RTC agrees to negotiate small transit contract with Veolia

The Regional Transportation Commission agreed Thursday to negotiate a one-year contract with Veolia Transportation to operate the Las Vegas Valley's bus system while a new round of requests for proposals is issued and evaluated.

Regional Transportation Commission officials said the amount that Veolia would be paid for the extension has not been determined. The board is scheduled to vote on the contract during its March 8 meeting.

In October, when it became clear the board could not agree on who should land the nation's largest public transit contract, Mark Joseph, Veolia's chief executive officer, wrote a letter to the Regional Transportation Commission offering to provide the service for a year as the board found a solution.

"Veolia Transportation is committed to giving the RTC the opportunity to undertake a new procurement for the fixed route services contract ... without the risk of incurring any cost to the RTC -- not one dollar more -- above what it would cost to transition from Veolia to First Transit in the coming year," he wrote.

First Transit's operating and transition cost for the first year was $86 million. In its bid, Veolia representatives said its cost to operate the system the first year would be $90 million.

Contentious negotiations over the $600 million, seven-year contract have dragged on for nearly a year. The eight-member commission split votes on whether Veolia Transportation should keep the contract or whether it should be awarded to First Transit, whose bid was $50 million less.

By November, no board member had budged, and they agreed to split the contract into two and divide the service area into regions. Two companies will handle the fixed-route bus system.

Regional Transportation Commission general manager Jacob Snow said that because the service areas are now smaller, more companies have expressed interest in submitting a bid.

Among the companies who have spoken with Snow are Veolia, First Transit, MV Transit, McDonald Transit and the French-based Keolis.

Language in the request for proposals will be posted for review and comment by other transit officials before it is considered by the Regional Transportation Commission. It will be put out to bid in early summer.

The public became aware of the controversy over the agreement in May, when the board voted 4-3 to award the contract to First Transit. Then-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman resigned early from the commission, and his replacement, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, was absent.

Attorneys representing Veolia asked the state attorney general's office to review the vote, saying that the vote was invalid because a majority vote should be based on the number of commissioners on the board, not the number of members present at a meeting. The attorney general's office sided with Veolia.

The commission rescinded the May vote.

First Transit attorneys then filed a complaint with District Judge Rob Bare to intervene and award the company the contract. He ruled that the attorney general's opinion was incorrect.

Commission Chairman Larry Brown said Thursday that he will not be present during the March meeting, raising the specter of more controversy over the vote.

Tracy Bower, spokeswoman for the commission, said Bare's September ruling will prevail.

"The judge upheld the 4-3 vote," Bower said. "If there was a split vote, based on what the judge said before, a vote of 4-3 would be valid."

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@review journal.com or 702-387-2904.