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Progress on privatizing Nassau bus service

Buses in front of the MTA's Garden City

Buses in front of the MTA's Garden City facility. (Nov. 30, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Nassau County's bus system Friday took a couple more important steps toward its planned Jan. 1 privatization, with the last of its vehicles passing state safety inspections and a plan finalized to allow riders continued MetroCard use for fares and transfers.

The last three of Nassau's 296 buses passed the state Department of Transportation inspections that began in early October, according to MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

The buses had to pass the inspections before the new operator, Veolia Transportation, takes over the system, which will be called Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE. County officials previously expressed concern over the inspections because vehicles were failing at a rate of 50 percent on the first try.

Michael Setzer, the incoming chief executive of NICE, applauded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for "pulling out the stops to complete the safety inspections so that all the available buses are approved to be put into service." The MTA has operated the county-owned system since 1973.

Also Friday, the MTA ironed out details of a "memorandum of understanding" with Nassau that will allow the bus system to continue using the MetroCard fare payment system.

Under the agreement, the MTA will receive 1.75 cents per MetroCard swipe. The agreement also will allow for free transfers between NICE bus and MTA subways or buses. Setzer called the agreement "a big win for both MTA and NICE riders."

County Executive Edward Mangano in June chose Veolia to take over the bus system from the MTA. Mangano has said the deal will save taxpayers $32 million annually.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority on Thursday approved the county's $106-million contract with Veolia.

"With routes maintained, stable fares and a more accountable system, riders should be excited that Nassau's NICE bus is ready to roll on January 1st," Mangano spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles said.

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