SC: Columbia Bus Board Expects Operating Contract by Year's End

Aug. 14--COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The agency that oversees the Columbia area's bus system is taking a second stab at selecting a company to operate the bus service for the next decade.

The Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, in a special meeting Wednesday, finalized the competitive bidding documents to be published Monday.

This will be the second time this year the agency has attempted to reach an agreement with a company to run the bus service for up to 10 years. The first attempt ended in a stalemate after negotiations with two of the three transit companies that responded.

Board chairman Brian DeQuincey Newman would not discuss differences between the new bid documents and the previous ones. But he said he expects a contract to be awarded in December.

He valued the contract at more than $7 million a year, saying the figure will grow to "probably $10 million a year" as services expand.

While members of the CMRTA board have remained close-mouthed about the stumbling blocks, one hitch apparently involved the board's requirements that the transit operator steer work to local and minority subcontractors. Subcontractors might be hired for a host of duties, from cleaning buses to facility maintenance, janitorial services to office supplies, based on an advertisement for a small-business forum the CMRTA is hosting Thursday.

CMRTA has had only one operator, Veolia Transportation, since the system became a public service in 2002. Before then, the buses were operated through South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

As renewed negotiations for an operator proceed, the board agreed to continue a month-to-month contract with Veolia through January 2015.

August is the first month the agency has been paying Veolia about $600,000 per month to continue operating the buses as well as vans that provide transportation to disabled residents, the Newman said.

Veolia, along with First Transit and Keolis, were the three finalists for the new contract negotiations that began in January and ended in June.

The CMRTA board has not publicly explained why talks broke down this spring, citing procurement laws. But negotiations moved from the first finalist to the second before the whole process was halted.

One of the sticking points was the proportion of subcontractors who are locally and minority owned, board members said at the time. The initial agreement called for a goal of 30 percent of the services to be provided by local or minority-owned businesses.

In January, Newman said he expected a contract to be ready for a board vote in February. He previously had said the agreement would be reached by the end of 2013.

Newman said Tuesday he anticipates final negotiations with the transportation company the agency ultimately selects will extend to October or November.

The bus system has been activating more bus routes as its funding has been shored up, especially by the passage in November 2012 of a 1-cent-on-the-dollar increase in Richland County's sales tax. Taxpayers approved the tax increase with the condition that 29 percent of the money it generates goes toward improving the bus system.

Copyright 2014 - The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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