Augusta’s first experiment in outsourcing public transit did not create the cost savings promised two years ago by Mobility Transit Services, city officials said Tuesday.
Never a money-maker, the city bus and Richmond Transit services cost the city about $5 million a year, and 2012 was no exception, city financial analyst Susan Kain told Augusta Commission members Tuesday.
The city paid $3.96 million to Mobility during the year, but related transit expenses, such as diesel, brought the city’s cost much higher.
Kain said total transit expenses for 2012 ran about $5.03 million.
Mobility could not be reached for comment. An e-mail to its operations manager and interim general manager, David Jones, was returned, marked undeliverable.
According to city officials, Mobility disputes the city’s figures.
“We’ve asked how they arrived at their numbers,” Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer said. “What they told us was it was the difference between their bid and the amount they billed us. In my opinion, it was not the true savings amount.”
Another private contractor – McDonald Transit Services of Fort Worth, Texas – stands ready to take on Augusta Public Transit when Mobility’s agreement runs out July 31.
McDonald, the bidder chosen by a selection committee, proposes a maximum cost of $4.4 million for transit in its first year, $4.5 million its second year and $4.7 million its third year, Kain said.
The firm is willing to keep Mobility drivers and maintenance staffers, many of them former city employees, in the transition, Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen said.
City Administrator Fred Russell said that if the commission doesn’t approve a contract with McDonald, the city will implement an “emergency plan” to continue transit services after July 31.
The city remains in court-ordered mediation with Mobility, which filed suit alleging various open meetings act and procurement violations after Augusta terminated its contract.
Restoring a city-run transit service is not a good idea, however, Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Joe Jackson said.
“If anybody thinks it was not a problem before we got where we are, it was a serious problem,” Guilfoyle said.
City Transit Liaison Sharon Dottery said McDonald came highly recommended, especially for its work in Athens-Clarke County.
“I was hoping we would have gotten something like that the first time,” she said.
McDonald worked with Athens Transit for several decades, but the city terminated its management contract with the company about five years ago, according to Athens Transit Director Butch McDuffie.
Unlike Augusta’s transit service contract, Athens had a management contract with McDonald that supplied only McDuffie, while drivers and maintenance staff were government employees. At some point the city chose to hire McDuffie rather than renew the agreement with McDonald, McDuffie said.
The relationship ended amicably, however, and McDuffie said he’d recommend his former employer highly.
“Augusta would be well-served to hire McDonald Transit,” he said.
Commissioner Mary Davis said she had heard good things about McDonald’s work in Athens.
“I just don’t want us to be doing the same thing we’ve been doing,” she said.
The four commissioners who attended Tuesday’s work session appeared in agreement about contracting with McDonald, but they might have an uphill battle convincing some of their colleagues.
“The other side wants to bring it back in house,” Jackson said.