Mobility Transit LLC will cause "a cultural change" at Augusta Public Transit if the company is allowed to take over its management, Mobility founder Kevin Adams described to Augusta commissioners Thursday.
Mobility, invited to a work session Thursday, was the second-lowest bidder and the top pick made by a city selection committee that included Transit Director Heyward Johnson.
"We will bring operating rules and regulations and discipline. We will ensure that the vehicles are always clean, that they run on time," Adams said.
The contractor would run the bus system for a fixed guaranteed cost that would be $400,000 less than the approximately $5 million annually the city currently spends on the bus system. Adams said his company could also improve service without increasing costs by reorganizing where routes run.
“We’ll also share any cost savings that may come up with you. That can go toward an increase in service or a reduction in price,” Adams said.
If the commission approves Mobility's five-year proposal, city transit employees will become Mobility employees, see their pensions replaced by a 401(k) and be retained at existing wages for two years provided they meet Mobility's safety and customer service standards, he said.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham said one of riders' two biggest complaints is the lack of "cross-town mobility," or routes that don't begin and end downtown.
Adams said Mobility had experience in redesigning transit services, but that the company's "bid and proposal are based on the current operating schedule."
Subject to approval by the commission, expanding service would cost extra, he said.
Commissioner Bill Lockett questioned how Mobility will satisfy complaints about the service not running on time without expanding it.
Adams said by correcting runtimes and schedules, he'd made transit systems to run on time in Jackson, Miss., and in Columbia, S.C.
Commissioner Johnny Hatney said he could not understand how Mobility could take on management of the city's buses, employees and their benefits and save the city $400,000 annually without raising bus fares.
"The rates are guaranteed," Adams said. "If it costs me more, it's on me."
Commissioner Corey Johnson said Mobility did what had been asked of them in their proposal, but the riders’ top need is really for a more robust system. He said he favored a public system and wondered if hiring a private management consultant could help the city implement the same improvements Mobility offered.
“If it remains a public system, you have total control of all of it,” Johnson said.
Bus Riders Association member Denice Traina said she was encouraged by what she heard from Mobility.
“It sounds like they’re offering a real partnership. Perhaps the savings would allow us to provide more of the service we need,” she said.
But Betty Flowers, who uses the bus, said she didn’t hear much in privatization that spoke to her needs.
“I do believe they need to expand the bus system,” she said. “They don’t understand what we need. People can’t get to work without better transportation.”
Bus rider Terrance Dicks said people have been complaining for a long time about needing a better system, and commissioners are coming to the table late with the idea.
“It’s time to involve the ridership, the people who really get the service,” he said.
Heyward Johnson said the Transportation Investment Act, which levies a regional one-cent sales tax for transportation projects if approved by voters, would be a way to finance expanding APT routes.
“It’s dedicated funding that would really help us,” he said.