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Monday, April 9, 2012

NICE bus riders cope with service changes


April 9, 2012 by ALFONSO A. CASTILLO / alfonso.castillo@newsday.com
Many Nassau bus riders got to work faster, while others were quite late Monday, on the first weekday since major service changes to NICE Bus took effect.
The changes included longer waits for buses and the elimination of midday service on some lines. Officials with Veolia Transportation, which operates the system, said they worked for weeks to spread word about the changes. But many riders were still caught off guard Monday.
"It's horrible," said Ebony Miller, who arrived at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in Hempstead unaware of the service changes. As a result, she and a friend missed their N48 bus and would have to wait nearly two hours for the next one. That meant she would be late to her job at the Century 21 in Westbury. "We're going to have to take a cab."
The service changes are aimed at closing a $7-million budget gap for Veolia, which took over the Long Island Bus system from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in January.
A Veolia spokeswoman said Monday that the only indication she had of how the morning commute went was that the volume of phone calls to NICE Bus was down.
Charlene Obernauer, of the newly formed Long Island Bus Riders Union, visited the Hempstead bus terminal Monday morning and said she was disappointed at the lack of communication between Veolia and riders.
"Quite frankly, if we weren't there this morning, I think people would have been even more confused," said Obernauer, who signed up 100 people from the station to her group Monday morning. "I think they needed to do better outreach."
The New York Public Interest Research Group surveyed 58 Nassau Community College students Monday and found that more than half did not see any posted signs during their commute about the changes or Veolia employees at stops to explain them to riders.
"Many . . . [students] had no idea that the service cuts were put into effect," NYPIRG spokesman Adam Garfiend said. "Students are afraid of being late to class and are unsure of how these service cuts will effect them."
Others were grateful for some of the service changes, which Veolia officials said would benefit far more people than they would hurt. Some improvements included the addition of new express service to Jamaica from Hempstead and from Hicksville, and restored service to Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.
The facility had been without bus service since 2010 -- driving some employees to walk along the Southern State Parkway to get to work, and discouraging some patients from visiting altogether.
Sister Mary Alice Aschenbach, vice president of pastoral care at the hospital, said those most affected were pregnant women who relied on the hospital's Women's and Children's Outpatient Center.
"It has been a significant hardship for . . . [patients] to be without the bus, and both they and the hospital are most grateful to Veolia Transportation for restoring the service," Aschenbach said in a statement.
At the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road station, Henry Lee had to wait an extra half-hour for the N49, but said he didn't mind, because the new timetable was better coordinated with arriving trains.
"This is good for people," Lee said.

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