Long Island Bus riders, employees protest Veolia contract
Shouts of opposition filled the Nassau County Legislative Building in Mineola on Dec. 5 during a public hearing before the county legislature to discuss the details of the new Long Island Bus contract.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano plans to lease the county’s bus service to Veolia Transportation, a privately owned Illinois-based company. The switch in control will also result in the Long Island Bus changing its name to the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE).
The New York Metro Transit Authority (MTA) has ran the bus service for the past 38 years, but Mangano said changing hands is “a better choice for us all, a practical choice.”
Bus riders, however, are not as optimistic as Mangano since many of their questions remain unanswered. In fact, many riders bombarded Mangano with a chorus of “boos” at the hearing. Veolia Transportation is still negotiating with union workers regarding jobs, pensions and salaries.
One angry rider carried a sign that read, “Just pay the MTA their money, and we won’t be sitting here.”
In his review of the new bus contract, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos stated that if an agreement is not made with the union, 168 employees would be impacted—leaving $22.8 million unaccounted for in the county budget.
“The County should not sign a contract until Veolia reaches a contract agreement with the union,” said Douglas Mayers, president of Freeport/Roosevelt NAACP chapter. “Anything can happen after Veolia takes over the company. They should ask for an extension from MTA until the contract is where it should be.”
Soumya Kurup, a senior at York College in Manhattan, is the daughter of two Long Island Bus employees. Kurup informed the legislature that both her parents—Suresh and Baby Kurup—have not been offered positions by MTA or Veolia in the aftermath of the new contract.
Kurup has a little brother who was born with a cleft lip and palate, and after Jan. 31, he will no longer be insured to receive treatment. She repeated “Shame on you!” to Veolia and the county for what she called their “lack of compassion” for the impacted workers.
“I’m in support of the unions,” said Joe Louis Brown, a delegate for New York City Central Labor Council.
Brown and his organization represent every family that is affected by this contract. He said that the contract should not come at the expense of pensions, salary cuts and health benefits.
The comptroller’s office approved the contract, saying that the deal with Veolia is more cost effective than the MTA’s proposal. Maragos reiterated that the MetroCard deal is still not finalized, but progress has been made between Veolia and the MTA.
Maragos also recommended that reviews for operational changes, including fare increases, be conducted annually rather than quarterly.
Mangano’s representatives reiterated that a fare increase is only possible with the approval of the new Transit Committee, composed five members. The county executive will appoint three members of the committee and the legislature’s majority and minority leader will each appoint one.
Leg. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) expressed his concern that if Veolia charges more for its service and Nassau County only contributes $2.5 million, then the difference could only be made up in fare increases or bus service cuts.
Meryl Jackelow, who works at United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County, said cuts to service is not an option for her and her coworkers. Jackelow has cerebral palsy and depends on her wheel chair and Able Ride bus services to commute every day.
“It’s not like we have a choice,” said Jackelow. “Taxis won’t take people in chairs. If we can’t get transportation, we can’t get to work.”
Mark Aesch, former CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, has been acting as a consultant to Nassau throughout this process. Aesch said that disability services as well as bus routes would remain the same for the first year of the contract. But the question of “what happens after the first year” remains on riders’ minds.
“I’m just here to make sure the buses run,” said Robert Caine, a Hempstead resident who commutes six days a week to his two part time jobs in Albertson and West Hempstead. “We should have had hearings a while ago.”
Though a vote was expected right after the hearing, the county legislature will vote on the contract Dec. 19. If its not approved, Mangano’s administration has not offered a “Plan B.”
Either way, Jan. 1, 2012—the expected start date of the NICE bus service—is right around the corner.
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