There is good news coming from Washington concerning the availability of even more funding to support public transportation. This could be of benefit for Nassau County and the almost 100,000 daily riders who use the Nassau Inter-County Express bus.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration announced on Jan. 30, a notice of funding opportunity to apply for approximately $454.6 million in the Fiscal Year 2020 competitive grant funding for bus and bus facility projects nationwide.
The purpose of competitive grants for the Buses and Bus Facilities Program is to assist in improving the condition of bus infrastructure by funding the replacement and rehabilitation of buses and related facilities.
Projects eligible for this funding opportunity include those that would replace, rehabilitate, lease, or purchase buses and related equipment. Other eligible projects involve purchasing, rehabilitating, constructing or leasing bus-related facilities, such as buildings for bus storage and maintenance.
The DOT’s Federal Transit Administration previously announced one week earlier the availability of up to $130 million in competitive grant funds through FTA’s Low or No Emission (Low-No) Bus Program. The Low-No Program helps project sponsors purchase or leases low or no emission vehicles that use advanced technologies for transit revenue operations, including related equipment or facilities.
There are other annual formula FTA grant programs such as urban area formula 5307, capital annual investment 5309, buses and bus facilities 5339, along with Congestion Mitigation Air Quality and several other Federal Highway Administration grants programs, which can be transferred over to FTA.
In 2019, Nassau County was successful in winning a two million dollar bus discretionary grant from the 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 Washington D.C. Nassau County was one of only two winners from New York beating out many other competitors.
These funds will be passed on to NICE Bus to support safety, infrastructure and passenger upgrades to the Hempstead Bus Transit Center.
This facility was constructed at a cost of $10 million and opened in 1993. These new grant funds will bring this facility up to a state of good repair, benefiting several thousand daily customers. The facility 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 its predecessor, 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 over $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, and the federal government has invested over $740 million in capital improvements combined. Operating subsidy dollars easily top over $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 MetroCard 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 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 another Federal Transit Administration Discretionary Bus Grant in 2020!