Nassau County is replacing 52 of its oldest buses with technologically advanced models and has an option for another 58, which would bring the contract's total cost to $53 million, officials said Tuesday.
The Federal Transit Administration will pay 80 percent of the bill; the new buses should arrive in 2016, County Executive Edward Mangano said in statement.
The new models, which will run on compressed natural gas, will replace Nassau Inter-County Express models that are at least 12 years old and have been driven a minimum of 500,000 miles, factors that make them costly to maintain.
The bus line, which has a total of 315 buses, is retrofitting all of its older models with GPS, infrared technology and emergency alarms, said Andy Kraus, a NICE spokesman.
The new models, which are expected to have 38 seats, or about five to six fewer than current vehicles, will be the first purchased with these systems already installed.
"Our customers will enjoy a more comfortable ride, our drivers will operate vehicles with the latest technology and standards of safety and our repair and maintenance challenges should improve," NICE chief executive Mike Setzer said.
Each new bus manufactured by Winnipeg, Canada-based New Flyer Industries Inc. will cost about $484,000, Kraus said. The 45 Orion VII buses delivered in 2012 cost $448,000 each.
Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer of the Long Island Bus Riders Union, said the upgrades could attract more riders, including disabled individuals who face problems with older buses.
"This is going to help make the system a lot more efficient; it'll bring more people back to the buses if they have buses that are nicer, cleaner and actually work."
Riders should start seeing the benefits of the technological improvements this year.
The infrared lights will count people as they enter and exit, enabling the bus line to monitor ridership and tailor service and schedules, Kraus said.
GPS technology will enable the bus line to accurately inform riders -- by text messages, for example -- where buses are and when they are expected to reach their stops.
Digital signs will display the same information at the Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center.
And Garden City dispatchers will know exactly where all buses are, enabling them to swiftly correct problems, from late arrivals to overcrowding to breakdowns, the spokesman said.
The accuracy of announcements and signs should improve as GPS is more precise than the current system, which relies on odometer readings.
Drivers will gain emergency alarms to automatically connect with dispatchers.
Since its start in 2012, NICE has bought 69 new vehicles, 45 fixed-route buses and 24 paratransit vehicles.
The modernized fleet will be easier to maintain, as computers will monitor key indicators, such as oil pressure and engine temperature, the spokesman said. That should cut breakdowns.