Every day, East Rockaway resident Tom Warner arrives 45 minutes early at his job managing a warehouse in Freeport — and not because he has to be, he said. Warner has been at the mercy of the Long Island Rail Road schedule ever since the Nassau Inter-County Express eliminated the N36 bus route nearly three years ago.
“It really sucked once they canceled it,” Warner, 52, said. “The bus ran every hour, so it was nice.”
He explained that he could time the buses to and from work perfectly, but now he relies on the LIRR. Each day he has to catch the 7:50 a.m. train from East Rockaway to Lynbrook, where he transfers to the 8:05 train to Baldwin. On his way home, he catches a train from Freeport to Lynbrook, but has to wait 45 minutes at the Lynbrook station for his train home.
On Feb. 16, 2017, the Nassau County Bus Transit Committee approved, 5 to 2, cuts to the NICE bus system, including the N36 route, which affected some 5,400 county residents. The measure was taken because of a $6.8 million budget deficit.
The N36 route ran back and forth from Lynbrook to Freeport, stopping in East Rockaway, Oceanside and Baldwin as well. The cuts also eliminated shuttles in Freeport, Hicksville and Wantagh, the N19 Freeport bus to Sunrise Mall and the DeMott Avenue/Long Beach Road bus in Rockville Centre.
Nearly three years after the cut, State Senators Todd Kaminsky and John Brooks are pushing NICE to restore the route, noting that there is room in the budget to bring it back.
Kaminsky and Brooks wrote a letter to NICE Chief Executive Officer Jack Khzouz, urging him to bring back the route.
“Since service to the N36 was cut in 2017, South Shore commuters have had to subsist on alternative modes of transportation, causing extreme hardship and inconvenience,” the letter read. “Not only has the line’s elimination forced residents to rely on less environmentally friendly modes of transportation, but it has also hampered access to local businesses, restaurants and downtowns in communities throughout the N36’s route.”
The senators noted that the 2019-20 state budget dedicated $74.4 million to the county through the annual Statewide Mass Transportation Operating Assistance Program, which was a 7.2 percent increase from 2018-19, and that it could have been used in part to restore the route.
Khzouz said that NICE is in the process of a countywide study to determine which routes can be reinstated and how to make the bus line more efficient.
“We’re currently studying various needs throughout the county, including service on Atlantic Avenue from Freeport to Lynbrook,” he said. “We’ll work with Nassau County to develop an appropriate plan that balances service levels, vehicle types and the exact routing.”
Khzouz added that the 2020-21 state budget will not be finalized until April 1, so it is unlikely that the route would be restored before then. He noted that once NICE administrators had the budget figures, they would use their study to see what can be done.
Warner said that he rode the NICE bus every weekday since 1995, and that he believed there were changes that could have been made before the cuts. He recalled that NICE ran two buses along the N36 route at the same time, with one picking up passengers in Freeport, while the other simultaneously serviced riders in Lynbrook. He suggested that running one large bus would have sufficed, and noted that during off-peak hours, when the buses were mostly vacant, NICE could have had a smaller bus do the route.
“It was a complete waste of time, money and resources,” Warner said. “They could have provided smaller buses. There’s no reason they needed to run two big buses on a loop nonstop all day.”
Warner said that while the buses would be nearly empty off hours, during his morning and afternoon commutes, about 30 to 50 people rode them, and he got to know many of his fellow riders over the years.
Reached by phone, Kaminsky said that his office has heard from seniors and other residents who have had a tough time since the route was slashed. He added that his talks with NICE officials had left him optimistic about the route’s possible restoration in the spring, but it is ultimately up to the bus company.
“Time is of the essence here,” Kaminsky said. “People have to get kids to doctors’ appointments or need to go to work or see family, and their lives have been upended by a lack of bus service.”
East Rockaway resident Regina Beska echoed Kaminsky’s sentiments. “A lot of seniors have been impacted by this,” she said. “We would all like to see the bus route back. It’s a long walk to get from point A to point B.”
In March 2017, about two dozen bus riders from across Nassau stood in solidarity with elected officials, including Kaminsky and Curran, at a rally against the cuts at the Lynbrook LIRR station. Many came wielding signs with messages on them urging NICE not to cut the lines.
Warner said he hoped the company would listen this time. “It would be great,” he said. “The economy is booming. If there’s a way to get workers to their jobs easier, quicker, faster and cheaper, it’s only going to help the economy.”