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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Veolia CEO Mike Setzer "Agrees" With LI Bus Riders' Union Recommendations

by Charlene Obernauer

According to today's Newsday article, Veolia CEO Mike Setzer "agreed with the [the Bus Riders' Union's] recommendations and [is] working to address them." We are relieved to hear that our Report, From Privatization to Discrimination, is being taken seriously by Veolia and that Mr. Setzer is willing to take our recommendations into consideration.

Most notably, our No-to-Low Cost Recommendations include:

  1. Maintain constant supply of bus schedules at terminals, bus stops, and on buses
  2.  Maintain multi-lingual communication and audible announcements to riders
  3. Maintain "Request-a-stop" Late Night service on NICE Bus, as existed on the LI Bus 

    We are calling for better service in Nassau County because we believe that bus riders deserve better service. Today's service adjustments, particularly those that involve cutting weekend and evening service and cutting back the frequency of routes; will have a drastic impact on some Nassau County bus riders.

    We want to see NICE bus:

    4. Expand late-night and Sunday Service and maintain off-peak hours
    5. Stabilize fares at $2.25 for NICE and $3.75 for Able-Ride for five years
    6. Restore routes cut by the MTA and implement no service cuts

    We recognize that while our no-to-low cost demands should be implemented immediately, and some involve simply following federal guidelines; prioritizing Nassau County bus riders will require increased subsidies from Nassau County, otherwise a future of drastic service cuts and fare increases will be inevitable.

    We welcome the support of NICE bus in implementing our proposed changes, and we hope to be able to work with the company as the process continues.

    Service "Adjustments" Announced for NICE Bus

    Early this morning, NICE bus announced several service changes to their bus system, including the elimination of midday service for:

    N21 (1996 daily riders*)
    N43 (1846 daily riders)
    N45 (433 daily riders)
    N48 (1322 daily riders)
    N78 (762 daily riders)
    N62 (189 daily riders)

    The service changes also cut Saturday service for the N51 (278 daily riders) and the N45. For more information and schedules of your routes, please visit the NICE website. If you ride one of the lines that would be cut, or generally want to speak to the impact of the cuts on you or someone you know, contact us today.

    * Ridership figures based on statistics from September, 2010.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Press Conference Huge Success

    Long Island Bus Riders Union’ Calls for Better Bus Service in Nassau County

    Garden City, NYWorried about the future of Nassau County’s bus service and in light of recent announcements of service cuts and a budget deficit, the newly formed Long Island Bus Riders’ Union gave their take on how Veolia can provide better bus service in Nassau County. They released a critical set of demands for better bus service in a report entitled “From Privatization to Discrimination,” which pointed to Veolia’s Federal Transit Administration violations in regards to multi-lingual and audible communications. The report made a list of changes that must be implemented immediately for Veolia to follow federal guidelines, and also detailed a long-term plan for public transportation in Nassau County.

    The Press Conference was held the day before NICE will have two days of public hearings on service cuts, which Veolia claims is due to a budget shortfall of $7.3 million dollars.

    Bus riders were upset that NICE is considering additional service cuts, considering that late-night service already has been cut for several popular routes.

    As one bus rider and Hicksville resident, Richard Clolery, stated, “When I leave work at Stop and Shop in East Meadow, there is no bus service late at night. It costs me $11 dollars to take a cab back home.”

    The Bus Riders’ Union wants to see Nassau County work with Veolia in order to ensure that bus riders do not have to worry about potential cuts to their service and drastic increases in their monthly bills as a result.

    Prioritizing Nassau County bus riders will require increased subsidies from Nassau County, otherwise a future of drastic service cuts and fare increases will be inevitable,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of Long Island Jobs with Justice.

    Riders Demand Better NICE Bus Service

    Riders demand better NICE Bus service

    February 21, 2012 by ALFONSO A. CASTILLO /

    Riders exit a NICE bus at the Roosevelt
    A newly formed watchdog group of Nassaubus riders released its demands Tuesday for better service from NICE Bus -- the day before the system's private operator will unveil plans to reduce service on some routes.

    At a news conference outside the Garden City headquarters of Nassau Inter-County Express Bus, the Long Island Bus Riders' Union released its report titled "From Privatization to Discrimination," which pointed out ways it says the system's new bus operator, Veolia Transportation, is not adequately serving some of its riders.

    Veolia took over operation of the county system on Jan. 1 from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which had run it since 1973.
    The watchdog group's report notes that Veolia did not properly notify residents who speak Spanish or are vision-impaired of its plans to hold community meetings Wednesday and Thursday about cutting some service to fill a $7.3-million budget gap. Veolia published its notifications only in English, the group said.
    The report presented several "no-to-low cost" improvements to service, including keeping a constant stock of bus schedules at terminals, stops and buses, keeping audible announcements on all buses for each stop, and making its schedules and customer service phone line available in languages other than English.

    The riders' union also called on Veolia to be mindful of all its customers when enacting planned service changes, which the company has said will target lines with low ridership.

    "We're concerned about the way that the service cuts are going to impact people who ride buses not just during working hours," said Charlene Obermauer, executive director of Long Island Jobs for Justice, which organized the riders' union.

    "Bus riders don't just rely on the bus to go to work," she said. "They rely on the bus to go everywhere."

    NICE Bus, on a notice posted on its website, said it will not eliminate any of the 48 lines it took over from the MTA but will put fewer buses on "routes that are least used by customers and are thus the most expensive to operate." Any approved changes would take effect in early April.

    Michael Setzer, chief executive of NICE Bus, said in an interview last week that company officials believe the proposed changes will cover the budget gap and avoid further cuts this year.

    "We knew that we were going to start the year at one level and we were going to have to find more ... [money] over the year," Setzer said. "We've managed to squeeze a lot of costs out, but we still have some work to do."

    Veolia has cut costs by $35 million compared with the MTA's projected costs if it were still running the system this year, he said. A new fuel purchase contract saved $800,000 a year and eliminating some jobs reduced compensation costs.

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    NICE BUS, $7.3 million in the red, already threatening service cuts

    NICE BUS, $7.3 million in the red, already threatening service cuts
    By Benjamin Kabak

    When Veolia took over operations of Long Island Bus from the MTA, the company never made explicit promises to maintain service levels or the fare structure. Now, just a few months into their tenure, the company has announced proposed service cuts totaling $7.2 million set for April. “A budget shortfall makes service changes necessary, although the changes are significantly less than those proposed by the MTA last year, involve no route cancellations, and are designed to impact the fewest possible passengers,” the company said in a statement.

    Clearly, Veolia is a bit touchy about these service cuts. In the statement, they claim that they have realized $35 million in operating efficiencies and that the cuts are only a portion of the $26 million in eliminations proposed by the MTA. Of course, that MTA proposal was designed as a ploy to call Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s bluff. The MTA simply wanted Nassau County to be upholding its end of the funding agreement.

    So how is Veolia planning on these “reductions and reconfigurations”? They offered up this take: “Our proposed system re-design is the result of a very careful analysis of how riders use the system. We rode every route and every stop, seven days a week, recording actual passenger usage and travel patterns. After a rigorous analysis, we focused on making the smartest changes that would impact the fewest passengers. Naturally, we focused on the routes that are least used by customers and are thus the most expensive to operate.”

    Essentially, then, Veolia is doing what the MTA threatened to do. Since Mangano cut county contributions to the bus system from $9 to $2.5 million, NICE BUS is essentially placing that funding cut on the backs of its riders. Perhaps the are operating at greater efficiencies than the MTA. Perhaps the MTA was bluffing about a $26 million cut to force Mangano’s hand. Either way, Long Islanders are no better off now as their county leadership continues to withdraw funding for transit.