Public-Private Partnership in Nassau County Creates Nation's Largest Privately Run Municipal Bus Service.
Like so many communities facing fiscal belt-tightening, Nassau County in New York has to do more with less. County leaders of this Long Island community with a population of 1.3 million believed that a private operator of their large bus and paratransit system could bring new efficiencies and reduce operating costs, while improving service quality.
After an exhaustive RFP process, in June 2011 Veolia Transportation was selected to join the county in a public-private partnership to manage and operate all aspects of the transit service, which has nearly 300 buses and 180 paratransit vehicles. The contract with Veolia was ratified by the full legislature in December 2011. After more than 40 years being operated under contract by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (MTA), Nassau County renamed its bus system Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, and handed the reins to Veolia in January 2011.
The County's leadership believed that by partnering with Veolia, Nassau would benefit from the Veolia's public-private operating partnership model, which combines public sector oversight and control of fares, service levels and annual budget levels, with private sector efficiency and expertise.
Veolia was chosen because of its proven success as a transit management leader and its successful partnerships with dozens of municipalities and transit agencies across the U.S. and Canada. Veolia's charge was to maximize bus service for every dollar spent and give the County the best bus system it could afford, yet still be very responsive to the needs of 35,000 daily riders.
The results have been impressive. Buses are cleaner and more on time due to a major emphasis on service quality. Ridership is up due to more reliable service. A new website provides excellent passenger information and has very high levels of passenger usage. The system has been completely re-branded with a new logo and visual style.Veolia's service design professionals carefully studied travel patterns, then redesigned the bus route network, even introducing the first-ever express buses, while eliminating some truly wasteful, inefficient service. New express busses between Nassau and New York City have shortened the daily commute of thousands of riders by 30-40 minutes per day. Rider fares were not raised, no routes were eliminated, and there were no changes or reductions to the paratransit system.
Large efficiency savings and productivity gains have reduced the overall expense level by tens of millions of dollars. NICE is delivering on the promise of providing the most service with the money that is available.
Notably, Veolia hired every unionized employee from the old system and negotiated a five-year contract with the union representing the 800-plus employees. The contract with the Transport Workers Union was overwhelmingly ratified.
Independent customer research surveys confirm that in just four months, there have been significant increases in customer satisfaction and customer perception of punctuality, vehicle reliability, bus cleanliness, quality of the website and printed information, and drivers' friendliness and communication.
Veolia has already made major strides in improving Nassau County's underperforming bus system to ensure that it was affordable, sustainable and high quality. But, we're just getting started on our path to making many more improvements to NICE to ensure that it continues to operate in a safe, efficient, fiscally responsible, and rider-friendly way.