Cops: NICE passenger sought after punching bus driver

Nassau County police said they are looking for a man who punched a NICE bus driver in the face Sunday, March 23, 2014, because the driver missed his stop. Police said Monday that the suspect hit the driver, 50, at about 6:30 p.m. in Franklin Square, after the driver operating the N6 bus missed the stop on eastbound Hempstead Turnpike. (Credit: Network News)

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A Nassau bus rider attacked a driver over the weekend -- the second such case in a month on the N6 line -- boosting calls Monday for money to install clear partitions and other safety measures on public buses.

The Sunday night N6 bus was eastbound on Hempstead Turnpike in Franklin Square when a passenger started a "disturbance" about 6:30 p.m. over missing his stop, Nassau police said.

The driver pulled over at the Franklin Street corner, but the passenger sat back down, police said. Three blocks later, when the rider made another commotion, the driver stopped, but was punched in the face by the rider, who ran off, police said.

The driver, 50, suffered a cut lip, police said.

Two attacks on one of the county's busiest bus routes is a coincidence, but "way too many" in a month, said Andy Kraus, a spokesman for Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, which has been operated by Veolia Transportation since 2012.

On Feb. 24, driver Keisha McGregor suffered a concussion after being hit in the head. Police charged Ivey S. Dixon, who in court papers said she "lost it" when the driver missed her stop, also on Hempstead Turnpike in Franklin Square.

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"The thing that is common between the two incidents is that they both involved passengers who became violent when they missed their stops," Kraus said.

An organizer at the Long Island Bus Riders Union said driver safety is just the latest of concerns on the N6 line, which has had a history of overcrowding and late buses.

Anita Halasz brought up both attacks during Monday's NICE budget hearing before the Nassau Legislature, underscoring what she said was the need to double the system's aid to $5 million.

Afterward, she said violence from passengers should not be excused, but suggested the attacks reflect "high" tension in a "systematically defunded" bus service, frustrating riders and employees. While Kraus said NICE expanded N6 service, Halasz said recent service changes on at least one other line have pushed more riders to N6.

"We don't want riders going against drivers or the other way around," Halasz said. "One opportunity to fix that is the safety measures, obviously, but that's like a Band-Aid effect. We have to look a little bit deeper and figure out why these things are actually happening."

Kraus said the driver attacked Sunday did not miss the passenger's stop and followed procedure by pulling over so the rider could get off.

But to beef up drivers' safety, NICE officials plan to train them on defusing problems and have ordered 45 new buses with video cameras, Kraus said.

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