Readers Write: Better times ahead for Nassau bus riders

The Island Now

The recent Nassau County public notice for a $20 million grant application to the Federal Transit Administration on behalf of Nassau Inter County Express bus system, which appeared in Newsday July 3, was great news. Our local bus system is a four-way partnership between fares paid by riders along with funding provided by Nassau County, New York State Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration in financing public bus transportation operated by NICE.

They operate a fleet of 280 buses out of the Mitchell Field bus garage. NICE also operates a fleet of 122 Able Ride paratransit vehicles out of the Stewart Avenue facility. Both facilities were constructed by federal capital grants with local matching funds provided by Nassau County and the state Department of Transportation. It was the same funding sources for construction of the Rockville Centre bus garage, Hempstead Intermodal Bus Terminal and Mineola Intermodal Bus Terminal/Commuter Parking Garage. All four of these investments combined cost almost $100 million. In today’s dollars, it would be far higher.

NICE attempts to schedule bus replacements on a 500,000 mile or 12-year cycle, whichever comes first, based upon federal Department of Transportation guidelines. Since 1973, buses operated by NICE under contract to Nassau County are now on the fourth replacement cycle. Most buses operated by NICE are under 12 years old. This was not the case decades earlier when the average age of the fleet was closer to 12 years.

Over time, there have been other capital investments, including compressed natural gas fueling stations, facility modifications to accommodate CNG buses inside garages, new fare collection equipment, automatic vehicle locator equipment, real time communications systems to notify riders for anticipated arrival of the next bus, shelters, bus stop signs and other support equipment necessary to run the system. Just like a homeowner, what is new today requires constant maintenance, periodic upgrades and eventual replacement years later.

Capital physical assets of any bus system (including revenue vehicles along with bus facility components such as HVAC, bus washers, paint booths, engine shops, bays, pits, lifts, doors, fueling stations, lighting, security systems and many others) eventually reach the end of their useful life based upon straight line depreciation and/or manufactures warranty. Significant changes in technology also require replacement of outdated equipment.

In 2020, Nassau County has wisely requested $20 million from the Federal Transit Administration. These funds  — matched by $2 million from Albany and $2 million from Nassau County — will pay for 23 Compressed Natural Gas replacement buses, 14 replacement paratransit vehicles, engineering and design services (for development of future capital projects), five replacement non-revenue dispatch, patrol or service vehicles, shop improvements to heating, ventilation, air conditioning, CNG fueling station dispensing system improvements and bus area operations improvements and capital cost of contracting, which maintains NICE’s revenue fleet and support facilities in a state of good repair.

We have come a long way over 46 years since Nassau County took control of all bus routes from a group of private operators in 1973. In 1973, Nassau County purchased equipment, routes and some facilities from numerous private bus operators, most of which were experiencing serious financial difficulties. These included Bee Line, Rockville Centre Bus Corporation, Utility Lines, Stage Coach Lines, Schenck Transportation, Inc., Nassau Bus Line, Hempstead Bus Corporation, Jerusalem Avenue Bus Lines, Universal Auto Bus, Roosevelt Bus Lines, Stage Coach Lines, Hendrickson Bus Corporation and others.

Nassau County followed up that same year by entering into a lease and operating agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to continue providing local bus service. This resulted in creation of the Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority. Years later, the Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority was followed by Long Island Bus and on Jan. 1, 2012, Nassau Inter County Express managed by Transdev. 

Many of the same routes operated by MSBA, LI Bus and NICE today can be traced back to the various private bus operators. Over that time period, Nassau County, Albany and Washington combined have invested over $740 million in capital improvements and almost $1 billion in operating subsidy. NICE services continue to be one of the best bargains around. It is a model, cost-effective suburban bus operator for others to emulate. Let us give thanks to the hardworking men and women of Nassau County Department of Public Works Transportation Division and NICE bus who make all of this possible.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

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