Some bus lines eliminated by NICE in January will return as “hybrid” routes that will only make certain stops if riders reserve them by phone at least two hours in advance, transit officials said Thursday.
Nassau Inter-County Express officials detailed their plans to restore most of the 11 routes, axed in January, at a meeting of the county’s Bus Transit Committee, which also approved the agency’s approximate $131 million annual operating budget Thursday.
While all but two routes eliminated in the cost-saving cuts will come back by September, some will look quite different. Rather than continuing operating 40-foot buses on some of the routes, which NICE has said carried relatively few riders, the agency has ordered eight smaller buses that it will use in a way that has “never been done before” in Nassau.
The N2 and N8, serving portions of southwestern Nassau including Elmont, will return in September as “Flexibuses,” which will only make some stops when riders reserve them ahead of time by phone. The so-called “on-demand” stops could include those that were previously part of the regular route, but will also include some locations that were not previously served by NICE, such as Northwell Franklin Hospital, NICE Chief Executive Officer Michael Setzer said.
“We think this actually provides better service for some people,” Setzer said. “I hope this is very successful and the public likes it and wants more of this type of service.”
While some members of the committee praised the idea, which NICE officials said was inspired by similar service models in Europe, committee member Aaron Watkins-Lopez, who represents bus riders, said he was “not sold at all” on the plan. The on-demand service will require riders to place their reservations, which could be taken up to 24 hours in advance, with the same call center that already handles reservations for Able-Ride, Nassau’s door-to-door paratransit service for the disabled.
“It’s great that you’re going to have the on-demand service, but you’re now going to open up the service to people who maybe weren’t utilizing it before. And I don’t think that, at the current capacity, the Able-Ride call center is going to be able to handle the influx,” said Watkins-Lopez, who noted that Able-Ride customers already have long waits for reservations and pickups.
NICE officials said they are bulking up their call center to handle the increased demand, and expect to eventually be able to let riders make reservations online. Addressing concerns that the unpredictable number of stops on a “Flexibus” could make schedules unreliable, NICE spokesman Jack Khzouz, acknowledged there would be a “learning curve” in the earliest stages of offering the service.
In another first, NICE plans to bring back eliminated routes in Rockville Centre, Freeport and Wantagh-Hicksville as “community shuttles” that would pick up and drop off riders at stops during peak hours, but be used exclusively for door-to-door Able-Ride service for the disabled during middays and evenings.
NICE officials said the new service is more efficient and should realize cost savings in future years.