The private firm that manages Augusta Public Transit might be on the way out as the Augusta Commission develops a plan to expand the transit system.
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said he called a Feb. 12 work session, with Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s approval, to discuss issuing “requests for proposals” from companies to develop “a comprehensive plan of expansion” for the transit system and to operate the service.
The current operator, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Mobility Transit Services, is 18 months into a five-year contract, but Johnson said he didn’t think it has commission support to handle the expansion.
“It’s not going to exclude Mobility from responding to the RFP,” he said.
Mobility has long been a target of Commissioner Bill Lockett, who raised concerns about its treatment of employees, many of them former city bus drivers, and its nonpayment of vendors.
“It’s about time we had movement on that,” Lockett said. “It’s way overdue.”
Commissioner Alvin Mason has pushed for expanding city bus routes into southern parts of Richmond County and to Fort Gordon. Johnson said he expected Mason, a retired Army sergeant, to help the buses gain entry to the Army post.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, whose district includes part of the southern areas targeted for expansion, said he hoped adequate study would be done to ensure new bus lines go where they are needed.
He echoed the words of Starbucks site recruiter Matt Kwatinetz, who told commissioners at a January retreat that a lack of public transit is holding the city back.
“We asked the question, how can we attract more industry?” Guilfoyle said. “His answer was transit.”
The commission expects to fund the expansion using the new transportation sales tax, which includes a $7.55 million line item for Augusta Public Transit. The tax, approved by voters last year, can be used for transit maintenance and operations.
Decisions about transit won’t come this week, but the the ambulance service is up for commission discussion today.
Commissioner Joe Jackson on Monday defended the city’s relationship with Gold Cross EMS, which has provided ambulance service since 2005 under a contract the city’s fire chief, Chris James, said was too vague to be enforced.
Jackson said several elements James said were missing from the contract, such as mutual aid agreements and GPS tracking of vehicles, actually did exist, while good alternatives to provide EMS service were few.
“I don’t mind going out for a contract,” Jackson said. “I don’t think you’ll get anyone to bid on it.”
Johnson spoke in favor of a recent commission push to put large contracts up for renewal out for bids. Under the agreement, Augusta pays Gold Cross $1.9 million annually for ambulance service.
“The contract of seven years or so ago was poorly written,” he said. “All contracts should go back out for bids from time to time.”