A tentative deal between Nassau County and state lawmakers could generate more than $6 million for the county’s ailing bus system and avert the worst of several planned service cuts scheduled to take effect next month, officials said Monday.
At a Mineola meeting of the Nassau County Legislature, presiding officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said that the county was in talks with the state on a deal to evenly split an additional $3 million is funding for the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, which is set to eliminate 10 routes April 9 in an effort to close a $6.8 million budget deficit. The cuts would affect more than 5,000 riders.
“My understanding is the state will match whatever we put in. And I think the bottom line is $1.5 million. And I’m still not sure where that $1.5 million is coming from,” Gonsalves said, responding to a question from Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union, a nonprofit advocacy group. “It’s something that we have to keep working on ... But we’re not going to give up.”
Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick) confirmed that the $3 million rescue plan is in the works, and said the Senate and Assembly are also both working on boosting state, non-Metropolitan Transportation Authority transit aid to downstate counties by $10 million as part of a state budget package that could be approved this week.
Nassau’s share of that additional $10 million could be more than $3 million — bringing the total amount of potential new revenue to NICE to more than $6 million.
“I think it will happen. And I’ll be surprised — very, very surprised if it doesn’t,” said McDonough, the ranking minority member on the Assembly Transportation Committee, who said he met with NICE Chief Executive Officer Michael Setzer last week to discuss a plan to avert cutting at least the routes with the heaviest ridership.
The agency is proposing to eliminate the N19, N36, N45, N47, N51, N57, N78/79, Rockville Centre Community Shuttle, and Freeport Community Shuttle.
“You cannot eliminate that type of service,” McDonough said. “The people who ride the bus have no other form of transportation.”
Nassau County Interim Finance Authority spokesman David Chauvin said he had no details on a potential deal and could not discuss it.
NICE has blamed a $6.8 million reduction in the county’s subsidy to the bus system for the budget gap. In a statement Monday, NICE spokesman Andrew Kraus thanked elected officials “who made it a priority to restore a portion” of those dollars, but added that NICE has not been formally advised of how much, or when, additional money may be coming its way.
“NICE is hopeful that funding restored prior to April 9 can be used to maintain some existing routes where service eliminations or reductions would have had significant negative impacts,” Kraus said.
He added that to avoid future service cuts, long-term funding solutions in the form of “predictable, dedicated revenue streams” are necessary. Some Nassau transit advocates have lobbied for Nassau to share in the MTA’s payroll mobility tax or to be able to keep any fees generated from the expected legalization of ride-sharing services, such as Uber, to put toward NICE.
“If the money comes through, we’ll be able to stave off the cuts for the next year. But, once again, it’s a Band-Aid,” Watkins-Lopez said after the legislative meeting. “We need a recurring investment — and a substantial investment.”