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Report: NICE bus stop announcements fall short for disabled riders

Angela Davis, of Hempstead, center, a member fo

Angela Davis, of Hempstead, center, a member fo the Long Island Bus Riders Union gathers with other union members and bus riders to call on Veolia to improve bus service for people with disabilities. (Oct. 29, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau Inter County Express bus service must improve its audible and visual stop announcements to adequately serve the system's disabled riders, according to a report released Tuesday by a passenger advocacy group.

The group, Long Island Bus Riders' Union, made the statement in its annual "report card" on NICE bus service, which covered several facets of the system's level of service to disabled people.

The group criticized NICE, saying it found that 46 percent of buses monitored made no onboard auditory and visual stop announcements, Charlene Obernauer, the group's founder, said. Also, 84 percent of buses monitored made no external route identification and destination announcements, Obernauer said.

The visual and audible announcements are especially important to blind or deaf riders, and are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.

"The ADA is a law, not a choice," Obernauer said.

NICE signed a contract in September to revamp the communications system on its entire fleet of 300 buses, said Andy Kraus, a spokesman for the transit service. Those improvements will include automated onboard systems for auditory and visual stop announcements, he said.

Kraus said the system is in the design phase and will be installed by the end of 2014. He agreed that the communication systems on most buses now are "outdated," but added that 45 new buses that came into service a year ago have updated systems.

"NICE inherited a very outdated system," Kraus said. "It needs to be replaced, clearly."

The bus riders' union, a campaign of Hauppauge-based Long Island Jobs With Justice, unveiled its report at a rally at the Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center. Several riders who spoke at the event also criticized the bus system's level of service for disabled people.

Angela Davis, 60, of Hempstead, who has cerebral palsy, said she relies on the buses to get around and needs them to be more reliable about timetables.

"We need buses to pick up on time," Davis said. "They are getting better but they are still off."

NICE, which is operated by Veolia Transportation, took over the Nassau County bus service in January 2012 and has an annual budget of $113 million, of which $2.6 million is funded by the county.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano declined to comment through a spokesman.

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