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Betting on bailout, NICE saves 3 of 10 bus routes for now

The Nassau County Bus Transit Committee met with NICE chief executive Michael Setzer on Thursday, March 30, 2017, to vote on the 2017 budget and annual plan, at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola. As a result of the decreased budget, some bus routes are to be cut beginning April 9. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

Nassau’s bus operator has given three endangered bus routes a temporary reprieve, counting on a potential financial rescue package from state and county lawmakers to keep them running, and potentially restore others marked for elimination.

At a Garden City meeting of Nassau’s Bus Transit Committee on Thursday, Michael Setzer, chief executive officer of the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, laid out the agency’s contingency plan in case a 11th-hour financial reprieve materializes.

Faced with a $6.8 million reduction in the county’s subsidy to its bus system, NICE has proposed axing 10 bus routes and drastically scaling back service on another four. The cuts would take effect April 9.

The committee voted 5-2 to approve NICE’s $121 million operating budget for 2017. Although the budget does not include funding for any of the 10 threatened routes, Setzer said that NICE, “betting” on a last-minute boost in funding, will hold off on axing three of the busiest routes on the chopping block: the n19, which runs between Freeport and Massapequa, the n57 Great Neck loop, and the n78/79, which runs between Hicksville and Plainview.

Earlier this week, county and state lawmakers revealed they were working on a funding package to avert at least some of the cuts. Setzer said NICE expects the rescue package could be as large as $2.8 million.

“This is not real money until it is approved, but nobody says it’s not going to happen,” Setzer told the seven-member committee. “It’s all just hypothetical at this point. It’s strong, but it’s hypothetical. It’s not guaranteed yet.”

Bus rider Matt Kamper, of East Meadow, said he was “very happy” that three routes were saved for now.

“It really is a huge impact for lots of people,” said Kamper, 23, at the meeting. “Hopefully it will continue to run.”

If the money doesn’t come through, Setzer said NICE would return to the committee with a proposal to eliminate the three routes, and potentially others. If more money comes through than expected, Setzer said NICE would scramble to put back more service. “I would like to have that problem,” he said.

But, Setzer said it was unlikely enough money would come through to avert all the cuts. Committee member Joel Berse urged NICE to consider postponing the cuts until its financial picture became clearer, potentially through a finalized state budget. But Setzer it was impossible to put off the April 9 effective date, which required months of planning and union negotiations.

Berse said he feared a repeat of last year’s service cut fiasco, when NICE eliminated several underperforming routes, then got more money from the county to restore them months later. By the time the routes returned, many riders no longer used them, so NICE targeted them for service cuts again.


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