Nassau's bus system is exploring ways to protect drivers from violent passengers like one police say attacked a NICE driver last month, officials said.
At a public forum Monday organized by the Long Island Bus Riders Union, Nassau Inter-County Express marketing and communications director Jack Khzous said the agency is considering several measures, including Plexiglas partitions, to protect bus operators, following the Feb. 24 assault of an N6X driver aboard a bus in Franklin Square.
NICE bus operator Cindy Tropeano said drivers had become increasingly concerned about their safety even before the assault, since Veolia Transportation took over the bus system from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2012 and made changes to schedules and routes that upset some riders.
"I want to know what Veolia is going to do to protect drivers, because the agitation [among customers] in the last two years has gone tremendously up," Tropeano said at the Garden City meeting. "When you're angry at the company, you're not going to 700 Commercial Avenue and beating somebody up. You're going to take it out on the first person you see, and we represent the company."
NICE chief executive Michael Setzer confirmed Tuesday that the agency is considering installing partitions, but is not convinced that they are the solution to the problem. He noted that some bus drivers don't like the partitions because they restrict their movement in an emergency.
By contrast, the MTA has partitions in 1,722 New York City buses, and aims to have them installed on almost all non-express buses by the end of 2016, spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.
Setzer said that 45 new buses coming on line next year will each have 10 high-resolution cameras on board that he expects will act as a deterrent to driver attacks and other crimes. Existing buses already have emergency alarms drivers can use to contact a dispatcher, who, in turn, can call police.
Setzer said NICE will distribute materials to drivers later this year with strategies for defusing tense situations on buses.
NICE has averaged about one bus driver assault a year since January 2012 -- a "fairly low number," Setzer said, "but more than we'd like."
"We're all on the same page here," Setzer said. "We want our drivers to have the safest working environment that we can."