Drug testing that wasn’t random, failure to report a bus accident for 244 days and late payments to Georgia Power that nearly got the electricity cut off at Augusta Public Transit are three key issues that Mobility Transit must address in 30 days or risk losing its contract to run the city bus service.
A notice Monday citing the problems as evidence of “inadequate performance” by Mobility, obtained Tuesday by The Augusta Chronicle, didn’t mention the firm’s cancellation of employee health insurance May 2, although employees were informed Tuesday that their insurance would be reinstated.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia spokeswoman Cheryl Monkhouse was unable to confirm Tuesday that Mobility’s policy with the company was back in effect, however.
The company’s “chronic failure to timely pay vendors” led Georgia Power, A&W Oil Co., Time Transportation and G&K Uniform to either close Mobility’s account or place it in “hold status,” according to the notice.
Mobility failed to timely report 22 accidents within the required three days, including one that wasn’t reported for 244 days. The company didn’t report any of the accidents until April 29, according to the notice.
The accident reporting, required under federal law, subjects Mobility to late fines of $210,700 under the firm’s contract with the city and is another item Mobility must “cure” to avoid being held in breach of contract.
Although complaints from the Augusta Bus Riders Association have decreased since Mobility Transit took over last July, the company is cited in the notice as ignoring a complaint from a passenger of the city’s paratransit service, which Mobility also took on.
Calls Monday and Tuesday to Mobility President Cullan Meathe, who cited a “media war” on a television news broadcast, were not returned, nor were messages left for former Mobility President Kevin J. Adams. An e-mail sent to Adams’ Mobility e-mail address came back undeliverable.
That could be because Mobility “cleaned the top shelf” of its organization, Augusta Commission member Wayne Guilfoyle said he had learned.
Adams was replaced this year by Meathe, Mobility General Manager Mike Rosson told the commission at a recent meeting. Rosson has not acknowledged any phone calls or e-mails sent in the past few days.
Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell said Meathe offered “lengthy explanations” at a Monday meeting for why Mobility bills weren’t getting paid on time, including problems with accounts improperly transferred out of the city’s name to Mobility’s.
An invoice was filed instead of paid, and another payment was mailed to the wrong address.
Russell said the payment issue might be helped by the firm’s switch to automatically drafted payments.
“Legally, they get a chance to resolve the issues,” Russell said. “There were serious errors that have been low-hanging fruit for the people complaining.”
Former city employees, laid off when the commission outsourced the service last year then hired back by Mobility, have been among those with complaints.
Commissioner Bill Lockett has cited complaints that Mobility wasn’t paying employees for overtime or a per diem rate during driver training.
Lockett said those workers were prepared to return to city employment.
He and Commissioner Alvin Mason, who have criticized most commission efforts to outsource city jobs, might be gaining support in ousting Mobility.
Commissioner Joe Jackson said Tuesday he was ready to pull the trigger to seek a new transit company.
Mobility, which promised to run Augusta transit for approximately $4.6 million annually, was selected by a committee that included longtime Augusta Public Transit Director Heyward Johnson, who retired shortly afterward.
The firm, whose only job is in Augusta, was chosen over two other bidders, McDonald Transit of Fort Worth, Texas, and MV Transit of Fairfield, Calif.
Neither Meathe nor Adams was a stranger to transit, however. Adams cited a long career with Veolia on his résumé, while Meathe has owned dozens of transportation companies in Florida and Michigan.
His firms, which have held transit contracts in Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach and elsewhere, are named in several civil judgments for amounts in the millions and back wages, including 2011 judgments for $881,675 and $250,513 against his Palm Beach Transportation Group, according to court records.
The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in March upheld a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that Meathe’s Palm Beach Metro Transportation engaged in unfair labor practices for refusing to recognize
and bargain with a union his transit workers organized and a related order that Palm Beach Metro repay back wages.