NICE installs GPS devices in Able-Ride buses

An Able-Ride bus transports a patient from a

An Able-Ride bus transports a patient from a medical facilty in Island Park. (Credit: Jim Staubitser, 2012)

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New global positioning systems installed in Able-Ride vehicles should result in faster, more efficient trips for disabled bus riders in Nassau County, officials said, but some are skeptical it will make much difference.

Veolia Transportation, the company that operates Able-Ride -- a division of NICE bus -- said it has spent $300,000 to install "real-time, location-based" GPS technology in all of its nearly 100 vehicles. The company expects to make back that money by being able to more efficiently route Able-Ride vehicles.

More than 1,100 disabled riders use the appointment-based transit system each day. Customers routinely complain about being picked up late, about lengthy trips and about what they say is inefficient planning by Able-Ride managers.

The GPS installations will address those issues, NICE spokesman Andrew Krauss said. Able-Ride dispatchers will know where all buses are in real time, how many stops a vehicle already has made and still must make, how early or late each bus is running, and other information, he said.

In addition, Able-Ride drivers, who are being trained in how to use the new system, will have tablet devices and will check in whenever they pick up and drop off passengers.

If dispatchers see someone is running very late, they can reroute another vehicle to make a pickup instead.

Veolia took over Nassau's bus system, including Able-Ride, from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in January. NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said vehicle monitoring technology used by the MTA did not work in most of the buses.

Able-Ride user Tracy Miller, 47, of Farmingdale, said she first noticed the GPS system in the buses a few weeks ago but has not noticed any improvement in service.

Miller, who has cerebral palsy, said Able-Ride picks her up late from work at least half of the time -- sometimes by hours. She's not convinced GPS will improve things.

"I'm not going to dispute that it probably could, but GPS is only as good as the people that program the information," said Miller, who works for the Town of Hempstead's parks department. "I don't normally complain. I'm trying not to. But I'm getting very frustrated. Eleven months into it, they ought to have it more organized."

Charlene Obernauer, with the Long Island Bus Riders Union, a nonprofit advocacy group, said Veolia's investment in GPS technology is a "positive gesture" that she hopes will alleviate the problem.

"If your friend told you that they were going to pick you up between 2 and 2:30 and they didn't pick you up until 3:30, you'd be really frustrated and annoyed," Obernauer said. "You probably wouldn't even go with them."

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