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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Going Nassau’s Way

The Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) succeeded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Long Island Bus (LIB) system effective Jan. 1, 2012. More than three months later, NICE announced it was keeping all 48 of the routes it inherited from LIB while expanding service to Jamaica, Queens from Hempstead and Freeport, and reducing it elsewhere.

The primary reason is that the NICE, operated on Nassau County’s behalf by Veolia Transportation, has a much better sense today about where, and when, its 35,000 riders travel. Moreover, Veolia calculated that its redesigned schedule will allow NICE to generate $106 million in revenue by year-end 2012. That’s how much money Veolia said it would need to operate NICE, a bus system financed through a combination of fare revenue (riders pay $2.25 per trip) and governmental subsidies. The county will contribute more than $2 million to fund NICE in 2012 whereas Nassau paid the MTA over $9 million last year to underwrite LIB.

NICE’s new schedule went into effect on Sunday, April 8. It can be found online at  and includes print and video summaries of the service adjustments in both English and Spanish. Certain media outlets and elected officials will predictably focus on people who are unhappy with some of the changes, and there may well be merit to their complaints.

Yet one of the great things about having the NICE come under the county’s jurisdiction, rather than the MTA’s, is that Nassau in 2012 has a much greater level of control over future modifications to NICE’s operations. When the MTA’s Long Island Bus did something that didn’t sit well with county lawmakers, Nassau needed to make its case to the entire MTA board, an entity filled with gubernatorial appointees who generally obsess over matters directly impacting New York City. Nassau had allowed the MTA to manage its bus system dating back to the early 1970s. An aside: getting buy-in from the MTA board is a major reason the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) may have a difficult time undoing its wildly unpopular off-peak service reductions on the LIRR’s Port Washington branch.

The Veolia Transportation-operated NICE will listen to County Executive Ed Mangano and county legislators because Veolia, a private entity, was hired by them. Veolia Transportation is in the first year of a five-year contract with the county. The deal, unanimously approved by the county Legislature in December 2011, also includes a five-year renewal option.

The initial feedback to this private-public partnership has been promising. Indeed, in his 2012 State of the County address last month, Mangano mentioned that a NICE rider called his office “just days after Veolia began operating our buses to complain that he missed the bus because it was on time and had been historically late.”

There is one piece of unfinished business on this matter. The county has committed to forming a five-member Nassau County Bus Transit Committee to provide counsel to Nassau regarding NICE’s fares, service and annual budgets. The committee, whose members are appointed by the county executive in consultation with the county legislature, has not held its first meeting as yet. Given all the interest in NICE, this committee needs to convene as soon as possible.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net