NICE bus riders' satisfaction drops 18 points, says survey
Nassau bus riders were far less satisfied with NICE service in the first quarter of 2013 than immediately after a private operator took over the system in January 2012, a new report shows.
Overall customer satisfaction dropped 18 percentage points -- from 47 percent to 29 percent -- in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2012, according to Nassau Inter-County Express survey findings.
Other key performance indicators also plunged, according to the survey.
Twenty-nine percent of riders felt buses ran on time, compared with 42 percent a year ago; 23 percent said bus stops were clean, versus 49 percent; and 18 percent said the buses themselves were clean, a sharp drop from 48 percent in 2012.
Ryan Lynch, associate director of the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which publicized the survey results on its website, said they reflect a challenging year for Nassau bus riders, who were hit with service cuts in April 2012 and a fare increase last March.
"I think it's something that they should take seriously," Lynch said. "The perception [of riders] is important, because they're the ones who are going to spread the word about the system and whether it's worth taking."
NICE's private operator, Veolia Transportation, took over the system in January 2012 from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which ran it for 37 years.
NICE CEO Michael Setzer said the customer satisfaction numbers are based on a quarterly survey of about 200 riders, conducted by a marketing firm and paid for by the agency.
Setzer said he'd like the latest satisfaction rates to be higher but noted that the survey was conducted around the time NICE enacted a 25-cent fare increase for MetroCard users.
"They're measures of how people felt at the time they were being asked. We have other kinds of data that we use that shows that there's no falloff in operating performance at all during that same period of time," Setzer said.
On-time performance, he said, has steadily increased since Veolia took over, and the number of customer complaints overall has dropped.
Setzer said several planned NICE initiatives, including the biggest service increases in years and new technology giving riders real-time bus arrival information, should improve passenger satisfaction.
For 30-year bus rider Miguel Garreido of Uniondale, the survey findings are in line with his experience.
Garreido, 51, said bus stops have become messier and drivers seem less professional than in the past. He blames the county for not spending enough on the system.
NICE has a $113 million annual budget and receives a $2.6 million subsidy from Nassau.
"It cannot be run on nickels and pennies," Garreido said.