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Long IslandTransportation

Vote passes to eliminate 10 NICE Bus routes, cut service on 4 others

Dozens of people gathered on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 at NICE's Garden City offices for a public hearing on a plan to eliminate 10 routes and reduce service on a several others in order to fill a $6.8 million budget deficit. (Credit: Newsday / Alfonso Castillo)

Some 5,000 Nassau bus riders will lose their ride this April, as Nassau County on Thursday approved a plan to drastically cut service in order to fill a $6.8 million NICE deficit.

After two public hearings in Garden City on Thursday, the Nassau County Bus Transit Committee voted 5-2 in favor of eliminating 10 Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, routes and severely curtailing service on four others. Many more routes will see smaller cuts, including to weekend service. The changes take effect on April 9.

Able-Ride, Nassau’s door-to-door bus service for the disabled, is not affected by the cuts.

“It’s something that all of us at NICE Bus absolutely hate doing,” NICE Chief Executive Officer Michael Setzer said at the hearing. “We should be and could be and would be putting more service on the street to serve our customers if we could, but we’re stuck with the available revenues.”

NICE officials have said the cuts are necessary as expenses have grown while funding from the county, which owns the bus system, was cut by $6.8 million this year. NICE already reduced its budget gap by $5 million, including a plan to shutter its Rockville Centre depot and lay off workers.

Several riders pleaded with the county to spare some of the endangered routes, which they said they relied on to get to work, medical appointments and recreation.

Daphne Smith, a home health care worker from Garden City, said the n79 — among the routes on the chopping block — is essential not only for her, but for her elderly patients.

“What is going to happen to them?” Smith said. “What is going to happen to us?”

Allan Asherman of Plainview said elimination of the n78/79, which serves Hicksville, Plainview and the Walt Whitman Shops in South Huntington, would be “unthinkable.”

“I see the faces of the people on the 78/79 buses. Most of them don’t have much hope on their faces,” Asherman said. “Please don’t take away the hope that they have.”

Setzer noted that if the Bus Transit Committee rejected the proposed cuts — as they did with an earlier service-cut proposal in December — NICE would turn to more “grotesque options,” including cutting every route, but not by the 25 percent that requires county approval, or “locking the gates” and shutting down altogether for part of the year.

Setzer urged the state and the county to avoid a similar scenario next year by coming up with a dedicated revenue stream for NICE. He added that having the system rely on unpredictable subsidies “is the worst possible way to run a business.”

Several Democratic Nassau legislators attended the hearings and recommended ways to reduce NICE costs and increase the county’s subsidy, such as by tapping millions in county reserve funding. No Republican county lawmakers attended the hearings.

Members of the Nassau Bus Transit Committee, which governs NICE Bus but has no say in how the county funds it, said they were approving the plan reluctantly and urged riders to push their state and county representatives to step up funding for the ailing bus system.

“My heart goes out with sympathy to every bus rider,” committee chairman Sheldon Shrenkel said. “Unfortunately, we can’t dig a deeper hole. It would just get catastrophic.”

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