RTC bus contract squabble pulls in federal agency

The Federal Transit Administration this week threatened to pull funding from the Regional Transportation Commission if the board does not award a new bus operations and maintenance contract during its next meeting.

Since May, the eight-member commission has regularly voted 4-4 on all matters related to the $600 million contract that can potentially span seven years. Four members have sided with incumbent contractor Veolia Transportation, and four have supported First Transit, whose bid was $50 million less over the life of the agreement.

The Transportation Commission agreed to extend Veolia’s existing contract through March while board members try to sort out their differences. But the federal agency made it clear in a letter that it will not tolerate an extension beyond then.

“Should the RTC authorize the continuation of operations by the current contractor beyond the end of the contract term in March, the eligibility of those costs would be in jeopardy,” the letter said, referring to the roughly $5 million contributed each year by the federal government.

Commissioners have discussed splitting the service into regions and allowing each company to bid for a territory.

“I note several news articles have mentioned the board is considering a ‘split’ of the contract award,” Regional Administrator Leslie Rogers said in the letter. “Unless the specifications provide for a split award, such action is not permissible under FTA rules.”

The specifications do not allow for that, which puts more pressure on the commission.

The board first voted in favor of First Transit, but the state attorney general’s office later ruled that the 4-3 vote was invalid because a majority vote is based on the number of commissioners on the board, not the number of members present at the meeting. The commission then voted to rescind its decision.

Earlier this month, District Judge Rob Bare considered a complaint filed on behalf of First Transit that asked him to intervene and award the company the contract. He ruled that the attorney general’s opinion was incorrect. Bare declined to order that a contract with First Transit be signed but said he would reconsider his decision to become involved if First Transit considers any further actions by the commission to be arbitrary and capricious.

The board meets next on Oct. 13. Among its options are to award the contract to First Transit, review the scoring on the bids or choose to reject all proposals and start over.

The administration urged the board to approve a contract during that meeting.

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

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