"A developed society [..] is where the rich use public transportation."

 Counter-clockwise from left: Aaron, Fredrick, John, me on a NICE bus during the first day of Long Island Bus Riders' Union's annual two-day "rate the ride" bus tour through Long Island in August 2015. 

Counter-clockwise from left: Aaron, Fredrick, John, me on a NICE bus during the first day of Long Island Bus Riders' Union's annual two-day "rate the ride" bus tour through Long Island in August 2015. 

Last Thursday afternoon I attended a hearing on proposed service cuts and fare increases for the Nassau Inter County Express (NICE) bus system, the Nassau County public bus system. The proposed fare increase was from $2.50 to $2.75 per ride. They were also proposing cutting seven routes and reducing service on two. The claim was that this was necessary because of an expected $7.5 million dollar deficit.

Most of the routes they were cutting were North/South routes.  It is already incredibly hard to travel vertically on Long Island without a car. It is true, though, that most public transit users on Long Island travel to and from the city.  Both the trains and the buses are filled on their east/west routes. 

If you are reliant on public transportation, you need a reliable way to get where you need to go, even if it is not a popular route.

In today's Newsday I read Nassau County Executive Mangano is planning on cutting bus funding even more in future budgets and several days ago I read that Suffolk County Executive Bellone is planning the same.

At Thursday's hearing, the CEO of NICE, Mr. Setzer, explained why they were cutting those seven lines.  He gave a Power Point presentation noting that the very busy lines have thousands of riders per day, subsidized at well less than a dollar per ride, while the ones they proposed cutting have as few as 100 riders per day and are subsidized at more than $5 per ride.

Very good points.

But, this is draconian. The complete elimination of seven routes is an unacceptable imposition on the working poor. Mr. Setzer told us that the total ridership on these lines was about 1300, which means, assuming round-trip ridership, there are 650 people whose livelihoods are being undermined completely. 

This is a big deal. 


There are two distinct issues with these budget cuts: fares and service.  Both are important. 

For me personally, an increase from $2.50 to $2.75 per ride is not a big deal. It is a really big deal for people making minimum wage or close to it. These riders are already spending a large percentage of their income just to get to and from work.

Their expenditure on their transportation is not luxury, in any sense of the word. The bus stops they wait at are often uncovered and without benches. Contractually, these buses may be up to ten minutes early or up to ten minutes late. However, these buses often miss both of those marks; meaning waiting bus riders may well have missed their bus without realizing it, or wait twenty minutes or more for their late bus. 

As simply an issue of helping the working poor stay working, rather than just poor, cutting bus service and raising fares is counter-productive.  

At the very least we need to give the working poor a reliable and affordable way to get to work.


Economic benefits to investment in public buses

According to a study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, every dollar invested in pubic transportation adds $73 to the local economy.  

After the tragedy on 9/11, businesses leaving Manhattan overwhelmingly chose Westchester County over Long Island because of vastly better public transportation options.  

There have also been innumerable studies which indicate investments in Complete Streets initiatives (reworkings of their public infrastructure to make it easier to live without a car), significantly boost the local economy. Pedestrians use local businesses more, which resulted in sales tax revenue increases.  Additionally, communities who adopted these initiatives became more desirable places to live, which spurred increases to property values. 

Investment in public transportation is economically advantageous. 


Environmental benefits to investment in public buses

Let's now add the fact that 75% of Long Islanders commute by car alone. A third of greenhouse gas contributions on Long Island is from vehicular traffic and, by far, most of that is from individual drivers. 

I, personally, know a lot of Long Islanders who do not want to have to rely so heavily on their cars. However, the other choices are prohibitively dangerous or inconvenient. 

Cutting bus funding makes it even more likely individual commuters will be clogging our roads and spewing greenhouse gases. 

All of us benefit when more of us use public transportation. 

Even if you don't believe in human-caused global warming, imagine how much more pleasant your ride to work would be if more of us took the bus.


Investing in public transportation is important to our future.

Such an investment investment covers huge ground:

  1. environmental (it will get more people out of their cars),
  2. social justice (it will make it easier for those who can't commute by car), 
  3. economic (studies have shown that getting people out of their cars invigorates local economic growth) and
  4. It also has the added benefit of enabling face-to-face interaction among commuters and encouraging more physical activity.

This is not a fringe issue. It is absolutely necessary for the future of our society.

Cutting funding of bus service on Long Island is just so wrong on so many levels.

At one of the workshops at the Smart Growth summit that I attended last Friday, someone gave a quote from Petro Gustavo, the mayor of Bogota, Columbia, which hit the nail on the head: 

"A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It is where the rich use public transportation."