Transit Operations up for Bid - Federal Rules Require Competition

May 13, 2011
For the past 30 years, Abilene's transit program has been managed by Fort Worth-based McDonald Transit Associates.

More than half of that time, Bill Casey's son Matt, who has cerebral palsy, has made use of door-to-door service that oered "a feeling of independence and worth," Bill Casey wrote in an email.

Now, the city is considering a change, publishing a request for proposals that could mean a new company would manage CityLink, as the bus and transit service system is called. For Casey - and some others served by CityLink - change already has taken place, and it's been for the worse. "The clients have been told that the services that had been established over the years will no longer be provided. No longer will they assist a person to their doors if they cannot keep their van in sight," Casey wrote. But while Casey and a few others have been vocal with their concerns about what they call inflexible policies - "You have to take each individual handicap into consideration on a case-by-case basis," said Donna Reiff, a member of the city's Americans with Disabilities Act advisory board, in an interview with the Reporter-News last month - the decision to seek out bids comes not in response to customer concerns but because of an order from federal officials.

A spokesman for the Federal Transit Administration confirmed that the city was ordered to bid out the management services - the city currently pays about $10,600 monthly to McDonald Transit - after a regular review in 2010 concluded that the city needed to do more to meet federal requirements for full and open competition.

James Condry, the city's traffic and transportation administrator, noted that federal funding makes up about 55 percent of the $3 million yearly budget to run the transit system. Other major funding sources include 20 percent from system-generated revenue, 12 percent from state funding and 10 percent from city funding.

The request for proposals outlines specific criteria for evaluating the proposals, with price making up 20 percent of the evaluation criteria. Other factors include qualifications and experience of the firm, as well as its general manager and corporate office support staff. Also part of the evaluation process will be the applicant's management and transition plans, plus a bidder's record of performance with other clients or the city.

McDonald Transit plans to bid for the new contract, which would run for five years and give the city an option to renew for two additional five-year terms, said company President Robert Babbitt. "We're happy to serve, and we're proud of our service, and we look forward to competition on the contract," Babbitt said.

Casey said his son, now 37, was able to earn two college degrees "because of CityLink, really, in a sense." But Casey said changes in the past six months have led him to wonder if Abilene needs a change. "It seems they've changed their purpose, for the service to accommodate them rather than accommodate the people that they're supposed to serve," Casey said in a phone interview.

Although he said he wasn't sure McDonald needed to go - Condry said there's been no policy changes related to paratransit service, just perhaps changes in the way policies have been enforced by McDonald management - Casey added, "I do think that whoever they get needs to address the needs of the clients." The deadline for bids is June 10. "We're hoping to have something to the council in August, but that depends upon what we get in terms of proposals," said Condry, adding that the City Council ultimately will have to approve the new contract. Staff writer Brian Bethel contributed to this article.

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