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4 finalists for bus management announced

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Four private companies will compete for the contract to run Augusta's bus system.

Augusta bus riders say more routes and more frequent runs are needed. The city spent $5 million on transit last year.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Augusta bus riders say more routes and more frequent runs are needed. The city spent $5 million on transit last year.

McDonald Transit Associates of Fort Worth, Texas; Veolia Transportation of Lombard, Ill.; MV Transit of Fairfield, Calif.; and Mobility of Knoxville, Tenn., submitted qualified bids by Friday's deadline.

Augusta is seeking a private bus system manager/operator to improve efficiency.

Bus riders have complained Augusta's system needs more routes and more frequent runs. City officials, fighting a $9 million budget deficit, have said there's no money to expand bus service. Last year, the city spent $5 million to operate Augusta Public Transit.

Efficiency is what a private vendor can bring to public transit, said Valerie Michael, Veolia's corporate communications director.

"In some cases, we are even able to provide more services, because we operate in a more cost-effective mode," she said. "We also value safety, and one of the first things we do is take steps toward making the transit system safer."

Veolia manages Savannah's transit system. The company operates internationally and is the largest provider of multiple forms of private transit in North America.

Robert Babbitt, the president of McDonald Transit, said figures from the National Transit Database showed privately run bus systems cost an average of $30 less per bus route-hour in 2007.

"It's not because the drivers or the mechanics are paid a significantly different wage," Babbitt said. "It's really just a hundred little things. The devil is in the details of execution."

Babbitt's employees worry about fuel economy to the tenth-mile and know the riders on each route to within 10 people, he said. Employees have a broader range of experience, and the company can negotiate for the best deals on insurance and retirement benefits.

McDonald operates 34 transit systems in the U.S., including the ones in Hall County, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C. It's the country's fourth-largest transit company.

W.C. Pihl, the senior vice president of business development for MV Transit, said a nationwide company that runs many transit systems can staff more efficiently.

"We are able to run a bit leaner than most cities can," he said. "We can centralize employees in corporate offices and use them for multiple locations."

Private companies, because of their size, also have more buying power for things such as uniforms, mechanical parts, and drug and alcohol testing services, Pihl said. Additionally, they can bring in technology that lowers costs.

MV Transit manages the transit system in Albany, Ga., and operates in 24 states, Pihl said. It is the largest American-owned private transit company and the largest provider of para-transit services in North America, he said.

According to the bid request, Augusta will remain in charge of planning bus routes, fares, schedules, hours of operation and bus stop locations.

In addition, the city will retain ownership of the system's buses, buildings and other physical property.

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Asitisinaug 03/04/11 - 08:16 pm
Generally speaking,

Generally speaking, efficiency is what the corporate world can bring to any government entity. Anytime you have group management or a non-functioning body trying to manage a system, business or day to day operations it will be filled with waste, ill formed employees and poor management all around.

It's time for Augusta Richmond County to be more like the Sheriff's Office and have a SINGLE leader such as the Sheriff. Either the mayor needs to step up or assign the task to the county administrator and then give them the backing needed to get the job done.

As for APT costing the taxpayers $5 million per year, this is ABSURD and should be illegal. This commission is failing to properly fund public safety, they have cut 38 sworn deputies from our streets in the past few years and they waste this kind of money vs. charging proper fees for using the system. Even worse, they had a "free week" at the cost of ALL taxpayers instead of those using the system.

Riverman1 03/05/11 - 08:31 am
What if the drivers for these

What if the drivers for these private companies unionize and go out on strike? That's what the argument is in Columbia County where they are discussing privatizing custodial service in the schools. Someone even said they will all be Mexican employees. Now I'm not saying any of that's true, but I'm just saying it has been speculated.

Riverman1 03/05/11 - 08:33 am
Asitisinaug, the mayor (or

Asitisinaug, the mayor (or administrator working for the CEO mayor) has the power anyway you look at the charter. Even if and action requires commission approval, he has 6 votes. Deke just won't do ANYTHING, ya know?

usapatriot 03/05/11 - 10:54 pm
"Augusta will remain in

"Augusta will remain in charge of planning bus routes, fares, schedules, hours of operation and bus stop locations."

That's a formula for failure. I'm surprised even one company bid.

crackerjack 03/05/11 - 11:19 pm
Let the commissioners drive

Let the commissioners drive the buses. They don't have anything else to do. And the gas mileage should be better if they blow up the tires with their hot air.

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