OFFICIAL BUSRIDE ROAD TEST: NICE and TransitWorks partner for Able-Ride

This Nassau agency knows it can depend on the Ohio-based manufacturer to meet its expanding expectations for safety and reliability


NICE Bus, Nassau County, Long Island, July 20, 2017
Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Transdev has effectively and efficiently operated the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) service in Nassau County, NY, since 2012. Born from one of the first public-private transportation partnerships in the U.S., NICE maintains a sterling track record because of the Transdev team’s commitment to customer-centric decision making and responsiveness to rider needs and concerns.

As part of this service, NICE operates the Able-Ride paratransit service. With 1.4 million residents in Nassau County, Able-Ride provides approximately 1,400 rides per day. It serves 285 square miles of service area with a mixed fleet of 110 vehicles.

“Almost immediately after service launch, some of our paratransit customers began complaining about the ride comfort of the then-current fleet,” says Jack Khzouz, chief administration officer for Transdev in Nassau County. “They were about 12 years old and nearing the ends of their useful lives, so we knew it was time for a change.”

Concerns stemmed from the truck chassis of the aging current fleet, which were translating to rougher, truck-like rides for paratransit customers.

“We needed a solution which was much more flexible than the then-current fleet,” Khzouz says.

The search is on

TransitWorks began in 1997 as the manufacturer of commercial vans for MobilityWorks, an accessibility solutions provider from Akron, OH.  In 2014, TransitWorks was established as a separate manufacturing and sales entity to build accessible mobility vans and shuttles at their facilities in Ohio and Kansas.

“NICE wanted a vehicle with a more ‘OEM-type’ body, as opposed to a typical cutaway,” says John Bollinger, product support manager at TransitWorks.  “Also, their drivers have to deal with a lot of tight, narrow turns in New York City, and ours is a European-styled van. It was perfect for that application.”

NICE Bus, Nassau County, Long Island, July 20, 2017
Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Built on the Ford Transit commercial van, TransitWorks’ signature vehicle for NICE features a custom walk-in entry at the front passenger door, wheelchair lift from BraunAbility and the patented SmartFloor by AMF-Bruns. The SmartFloor allows operators to slide (and not lift) the vehicle’s Freedman seats into different configurations – providing room for up to 15 passengers, depending on an agency’s needs.

In 2015, NICE sent out a Information for Bid (IFB) for 34 vehicles which they ultimately awarded to Creative Bus Sales Company, with TransitWorks as upfitter.

The AMF-Bruns SmartFloor exclusively from TransitWorks allows agencies to easily switch between multiple seat configurations.
Photos by Bruce Gilbert

“We needed a vehicle that was flexible, which allowed us more efficiency in its operations, easier maintenance, better fuel economy and – most importantly – a much more comfortable ride for our passengers,” Khzouz says. “With that understanding, we built a spec that wasn’t targeted toward any specific vehicle. Once we were introduced to the TransitWorks solution and compared it to a lot of others, we liked what we saw.”

Bollinger himself drove a prototype vehicle to New York for a thorough NICE review, before deliveries were to be completed. After keeping the vehicle for a brief review process and New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) inspection, NICE had a few notes for the manufacturer. TransitWorks readily accepted them and got to work.

“These vehicles each come with a DVR camera system, and its original mounting position didn’t  comply with NYSDOT,” Bollinger says. “We’re always ready to accommodate our customers, so we designed a bracket and relocated the system before we finished building the remaining 33 vehicles.”

Rave reviews

TransitWorks completed deliveries in September 2016, and thus far feedback has been positive – from the NICE team, as well as the local community.

More than anything, the new vehicles provide reliability, an understandable platform and easy serviceability to NICE. According to Khzouz, with NICE providing 1,400 paratransit rides per day, the TransitWorks platform’s reliability can’t be understated.

“In extreme temperatures, whether they be cold or hot, transit vehicles tend to be a little fussy,” he says. “With this vehicle, that really doesn’t seem to be a problem.”

Khzouz says that NICE technicians have found the vehicles to be easily serviced without too much additional training required. The platform is relatively simple and straightforward, and he says support from TransitWorks has been exceptional.

“When we do have an issue, it is easily solved through discussion with a provider – either TransitWorks, AMF Bruns, BraunAbility or Freedman. We have found that to be really important for providing service to our daily clients.”

Most importantly, Khzouz says the vehicle’s less prominent (but no less important) features meet and exceed the agency’s stringent safety requirements. Khzouz says newer innovations – like non-skid commercial-grade flooring, a more robust wheelchair lift, increased driver visibility and expanded interior height for standing room clearance – are exactly what they were looking for in a safe vehicle.

Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Perhaps most importantly, NICE drivers and customer service representatives are receiving a lot of positive feedback from riders. Many have commented on the improved, “car-like” ride for a high-capacity vehicle.

“Furthermore, because of better clearance and maneuverability, the vehicles are providing much faster and efficient door-to-door service, of which passengers are appreciative.” Khzouz says. “It all allows us to increase safety and reliability, and enhance the customer experience.”

That increased maneuverability has translated to happier
drivers, too.

“The TransitWorks van allows us to operate in our suburban-to-urban environment with a much safer feeling, and it gives the driver a little more confidence when driving,” he says. “Stopping ratios and side-to-side clearance are all very complementary on this vehicle.”

Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Looking to the future

The TransitWorks team believes that it’s their vehicle’s unique safety features, combined with its ability to meet the needs of many varying applications, which separates them from their competitors.

“It’s all about the way we build,” Bollinger says. “We put our vehicles through a lot of testing to ensure safety and compliance – more than a lot of other van upfitters. In my opinion, it’s all worthwhile to put a product on the road that not many other companies can match.”

With a reliable fleet to build upon, NICE and the AbleRide service are well-equipped to continue serving their paratransit community and expanding transit options in the future – perhaps even into on-demand transportation, Khzouz says.

“As we move forward in the transit space, every agency is looking for safety and dependability,” he says. “Beyond those two foundational goals, at NICE we look for innovation and flexibility. These vehicles allow us both. Because of innovative design, we can service areas which are inaccessible to larger buses. And because of the flexibility of both TransitWorks and NICE, we are continuing to find innovative ways to use these vehicles.”