Panel to review challenge to Valley bus contract

Less than a month after a contentious discussion that led to First Transit landing a lucrative Regional Transportation Commission contract, the issue is back on the table this morning so board members can discuss a protest by bus contract holder Veolia Transportation.

Commissioners first will decide to reject or accept the arguments of the protest. If accepted, they will reissue a request for proposals. If the protest is rejected and one of the members who voted to award First Transit the contract makes a request, the commission could take a new vote to reaffirm its May 19 decision.

Veolia Transportation lists more than a dozen flaws in the bidding and voting process, perhaps the most notable being the weight given to scoring on technical issues and pricing, and the fact that one of the commissioners was not present for the vote.

Seven of eight members were present during the May meeting and voted 4-3 in favor of First Transit, a $10 billion transit company based in Scotland.

Roger Tobler, Debra March, Robert Eliason and David Bennett, all representatives of cities outside the valley’s core, supported First Transit because its bid on the contract — a three-year deal with a pair of two-year options — was $7 million less per year. Voting against the company were Larry Brown, Chris Guinchigliani and Steve Ross.

The eighth member, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, was absent because of a conflicting meeting. It would have been her first Regional Transportation Commission meeting .

This morning, Tarkanian will walk into the meeting as the pivotal figure, the one who could decide whether the contract remains status quo or whether the lengthy bidding process must be repeated.

The Regional Transportation Commission has approved its fiscal year 2011-2012 budget based on First Transit’s figures. If the contract is rebid and Veolia continues to operate the system, 100,000 bus service hours would have to be cut, according to Jacob Snow, general manager of the transit agency.

The services on the line are those that extend beyond the urban Las Vegas area, which, aside from First Transit’s lower bid, might have further influenced those who voted for First Transit: Tobler, mayor of Boulder City; Bennett, a Mesquite city councilman; March, who represents Henderson; and Eliason, a North Las Vegas councilman.

Veolia questioned how bidding categories were scored and weighted. Representatives complained of an uneven playing field. First Transit listed a $450,000 savings in overhead costs because it also runs the commission’s ParaTransit system, allowing for combined administrative positions.

First Transit was credited for innovative technology. A fuel conservation program will save $500,000 annually. It plans on increasing ridership and, therefore, revenue by introducing a smartphone application that tells passengers exactly when a bus will arrive at a specific location. The convenience of not having to wait is projected to attract new riders.

Representatives also said their corporate profit is lower than that of Veolia.

Snow said last month that he has never been lobbied so aggressively on an issue. Political consultant Sig Rogich and attorney Chris Kaempfer are representing Veolia’s interests while former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury and former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan are behind First Transit.

Today’s meeting in County Commission chambers starts at 8:45 a.m.

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

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