On January 1, a private company assumed operating responsibilities for the service formerly known as Long Island Bus, ending the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) role in the service.
The system now known as Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) Bus includes the paratransit service Able-Ride. Veolia Transportation, the company that is now in charge of the service, has promised to maintain the current Able-Ride service area for three years even if changes are made to the fixed route service. Fares will also remain the same.
According to the NICE website, “It is the intention of the County and Veolia to preserve this service area even beyond this three-year time commitment, and all parties are committed to trying to find the funding to do so.”
When asked if NICE Bus would be looking at the possibility of returning paratransit service to the entire county, as provided before MTA cutbacks in 2010, CEO Mike Setzer said, “Putting out more service requires additional resources.”
Setzer said Veolia plans to speak to County officials about the possibility of restoring the Able-Ride service area but has not done so yet. Able-Ride currently restricts service to customers within three-quarters of a mile of mass transit stations – the minimum requirement in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Setzer noted that in addition to the five-person transit committee that the County will appoint, NICE also plans to have an advisory committee for accessibility issues. “Reaching out to that constituent group is very important to NICE,” said company spokesman Andy Kraus.
County Executive Ed Mangano said he plans to talk to Veolia about the possibility of restoring the Able-Ride service area, saying they would look at it if there is a need. He is also considering adding a person with a disability to the five-person transit committee that is being formed. Mangano has three nominations to the committee and the legislature has two.
Therése Brzezinski, director of advocacy and community policy for the Long Island Center for Independent Living, Inc. said, “The transition to NICE is certain to present challenges for people with disabilities, as it will for all riders and for the Veolia team. That’s the nature of change.”
“I’m looking at this transition as an opportunity to work together with the Veolia team to ensure that customers with disabilities get great service and equal access to the transit system. At the end of the day, everyone has to get to work, school and the grocery store. Hopefully, the ride will be a smooth one,” Brzezinski said.
Mike Godino, director of advocacy for the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, Inc. said he hopes that NICE will begin announcing all bus stops to make travel more accessible to customers who are blind, as he said was done before the MTA cuts two years ago.
Godino also said he complained to NICE when the N32 showed up late after the switch to Veolia, and the next day the bus came on time. Meanwhile, Mangano said he received a complaint from a woman who missed her bus because it was on time. She was used to the bus showing up late.
Legislators raised concerns about the deal when Veolia recently announced plans to focus its business on water, waste and energy services and decrease its transportation work but Nassau County leaders voted to finalize the deal in late December. County officials expect to save taxpayers $32.4 million annually.
This article was published in the February 2012 issue of Able News.