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Low grade for NICE Bus' disabled services

A Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) bus in Garden

A Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) bus in Garden City, part of the current fleet that officials said would be increased by 45 vehicles by the end of the year. (Jan 1, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

NICE Bus deserves a failing grade for not offering enough visual and audio announcements for disabled customers, according to a report Thursday by a riders advocacy group.

The Long Island Bus Riders Union surveyed several NICE buses and stations to put together the report, "Unreliable and Inaccessible: A Report Card of Veolia's Service for Disabled Riders."

The report, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, looked at several areas and assigned letter grades.

NICE is owned by Nassau County and has been privately operated by Veolia Transportation since Jan. 1. It operates 53 lines with about 300 buses in its fixed route fleet.

"NICE inherited an aging bus system with numerous maintenance and operational challenges," Nassau Inter-County Express chief executive Michael Setzer said in a statement responding to the report. "Since then, we have been actively improving the system, especially in areas that affect the disabled community."

The company received its worst grade -- an F -- for its audio announcement and visual scrolling systems on buses.

"We're very disappointed in this," riders union founder Charlene Obernauer said at a news conference at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in Hempstead Thursday morning.

The group looked at differing numbers of buses for different subjects. For wheelchair lifts, it examined 200 buses, and for audio and video announcements, it looked at 28.

In a statement, NICE noted that many of its buses are more than 12 years old "and have unreliable announcement systems." The company said it is in the final stages of issuing a request for proposals for new audio announcement equipment for every fixed-route bus. Nearly four-dozen new buses are due for delivery by year's end.

Of the 28 buses the riders union monitored for audio and video issues, it found that 68 percent made no audio announcements, and 71 percent no visual announcements.

"Until they are installed, we will do our best to maintain the current annunciators and to require drivers to make verbal announcements when necessary," NICE said.

The report also gave NICE a C grade for accessible signage at stations, saying more terminals need Braille signs; a C for wheelchair lifts, which the report said malfunction too often; a D for offering disabled riders access to fixed-route buses; and a D for the duration of Able-Ride trips.

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