workers.
Obligated to balance its budget by the end of this year, and with uncertainty surrounding how much revenue NICE can expect from the county, state and from fares in 2017, Setzer said the agency will propose some of the deepest bus service cuts in the county’s history.
While past service cut plans have targeted routes with low ridership, Setzer said the severity of the cuts needed to shrink the currently projected deficit would affect many more riders.
“You’d end up beginning to eliminate some routes that are fairly productive,” Setzer said. “I’m hoping that’s not necessary. I’m hoping there’s some solution.”
Setzer will outline the proposed cuts at a pair of public hearings Thursday at 3 and 6 p.m. at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola.
Aaron Watkins-Lopez, of the nonprofit Long Island Bus Riders Union, and a member of the Nassau Bus Transit Committee, NICE’s governing body, urged bus riders to attend the hearings even if the likelihood of avoiding cuts is slim.
“I think it’s imperative that bus riders come out. Whether you feel hopeless or hopeful about this situation, if your voice is never heard . . .” Watkins-Lopez said.
Although NICE has yet to reveal any of its proposed service cuts, in an internal memo, Setzer announced one casualty of the cutbacks: NICE will close its Rockville Centre bus depot April 1 and dispatch its fleet exclusively from NICE’s Garden City headquarters.
Setzer explained in the memo that the planned service cuts will result in a smaller fleet of buses, and less need for depot space.