Augusta transit company denies wrongdoing

An official with the company that is managing Augusta’s public transit system disputed allegations Monday that the firm isn't properly paying employees and a local vendor.

The allegations, raised by Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett during an Administrative Services Committee meeting, were that Mobility Transit isn't paying overtime to employees required to work more than 40 hours a week and that the firm was late making payments to a local vendor.

“That's a no-no,” Lockett said. “You're supposed to be financially solvent.”

The Knoxville, Tenn.-based private firm took over management of Augusta Public Transit on Aug. 1 after the Augusta Commission voted to outsource the service.

Since then, more than 300,000 have taken a ride on one of the service's nine routes, according to a report presented Monday by Sharon Dottery, the city’s transit contract manager.

The rides brought total 2011 bus ridership to 693,462, up from 593,658 in 2010, according to the report.

Mike Rosson, Mobility’s general manager, said after the meeting that the overtime complaint relayed to Lockett likely came from “a disgruntled employee who didn't wish (transit) to be outsourced,” and denied the firm was breaking labor laws.

When the city outsourced transit, many bus drivers were laid off, but most were subsequently hired back by Mobility.

“We're doing the right thing over there by paying employees,” Rosson said.

Mobility officials traced the vendor complaint to the local source of uniforms for bus mechanics, he said.

Rosson said Mobility had negotiated payment terms with the vendor, but that “the mechanics are wearing uniforms” and “the vendors are getting paid.”

Dottery's presentation was the first commissioners have had publicly since the firm took over. She agreed to meet individually with each commissioner to address any concerns.

Her report also showed an uptick in ridership of the service's Gordon Highway Kmart, Augusta Mall, Barton Chapel Road and Lumpkin Road routes, with the Kmart and Augusta Mall routes the most popular.

In other business:

- The Public Service Committee approved an increase of $836,228 to the overall project budget of the new Trade, Exhibit and Event Center, bringing the total to $30.1 million. Marriott, which will operate the TEE Center, requested most of the changes, including a $399,083 upgrade to the center's smoke handling system.

The improved air handling system will keep air circulating through the venue eight times per hour, which is higher than the Georgia requirement of less than three times per hour, City Administrator Fred Russell said.

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