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Veolia one of biggest transit operators

Veolia Transportation is one of the largest private transit system operators in North America, running bus, rail, paratransit, taxi and airport shuttle services in cities across the United States and Canada.

The company is the North American transportation division of Veolia Environnement, a massive French company that operates transport, water, waste and energy systems around the world. The parent company, which according to its website has annual revenue of $48 billion, is traded on the New York and Paris stock exchanges.

Veolia Transportation runs Boston's commuter rail, and bus systems in Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., among more than 200 transportation contracts in the United States and Canada. It employs some 18,000 people, according to its website, and is one of the largest transit operators both in terms of ridership and the number of systems it operates.

While Veolia Transportation was lauded in 2009 for a safety initiative in Phoenix, its safety record in the United States has been marred by several fatal crashes and other incidents that spurred investigations.

One of those was the 2008 collision of a Metrolink train with a freight train in Chatsworth, Calif. A federal investigation of the crash, which killed 25 and injured 135, concluded that the engineer failed to stop at a red signal because he was sending text messages. Investigators also found that the engineer's managers previously had observed him using a cellphone while on the job.

Veolia Transportation North America chief executive officer Mark Joseph said: "Every major operator in the country, whether public or private, unfortunately has accidents and sometimes they can be bad ones. But we do everything in our power to avoid those accidents, and we are proud of our safety record."

Michael Setzer, who will serve as chief executive of Veolia's Long Island Bus operation, said Friday that Veolia has "a very good safety record compared to our industry in general, which is good."

In a statement, Veolia said its bus driver training program exceeds federal and state guidelines.

In 2009, it won a GOLD safety award from the American Public Transportation Association, an industry group, for reducing the risk of bus crashes in its Phoenix operation.

Other past troubles include a Veolia subsidiary's loss of its airport shuttle-service contract in Fort Lauderdale, after two crashes that resulted in three deaths.

A Broward County, Fla., investigation in 2007 found that 10 company employees should not have been allowed to drive vans because they had accumulated too many points on their driver's licenses.

The same year, Veolia's bus system in Gwinnett County, Ga., was the target of a scathing audit after a five-month stretch in which three of its buses caught fire.

The county's audit, which Veolia officials did not dispute, found serious problems with the bus system's training, maintenance and safety. A year later, the county renewed Veolia's contract, saying the company had turned things around.

"The good news is that Veolia stepped up," Phil Boyd, the county's transit division director, said Friday. Boyd was named director after the audit and established weekly reporting to monitor the company's maintenance and safety.

Veolia Transportation is fighting to keep its contract in Las Vegas, where for 19 years it had run a system carrying 65 million people per year. Last month, the Las Vegas transit commission awarded the contract to one of Veolia's national rivals, First Transit, of Cincinnati, which also bid for Long Island Bus.

The commission had been facing major service cuts, and hoped to avoid many of them by opting for First Transit, whose bid over a seven-year period was $50 million less than Veolia's.

Veolia Transportation is part of Veolia Environnement's international transportation division, which until recently was called Veolia Transport. In March, Veolia Transport merged with Transdev, a transportation company owned by French state bank Caisse des Depots. Now called Veolia Transdev, it operates light-rail systems in Barcelona and the acclaimed TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit system in Bogota.

With Alfonso A. Castillo

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