Nassau OKs Veolia takeover of LI Bus

Nassau Legislator Peter Schmitt, County Executive Edward Mangano, Nassau Legislator Peter Schmitt, County Executive Edward Mangano, and Legislator Kevan Abrahams comment about the unanimously approved bus contract in Mineola. (Dec. 12, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau lawmakers Monday unanimously approved County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to shift county bus service to a private operator from the MTA.

After hearing from worried riders and drivers last week, and despite questions about an ownership change, the county legislature voted 18-0 in favor of Nassau's contract with Veolia Transportation of Lombard, Ill.

Mangano said after the vote, "Nassau's public-private partnership with Veolia symbolizes a new, smarter and more efficient way of providing services in Nassau County."

The bus system is county-owned but has been run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 1973.

Incoming minority leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Democrats agreed to the deal after the five-year contract was amended to include three conditions: fares would not be increased for a year; Able Ride, the transit service for disabled riders, would not be reduced for three years instead of the originally proposed two-year period; and future fare increases or route changes would require two public hearings before a five-member transit committee made up of Nassau residents and a 45-day waiting period.

The committee has the power to approve an annual plan, budgets, fare changes and route modifications.

Legis. Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) was absent.

Noting that 100,000 people ride the bus daily in Nassau, Abrahams said, "We cannot take the risk of leaving thousands of bus riders stranded at their stops."

Abrahams joined Mangano and Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) at a news conference after the vote, where they lauded their effort to put the deal together.

Schmitt congratulated fellow Republican Mangano for "stepping outside the box" to find an alternative to the MTA, which threatened to cut bus service if the county did not pay $26 million more a year. The county had been paying the MTA $9.1 million to maintain existing service.

He said Republicans had decided early on that "no way, no how were we going to retain the service from the MTA." He said the MTA is leaving 10 percent of riders stranded every day and that 50 percent of the buses do not pass inspections.

"Anything has to be better than what we were getting," he said.

The MTA, which has operated LI Bus for 38 years, is set to run its last bus in Nassau on Dec. 31.

Michael Setzer, a Veolia official who is expected to become chief executive of the Nassau operation, said, "We're really looking ahead to getting started Jan. 1. I'm confident we will show steady progress from the first day."

However, Patricia Bowden, head of Local 252 Transport Workers Union, which represents about 800 Nassau bus workers, said Veolia has yet to reach agreement with the union.

"My members have nothing. No hospitalization, nothing," she said. She said union members would meet Sunday and hinted they may strike Jan. 1 because they no longer would be subject to the Taylor Law, which prohibits public workers from walking out.

"I hope my members will work," she said.

Setzer told lawmakers that Veolia is offering jobs to 96 percent of the TWU workers, with the wages and benefits "to be determined by the collective-bargaining process." He said it is in the best interests of both sides to reach agreement and "labor contracts always settle at the 11th hour."

At Monday's meeting, chief deputy county executive Rob Walker and Veolia officials assured lawmakers that the planned ownership change in Veolia's parent company would not affect Nassau operations.

Mangano officials said if there are any problems, the county can opt out of the contract with 90 days' notice.

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