Nassau bus riders are somewhat happier with NICE than they were a few months ago, according to a new customer satisfaction survey released by the agency.
But transit advocates and NICE officials agree that the county-owned bus system still has a long way to go before winning over most customers.
In June, a market research firm hired by NICE's operator, the private Veolia Transportation, surveyed a random sample of 300 riders throughout the system and found that 61 percent said they were satisfied overall with service.
That's compared with 47 percent voicing overall satisfaction in a March survey, and 33 percent in December during the final days that the system was operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which ran it for 37 years.
Veolia took over the system on Jan. 1 with the promise of reducing costs while improving overall service. NICE, Nassau Inter-County Express, scored slightly worse than in March on quality of printed, phone and website information. In eight other categories, including bus punctuality, reliability and schedules, it did better, despite NICE's reduction of service on some lines in April.
"It means we got it mostly right," said NICE chief executive Michael Setzer, who noted that his goal is to get all categories above 80 percent in satisfaction ratings. "If I were still getting these scores two years from now, I'd be disappointed. But the trend is what's important."
Despite the survey's findings, some riders said they haven't noticed an improvement.
"They just painted the outside. It's the same thing inside. It's still dirty; the air-conditioning isn't working," said David Jones, 35, of Jamaica, Queens, as he waited in Hempstead for a bus to Baldwin. "Aren't you supposed to make things better when you take something over? And if you're not going to make it better, just leave it alone."
Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit transit advocacy group, said his group's own survey shows that relatively few riders believe things have gotten better.
Of 540 bus customers interviewed at major bus hubs by the campaign in June, 26 percent said overall bus service has improved, 29 percent said it has stayed the same and 45 percent said it has gotten worse.
"I think that it clearly says they still need to do a lot of work to improve the levels of services and make sure riders are satisfied," Lynch said.
Setzer said he believes the most important thing that NICE can do is to make sure that buses come on time more often.
To that end, he said Nassau plans to spend $8 million in federal funding for a new bus GPS system, to be in place next year, that will allow NICE to better monitor delays and address them immediately.
With Keri Murakami