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Transportation Nation

Private Contractors May Not Be the Answer to Public Transportation Cuts

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fairfield Transportation Center (photo from Fairfield and Suisun Transportation's website)

(The Bay Area -- KALW) As cities across the country face steep budget cuts, many local governments are looking at their transportation departments and wondering if someone else could do the same job for less money.

That’s exactly what Fairfield, California thought. The small city (about 100,000 residents) contracted MV Transportation to run the bus system for the Fairfield and Suisun Transit organization, or FAST, hoping the company would bring a regular bus service to its suburban population.

But the reality was less than perfect, and it could serve as a cautionary tale to cities considering a private company for their public transit.

Zusha Ellison, a reporter for the Bay Citizen, uncovered a whole mess of problems with MV Transportation, from chronically late buses to city council members forgiving some of the $164,000 in fines that the company had racked up.

Ellison talked to George Fink, the former head of FAST, who spent his time trying to reign in MV Transportation. But the transit company was well-connected in the local government, which made it difficult for FAST to police the company. Fink remembers getting calls from his boss after criticizing MV Transportation, telling him to back off.

There have been other cases where private operators have taken over public bus systems with mixed results. When Nassau County, New York shifted it's bus system to a private operator, service was reduced on 60 percent of the routes in an effort to limit losses*. North of New York City, a Poconos bus operator filled a gap when transit cuts reduced public bus service, but the fleet used was shabbier and drew regulatory scrutiny. And a private eco-friendly operator in Detroit launched with some fanfare last year, only to shift business models for lack of customer demand.

The Farfield California is one example--a stark and cautionary example--of what can happen when local transit is turned over to private ownership, according to the Bay Citizen report.

 

* Ruth Ott of Veolio Transportation, the company that runs NICE Bus, wrote to contest our assessment of service cuts that we first reported the cuts a year ago. She writes:

We have improved both service quality and operational performance ... Customer satisfaction and customer perception of punctuality, vehicle reliability, bus cleanliness, quality of passenger information, operator courtesy have all increased significantly, by 50% to 60%, as measured by independent market research surveys.

We have made the best use of the available budget for transit service.  The available dollars in 2012 were actually $35 million less than the $156 million that had been estimated by the MTA [ed note: the previous operator].

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Transportation Nation

UPDATE: Metro Committee Approves Contract, Despite Ethics Questions

Friday, April 15, 2011

(Washington D.C. -- David Schultz, WAMU) Metro is moving forward with a $200 million contract extension for the company that operates its MetroAccess transit service for people with disabilities -- despite some questions about whether the contractor may have engaged in unethical lobbying.

Documents obtained by Transportation Nation partner, WAMU, show the contractor, MV Transportation, hired a lobbyist who until recently served as one of Metro's top executives and a member of its Board of Directors. The lobbyist, Emeka Moneme, sent emails to several of the advisers to the Metro Board requesting meetings to talk about MV, just nine months after he left the agency. Metro's ethics rules prohibit its executives from working on Metro-related business for at least a year after they leave.

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One of the advisers who received an email from Moneme forwarded it to WAMU. Through a public records request, WAMU has obtained a copy of a second email sent from Moneme's office to another Metro Board adviser. The second email also requests a meeting to discuss MV, and is almost identical to the first.

WAMU has contacted all the advisers to the Metro Board, but almost half have not responded. Of those who did, all -- including the two who received emails from Moneme -- say they did not agree to a meeting with him nor with anyone representing MV Transportation.

Moneme has refused to discuss the matter. MV says it hired him to do "community outreach," not to lobby his former co-workers.

Metro's General Manager Richard Sarles says he believes its contracting process has not been compromised, and a formal investigation has not been launched. Sarles says the advisers to Metro's Board of Directors serve in a voluntary capacity not on Metro's payroll. Therefore, Sarles says, Metro's ethics rules do not govern them.

Sarles acknowledges that, in government contracting, sometimes the mere appearance of impropriety can be as damaging as actual impropriety itself. “I’m always concerned that we have the appearance of proceeding the way we should with regards to our procurement rules," he says.

But Sarles says, because none of the advisers agreed to meet with Moneme, he's confident Metro's ethics procedures are being followed. "To my knowledge" he says, "thus far, those procedures have not been violated.”

MV Transportation's contract extension is scheduled to come up before the Metro Board for a final vote later this month.

(To see a copy of the email Moneme sent, visit WAMU's website.)

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Transportation Nation

DC's Metro Tables Contract Extension After Lobbying Reports

Thursday, March 24, 2011

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU)  Metro is delaying the extension of a nearly $500 million contract after reports that the contractor may have hired one of Metro's former top executives to lobby on its behalf.

Disabled  Metro Riders Face Fare Hike MetroAccess is operated by the private company MV Transportation, which is one of Emeka Moneme's clients at the lobbying firm where he now works. Moneme is a former senior Metro executive turned lobbyist.

Metro's board of directors was scheduled Thursday to grant a two-year contract extension to the company MV Transportation, which operates MetroAccess, Metro’s paratransit service for people with disabilities. According to several sources within Metro, the extension was almost a formality.

But now, the board has removed the extension from its agenda for Thursday after reports that MV hired Moneme.

WAMU obtained a private email from Moneme's office in which he requests an in-person meeting with an advisor to Metro's Board to discuss the company and the MetroAccess program.

A spokesperson with MV Transportation says it hired Moneme to do "community outreach," not lobbying. Moneme refuses to comment.

Cathy Hudgins, the chair of the Metro board, says she wants answers about exactly what Moneme did and who instructed him to do it.

Listen to the story below. And read TN's previous coverage of this issue here.

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Transportation Nation

The Revolving Door: Despite Ethics Rules, Former Metro Executive Now Lobbying On Behalf Of Metro Contractor

Monday, March 21, 2011

Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/waba/2511198017/

(Washington D.C. -- David Schultz, WAMU) A private email obtained by WAMU shows that Emeka Moneme, a former top executive at D.C.'s Metro, may have violated ethics rules by lobbying his former coworkers on behalf of one of Metro's largest contractors.

Metro says it still believes in the integrity of its contracting process.

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