Augusta’s troubled public transit system was the backdrop Monday for Denice Traina to declare her candidacy for the District 1 City Commission post.
“Jobs and the means to reach them are two vital components to help working Augustans,” Traina said before a small group of supporters gathered outside Augusta’s Broad Street transfer station.
“At a time when gasoline is almost $4 a gallon and families are struggling, an enhanced and revitalized mass transit system in Augusta will help all Augustans.”
As a city attorney met nearby with the city transit liaison about Augusta’s management contract with Mobility Transit, Traina circulated a petition to a handful of waiting riders asking that the city run its buses until midnight and add a route to Fort Gordon.
Supporter Barbara Wise said she’d known Traina, a former Peace Corps volunteer and antiwar activist, for more than 30 years.
“She’s extremely compassionate and a clear-headed person,” Wise said. “She’s quick to recognize the compassionate choice, and I would trust her to represent me.”
One of four announced candidates seeking the District 1 post, Traina raises a problematic issue for the commission, which last year voted to outsource management of the bus service to Mobility.
Mobility, which promised to shave $400,000 from the $5 million the city was spending annually to run the service, ran into issues from the start and was late paying local vendors for services.
Commissioner Joe Jackson, who plans to raise the topic at a commission committee meeting next week, said there “were several vendors that have not been paid, yet we just had a pizza party for employees. There still are some questions to be answered.”
The party might have been an attempt to assuage former city bus drivers and maintenance workers, hired over by Mobility, who have complained to Commissioner Bill Lockett about being mistreated. Lockett described the complaints at a recent meeting.
Commissioner Alvin Mason has asked that the commission examine holding Mobility in breach of its contract, although it has not voted to do so.
Mobility Augusta General Manager Mike Rosson revealed at the same meeting last month that the firm has a new chief executive, Cullen Meathe.
Meathe, who was not publicly visible during contract negotiations, runs several Florida taxicab operations and has a history of late or non-payment of bills, including a 2011 judgment against his Palm Beach Transportation Group for $881,671, according to court records.
Despite the issues, which Traina did not address in her push to expand the service, Jackson and Commissioner Jerry Brigham said they were reluctant to resume city management of the bus service.
Mobility’s issues aside, Brigham said he thinks a private firm would likely do a better job than the city with transit.
“I don’t think we do a good job of managing it,” he said.