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Letter: The Nassau-Veolia Partnership

Last week [This letter was received Dec. 20], the Nassau County Legislature unanimously approved a contract that is the basis for a public-private operating partnership between the county and Veolia Transportation to operate the new Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, bus system. But, of even greater significance is that Nassau took a key step toward forming a true county transit system.

Prior to voting, the legislature worked closely with the county executive to insert numerous amendments to the original contract that create more public involvement on proposed future adjustments to the system. The contract spells out how the county will for the first time assume control over its own bus system, including fares, service levels, service plans, and annual operating budget.

The Nassau-Veolia partnership has been described in many media reports as “privatization.” It is not. Privatization defines an outright purchase of all assets and full management control of the system by a private, third-party. In fact, the county retains control of much of the strategic decision-making. It still owns all the assets (buses, garages, transit centers, equipment, etc.), receives all the Federal and State transportation grant funds that it did previously.

This partnership gives bus riders and county taxpayers the best of both worlds: public sector oversight and control with elected leaders determining policies, budgets and overall direction, with a private sector component that brings cost effectiveness, efficiencies and the expertise that comes from managing major transit systems throughout the world.

The contract strongly incentivizes Veolia to provide as much service as available funding sources allow, not less, and to obtain additional funding to grow the service. Veolia’s compensation in large part will be based on the hours of service it provides. It will also be rewarded for providing higher quality service that attracts more riders, which will increase farebox revenues. Our goal is to provide the maximum amount of service for each dollar that is available to the system.

Veolia is a world leader in partnering with local governments and authorities to provide affordable, high-quality transportation services. We have mobilized dozens of our transportation experts from many disciplines, from across the country, to help build a strong infrastructure and ensure a smooth transition to NICE. Veolia will be ready to roll on January 1, 2012 and looks forward to serving Nassau County bus riders.

Michael Setzer
Mr. Setzer is vice president of Veolia
Transportation and will serve as chief
executive of NICE bus.