The private operator of Nassau’s bus system doesn’t make the grade for providing disabled riders with reliable and accessible service they can count on, say the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union, which released a report card on Veolia Transportation’s first six months of running the Nassau Inter-County Express—known as NICE—after taking it over from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The report, timed to coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, faulted Veolia on several counts for its fixed-route bus service: lack of Braille at its major bus stops, absence of enough visual and auditory announcements for bus riders and dysfunctional wheelchair lifts. They also studied the Able-ride system, which is more expensive than the regular bus service and with a less flexible schedule.
“There are many obstacles to the full integration of disabled riders into the fixed-route bus system, and that Veolia must correct them both for their own self-interest and to benefit bus riders,” the report reads. On accessibility the report gave NICE a D grade and noted that some bus drivers even banned guide dogs.
“Access to transportation is fundamental to the independence and full community participation of disabled people,” summarized the report. “A bus system that does not provide optimal access, safety and reliability in service is restricting and harmful to disabled riders. This report card serves to highlight improvements that Veolia must make to its bus system.”
The bus riders union studied more than 200 buses and found that 5.4 percent of the wheelchair lifts weren’t working. They monitored 28 buses and found that 67.85 percent “made no auditory announcements” and 71.4 percent had no visual announcements.
The Braille signage at the Hempstead bus terminal, where the riders’ advocates held their press conference, was dated from when the MTA ran the system, says Charlene Obernauer of the Long Island Bus Riders Union, drawing an F.
“What we’d really like to see is for the Braille to be updated and to be actually put in all the major bus terminals as a first step, and in the future be put on every bus stop,” he said.
Mike Setzer, chief executive officer of NICE, says that Braille signs have “already been ordered for the Hempstead Transit center and we expect they will be installed in the next several weeks.”
He said that bus terminals at Hicksville, Jamaica (165th Street) and Roosevelt Field—all found lacking by the bus riders union—are not under his company’s control but “we will make our best efforts to approach these property owners to have Braille signs place there.”
When the bus riders group found that Veolia hadn’t provided NICE bus schedules in Spanish, says Obernauer, “they came out with bilingual schedules within a matter of weeks. I feel that having us out there monitoring the system does actually result in some changes for the positive.”
“On January 1, NICE inherited an aging bus system with numerous maintenance and operational challenge,” Setzer said in a press release. “Since then, we have been actively improving the system, especially in areas that affect the disabled community. NICE announced today that by year’s end, it will replace the 45 oldest and least reliable fixed route buses in our fleet.”
Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group, pointed out that the federal funds for the bus purchase were allocated last year and “they’re just releasing it now. I think it’s an indication of the fact that the system has been underfunded for years and we’re reaping what we sowed.”