by Eden Laikin
A public-private partnership to operate Nassau’s bus system would provide a greater level of fare stability for riders; restore the MTA’s planned route cuts; preserve the Able-Ride service; and reduce the cost to taxpayers, both County Executive Edward P. Mangano and a statewide transportation expert told the County Legislature and residents who attended a hearing today on the new private bus operator.
In his remarks, Mangano outlined how Veolia Transportation was one of three firms answered a request for proposals offered by the County after the MTA threatened to leave Nassau’s 100,000 bus riders stranded and terminated their contract to operate the bus system.
“The MTA demanded $26 million dollars more of our money on an annual basis,” Mangano told the packed chambers. “And if we didn’t give them $26 million dollars more of our taxpayer’s hard earned income – the MTA’s plan was to slash bus service. Slash 27 routes. Slash Able-Ride service. That was unacceptable!”
Mangano said the County will maintain ownership of all assets, vehicles and facilities. Veolia will report to a Transit Committee, which oversees its performance. The Transit Committee will have five members, all Nassau County residents.
“We were challenged to find a better way – a smarter way – a more efficient way to operate the bus system,” Mangano said. “Today, I know it is possible to provide a public sector service with private sector efficiencies.”
Mangano said the MTA has increased fares by 50% over the past 3 years, while at the same time collecting a $100 million dollar payroll tax from Nassau businesses.
“In the MTA process, Nassau County had one voice among 22 board members,” Mangano continued. “Now, Nassau County will have local oversight over the bus operator through a 100% Nassau County Resident Transit Committee. Fares cannot be raised unless approved by our local Transit Committee.”
Mangano ended his remarks by saying: “Last March we were told by the MTA we had two choices – write a check for an additional $26 million dollars or see 27 routes slashed and thousands of people a day stuck at their bus stop, or even worse, stuck in their homes. With the assistance of State Senator Charles Fuschillo, we preserved routes for 2011. And, in just 8 months, Nassau County has proven a third choice existed…a proven model of public and private partnership…and it is a better choice for all.”
Mangano then introduced Mark Aesch, former CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, whom the County retained earlier this year to assist with the transition from the MTA to Veolia.
Aesch called the County-Veolia public-private partnership “revolutionary” and said it would stabilize fares for the riding public, improve the quality of service, preserve jobs for members of organized labor, reduce reliance on local taxpayer dollars by millions and for the first time, give Nassau County control.
“Everything detractors said might happen with this private company over the next 5 years has already happened over the last 5 years,” Aesch said.
Under MTA leadership, LI Bus experiences a 62% on-time percentage, with 10% of the buses never pulling out of the garage – leaving 10,000 riders standing at bus stops, he said. In other states, Veolia’s systems have between 94 to 97% on-time records. Veolia makes money for every ride.
Nassau County’s bus system will be the largest privately managed public transportation system in the nation, Aesch said. The second largest is Veolia, as is the third largest, he added.
Aesch said the County can get out of this contract within 90 days and Veolia has to give 1 years notice before pulling out if it decides to.