Transit advocates and LI Bus riders have been demanding for months to see the final service contract between Nassau County and Veolia Transportation, the private bus operator selected by the county to begin providing service next year. The county refused until last night, releasing the contract two days after Election Day and the day before Veterans Day, when county offices are closed. A first vote on the contract is scheduled for Monday in the County Legislature’s Rules Committee. You can’t make this stuff up.
The county also announced that LI Bus would be ironically rebranded the “NICE” (Nassau Inter-County Express) bus system. The county will name a five-person Transit Advisory Committee that must approve fare hikes, service cuts, and the annual bus budget, but as outlined below this committee appears to have very limited powers.
The contract (available here) has several troubling pieces:
- Veolia can cut six routes in the first 6 months and has the ability to reduce service as it sees fit without approval by the Transit Advisory Committee, as long as changes do not amount to more than a 25% service cut on any route;
- There is no guarantee of free transfers to NYC buses and subways, or MetroCard use. Losing free transfers would be a de facto fare increase for the 30,000 riders that link into the NYC system;
- Fare hikes are not planned for 2012, but Veolia can propose fare increases next year if revenue projections are not coming in as anticipated;
- If the Advisory Committee does not approve fare hikes, service cuts, or county funding increases requested by Veolia, the company appears to be able to terminate its contract. While an Annual Plan and Budget will be approved, it appears that it can be amended quarterly, putting the County on the hook for increases in “Variable Fees” (scheduled to go up by about $21 million by the ninth year of the contract alone);
- Reasons which Veolia can demand a fee increase quarterly include: an increase in fuel costs, operating costs, or “any other circumstance reasonably requiring that [rates] be adjusted … in order to maintain for Veolia the opportunity to earn a reasonable margin for overhead and profit for Veolia.”
- All Transit Advisory Committee members must be county residents, but do not need to be bus riders. There is no designated seat to represent riders or workers.
- There are no clear provisions for public access to Transit Advisory Committee meetings, except those required by state law.
There is one shred of good news, which is that Able-Ride service coverage will not change for two years. But with fares and service uncertainty in the months ahead, will it remain affordable? Federal law allows paratransit systems like Able-Ride to charge fares up to double that of the regular transit fare.
The county will hold a public hearing on the new contract at the Nassau County Executive and Legislative Building at 1550 Franklin Street in Mineola at a date and time to be determined.
Image: Via Nassau County.