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Editorial: Nassau gets a cheap ride for bus service

A NICE bus making its route through Nassau

A NICE bus making its route through Nassau Community College on July 25, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

When it comes to bus service, it's difficult to compare counties and determine which ones deserve more assistance from Albany. Suffolk County, for instance, made an unsuccessful play for a 50 percent bump in state aid for bus service this year, arguing that it gets only $22 million annually while Nassau gets $57 million and Westchester receives $47 million.

That sounds like a fair argument, but you have to consider other factors: For instance, Nassau's bus service carries almost five times as many riders as Suffolk's. Yes, fewer are served, but Suffolk has to cover a tremendous area with less in the farebox to show for it.

What is clear when you compare county bus services is that Nassau's needs an increase in subsidy from the county. Nassau Inter-County Express said last month that a $3.3-million gap in the service's $122-million budget would lead to service cuts if more money weren't found. This year's final increase of $1.2 million from the state was the figure used to calculate the budget gap.

Nassau provides $2.6 million annually to its own service. Suffolk kicks in $29 million, while Westchester provides $19 million. Nassau made a smart move by privatizing its bus service in 2012; it was operated by the MTA before that. The change has saved the county at least $60 million. But the county can't get by with contributing so little.

The state has been generous to Nassau's bus service, but the riders still contribute an unusually high 47 percent of costs through the fare box. Privatization and a cut in subsidy from the county have led to about $7.3 million per year in service cuts on lightly used routes, which, according to NICE, affected about 1,000 riders.

For county residents without other options, bus service is a lifeline. If Nassau needs to kick in another $3.3 million to preserve routes, it should do so, and count its blessings that it's getting off so cheap.