The Team at NICE Bus prides itself on its innovative spirit and the ability to think like a start-up. Our Team Leaders embrace creative problem-solving and out-of-the-box thinking to identify solutions supporting safe and reliable transportation services for the residents of Nassau County.
New-thinking is encouraged throughout our organization to advance the transportation experience on Long Island. Through collaboration, we seek to find and develop strategies for innovative scheduling technology, new ways to deliver service, new ideas in safety management, autonomous technologies, and sustainability practices for improving our local environment. These all play a role in the way we deliver services here at NICE. The innovations below are a snapshot of the advancements at play here in Nassau County.
Enhancing the Customer Experience
• Real-Time Capacity –
Thanks to a new partnership with the Transit app, NICE is one of 38 agencies worldwide offering real-time bus capacity information via the Transit app. Riders can see where their bus is currently running on the route, and – for the first time – receive information on how full the bus is. Those waiting for a bus can get data showing whether the approaching bus is "not crowded" ( < 25% of seats taken •), "crowded" ( >75% of seats taken •••) or "some crowding" (somewhere in between ••), as the bus approaches their location. This provides riders with actionable information on whether the bus en-route to their stop has enough available seats for them to ride comfortably, or if they should wait for the next vehicle. The real-time capacity information is available via the Transit app, which can be downloaded for free at the App Store or on Google Play.
• Print-Your-Own Timetables –
In 2020, NICE released re-designed timetables formatted so riders can print them from home. To combat the spread of Covid-19 while promoting sustainability efforts, the S&P team reimagined its former broadsheet schedules into a streamlined design, providing key timepoints for its most popular stops along each route. The new design makes the timetables more accessible while being easier to understand.
They also provide a new feature – passenger load predictions – based on historical ridership data. When looking at the new schedules, a key pictured next to the scheduled trip shows a similar capacity range from • to ••• mentioned above to estimate passenger counts at any given time. The new feature can help riders plan for confidence and comfort when making travel arrangements.
• Real-Time Arrival –
NICE continues to expand multi-modal real-time arrival information, including the
use of digital signage and enhancements to the GoMobile app. New digital signage is now accessible with installations at key NICE Transit Centers including Hempstead Transit Center and Mineola Intermodal Center. New solar powered,
Wi-Fi enabled countdown signage is also scheduled for installation at major
stops along the n4 and n6 – two of our busiest routes – in 2022.
• AWARE Wayfinder App for accessibility –
NICE has been recognized by METRO Magazine as the first public transit agency to incorporate Wayfinder beacons at a transportation hub to provide turn-by-turn voice guidance for the sight-impaired. Partnering with AWARE Wayfinder, one of the top accessibility smartphone applications nationwide, NICE installed Bluetooth activated beacons that helps guide users step-by-step, directing them around the Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center. The technology gives confidence to users as they navigate one of the busiest bus transit centers in the nation, ensuring users reach the correct bay to board the proper bus to their desired destination. HTC boasts 24 bays servicing upwards of 20 different routes, making navigation of the center complex for those who may not frequent NICE service. AWARE is free at the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
• Able-Ride Passenger Notifications –
A new personalized communication program has transformed the Able-Ride experience, providing paratransit riders with real-time updates from the moment a reservation is placed to the moment an operator has arrived at their door. Passengers can opt to receive text, voice, or email updates on the status of their ride, and receive personalized real-time arrival links specific to their reservation tracking the location of the bus, similar to Uber. The Passenger Alert System, created by NICE's operator Transdev, launched in March 2018 helping optimize the more than 25,000 trips made each month. This new technology has spurred a steep increase in customer satisfaction since its inception, with a 94% satisfaction score reported by Q2 2019.
Optimizing Operations & Technology
• Introducing OptiBus Analytics –
As one of the largest public transportation systems in the nation, ensuring NICE delivers the best service possible for the residents in Nassau County starts with our Scheduling and Planning (S&P) capabilities. S&P optimizes the movements of every vehicle and driver, using data and technology to create quarterly schedules based upon the service needs of the county.
In the Spring of 2019, NICE partnered with Optibus, an innovative cloud based schedule and planning software provider, to take a deep dive into our operating performance and make the most of the NICE transit system. Optibus provides more detailed insight into how each routing decision affects operations, on-time performance, and costs. S&P finished a total overhaul of all schedules using OptiBus resulting in 85%+ on-time performance by Q4 2020, the highest OTP level in NICE Bus history.
Optibus provides S&P solutions for some of the most complex and large-scale transit operations in the world, helping improve quality of service and efficiency, reduce costs, streamline operations and reduce congestion and emissions. NICE is among the first systems in the United States to benefit from its new advancements in technology.
• Whip Around Operator Reporting –
NICE is excited to be one of the largest operators in the nation to digitize its fleet compliance and maintenance reporting system. Before an operator leaves for a route, and upon their return, they are required to inspect the bus to note any mechanical or physical issues with the vehicle. With an average of 444 vehicle pullouts and just as many returns to our depot each weekday, there are nearly 1,000 Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR) completed daily. Partnering with Whip Around, a web-based vehicle inspection management system, NICE completed the transition to digital reporting across the paratransit division in March 2019, with fixed-route integration completed in 2020. The Whip Around real-time reporting system keeps our maintenance and transportation team aware of immediate concerns, improving efficiency across the entire NICE system. With this new tablet-based technology, paper reporting has been eliminated from our paratransit division and will soon be a thing of the past across the company, optimizing day-to-day operations. It is also a win for our environmental sustainability program.
Exploring New Service Models
• Elmont Flexi –
Initially launched as a pilot program in early 2017, FLEXI was one of the nation’s first fixed-route/on-demand hybrid routes. Operating as a fixed-route, the vehicle can deviate upon request to predetermined on-demand stops, including the local hospital, allowing the route to serve a larger footprint more efficiently by responding to individual rider needs.
Since the pilot launch, ridership has doubled to approximately 400 daily riders – roughly 2,000 riders a week – with weekday service running mornings and evenings. In July 2019, Elmont FLEXI was expanded offering larger vehicles and an expanded PEAK schedule, running earlier and later during the AM and PM rush to help meet growing ridership demand.
• Port Washington Shuttle –
This solutions-based pilot aims to address two challenges affecting the residents of Port Washington and Roslyn on Nassau's North Shore. Commuter parking is an established challenge for Port Washington, while its business district lacks access to convenient transit routes.
Launched in January 2019, the Port Washington Shuttle aims to help LIRR commuters and employees of the West Shore Road business district get to work on-time. The pilot service provides morning and evening peak commuter service to the Port Washington LIRR and connections to NICE Bus routes with a free transfer. The shuttle then continues its mid-morning service along West Shore Road, servicing area businesses surrounding the Roslyn Clock Tower, Industrial Park, and Fairway Drive among other established stops. This community shuttle is being offered on a pilot basis to explore ridership and demand in the Port Washington and Roslyn area with funding through 2019.
• Buzz Commuter Shuttle-Share –
NICE is taking on the first-mile/last-mile challenge by simplifying the commuter rush hour to and from LIRR stations. Known as "Buzz," the service model is designed to help alleviate the acute shortage of commuter parking spaces and traffic congestion surrounding LIRR stations. Buzz operates as a low-cost, subscription-based “shuttle-share” service, following weekly customized routing to get subscribers to and from their homes to the station. Launched as a pilot program with Great Neck Parks in January 2019, Buzz saw a spike in rider demand, and technology is now being optimized to launch full-time this fall 2019. This innovative rideshare model uses smartphone technology to coordinate customized on-line reservations, design vehicle routing, and communicate with subscribers. Unlike other popular rideshare solutions, it is completely accessible for all mobility supports and can carry up to 20 passengers at a time, eliminating the abundance of vehicles dropping off/picking up at area stations.
• NICE Link –
Established as Nassau's very own "Uber-like" rideshare service, LINK offered on-demand service at a fixed $4.50 public-transit price. Designed to promote accessibility in rideshare while easing vehicle congestion and surge-pricing, the pilot program was made available through NICE's smartphone app. Riders could book, pay for trips, and access real-time location information in the palm of their hand, similar to private transit applications.
Serviced by a 26-foot shuttle, NICE could accommodate multiple passengers seeking popular locations, all while being fully accessible for riders utilizing a mobility support.
While ridership did not warrant an expansion of the program, the six-month-long pilot promoted adaption of NICE's GoMobile payment app while providing ridership data for the pilot area. Advancements in the GoMobile app technology were also used to enhance NICE's paratransit division known as Able-Ride.
Sustainable Transit Solutions
• Clean Bus CNG Program Expands –
In May 2018, NICE launched its newly expanded Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling station, making the headquarters at Mitchel Field the largest Clean Bus operation in North America. We utilize CNG to fuel our more than 300 vehicle fleet. CNG buses emit over 90% less particulate mass than conventional diesel, reducing our environmental impact on our county, our region, and our planet. Our newly expanded CNG station is capable of fueling four transit buses simultaneously, and up to 300 buses in eight hours. Fueling times have been cut in half, reaching full levels in just three minutes. Nassau County started its Clean Bus program in 1992 with only 12 buses, taking until 2002 to transition the entire fleet.
A Culture of Safety
• Safe Training Simulator –
NICE is proud to train its operators using the most advanced driving simulation technology available in the country. Created by FAAC Incorporated, the leaders in air and land training simulation, the simulator is said to reduce accidents by up to 60 percent while improving driver safety and efficiency. The state-of-the-art simulator training program launched in August 2018, strengthening NICE safety procedures and building operator confidence before even taking the wheel. It provides our operators with a space for learning and improving upon their driving in a safe yet lifelike environment. Offering a 330-degree field of view, operators immerse themselves in vivid, virtual environments typical of what they might find in the field. Trainers have developed real-life scenarios, including navigating Hempstead Transit Center and areas around Jamaica, helping prepare novice operators for our most challenging situations. The effects are improved operator safety skills while honing effective forward-planning and good judgment under pressure. Operators can expect the unexpected because they have experienced it firsthand. The simulator is a mandatory part of new-operator training and ongoing retraining for the NICE team.
• FTA Security Check Pilot –
NICE has volunteered to be the Federal Transportation Administration's (TSA) first operator in New York to participate in the "Security Enhancement Through Assessment (SETA)" program – a means for strengthening and assessing our daily operating security measures here at NICE at no additional cost to Nassau County. SETA programs are designed to reduce the incidence of accidental security breaches that occur due to employee awareness. The three-phase program establishes a baseline for security measure, with employee training and an eventual reassessment to foster and maintain effective security culture. TSA agents started phase-one of the program in May 2019, placing ten marked bags in ten randomly selected buses to observe whether drivers completed proper inspections to find the bags and report them. Operators located nine out of ten, a positive start from the national average of four out of ten. Ongoing training will continue throughout 2019 before the program is ready to implement statewide.