In 2019, Nassau County, N.Y., was successful in winning a $2-million Buses and Bus Facilities Program discretionary grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). It was announced by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao and FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams. This was one of $423 million worth of grants awarded to support 84 projects in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Nassau County was one of only two winners from New York state, beating out many competitors. The county owns the buses and facilities operated under contract by a private company, TransDev, who runs the Nassau Inter County Express (NICE) bus system. Nassau County Department of Public Works Transportation Division is responsible for the oversight of FTA grants related to the bus system.
The county is in charge of providing the local match for capital transportation grants. These funds were passed on to NICE Bus to support safety, infrastructure and passenger upgrades to the Rosa Parks Hempstead Bus Transit Center.
The Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center is located between Jackson and West Columbia Streets in the Village of Hempstead, N.Y. It is also the terminus for the Hempstead Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. The facility includes an indoor waiting area, transit information, MetroCard vending machines, newsstand and restrooms. The facility is served by numerous bus routes including the N6, N15, N16, N27, N31, N32, N35, N40, N41, Nn48, Nn49, N54, Nn55, N70, N71, N72 and the Mercy Medical Community Shuttle.
This facility was originally constructed at a cost of $10 million and opened in 1993. I had the privilege of working with the Nassau County Department of Planning Transportation Division in the development, review, approval and subsequent oversight of federal grant funding, which financed construction of this transportation facility while working for the Urban Mass Transportation Administration Region 2 NY Office. Today, known as the Federal Transit Administration.
These new grant funds awarded in 2019 will bring this facility up to a state of good repair. Completion of the first two phases included painting, bird netting, concession stand, public bathrooms and employee break rooms. The final phase for improvements should be finished by December 2021. This investment benefits thousands of daily NICE bus customers. The facility also provides easy connections with the adjacent Long Island Rail Road Hempstead branch train station just across the street.
Nassau County, on behalf of NICE Bus and its predecessors MTA Long Island Bus and the Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority, have a long successful history going back decades in winning discretionary bus grants from the FTA and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration.
These funds, which supplemented annual FTA formula funding, helped pay for a number of projects. The list includes several hundred expansion and replacement buses, along with paratransit vehicles, the Stewart Avenue paratransit bus facility, compressed natural gas fueling stations, Mitchell Field Bus Garage, Hempstead Multi-Modal Bus Terminal and Rockville Centre Bus Garage, which was removed from active transit service in 2017. All of these investments combined cost more than $200 million.
It has been 47 years since Nassau County took control of all bus routes from private operators in 1973. Over that time period, Nassau County, New York State and the federal government have invested more than $740 million in capital improvements combined. Operating subsidy dollars easily top more than $1.5 billion.
Since the 1950s, the average cost of riding a bus in Nassau County has gone up at a lower rate than either the consumer price index or inflation. The Metro Card introduced in 1996 affords a free transfer between NICE Bus and the NYC Transit bus or subway. Prior to this, riders had to pay two full fares. Purchasing either a weekly or monthly pass further reduces the cost per ride. Many employers offer transit checks, which pay even more of the costs.
NICE Bus services continue to be one of the best bargains around. It is a model of cost-effective suburban bus operation for others to emulate. Let us give thanks to the hard working men and women of Nassau County Department of Public Works Transportation Division and NICE Bus who made all of this possible. This includes winning extra federal transit dollars on a frequent basis. Best of luck to my old friends at Nassau County and NICE Bus in bringing home future Federal Transit Administration Discretionary Bus Grants in 2021!
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, MTA Bus, NYC DOT, NJ Transit, along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.