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In new audit of NICE bus service, punctuality hits speed bump

A NICE bus stops at the Mineola Intermodal

A NICE bus stops at the Mineola Intermodal Center Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

A new county audit of Nassau's bus system criticized NICE management for neither keeping tabs on how late some buses arrive nor doing enough to improve service or appease customers.

But Nassau Inter-County Express officials note that the audit by Nassau Comptroller George Maragos only considers outdated information, and does not take into account many improvements made over the past year and a half.

According to the audit, which looked at NICE data from the beginning of 2012 to the end of 2013, customer satisfaction dropped from 47 percent to 31 percent during that period, while incidence of buses failing to pick up waiting customers increased by 40 percent.

Most "shocking," Maragos said, is that NICE's parent company, Transdev (formerly Veolia Transportation) didn't measure on-time performance at all since taking over Nassau's bus system in January 2012 from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which previously ran it for 37 years.

"We expected better management -- for them to have brought in the better expertise that they represented they had, and to kind of hit the ground running and do better than the MTA," Maragos said Tuesday. "This is not an indictment of privatization. It's a wake-up call for management to do better. And I think they have the capacity to do better."

Although the newest data included in the report is 16 months old, Maragos said it was the most current available, and that he is not aware of any "significant improvements . . . that would give us an indication that the service has changed much."

But NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said he was disappointed that "a third of our entire life is left out of the data," and said NICE would have supplied auditors with more current information.

Setzer noted that ridership and customer satisfaction both improved in 2014, and that customer pass-ups "virtually ceased to be a problem at all."

Setzer added that NICE has always kept tabs on ridership, including by employing so-called "mystery riders," who log arrival times and report back to NICE. He said about 75 percent of buses are on time -- an improvement over 2012 and 2013.

NICE will have a better grasp on bus punctuality when it completes an ongoing $8 million technological upgrade that will allow the company to monitor all its buses in real time.

"On-time performance has always been a major focus," Setzer said. "To say we've done nothing about the customer complaints is misinformed, at least."

The audit noted that on-time performance on Able-Ride, NICE's door-to-door service for the disabled, improved from 81 percent in the first quarter of 2012 to 90 percent in the final quarter of 2013.

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