Bus service ‘disruption’ looms

Thursday may be Valentine’s Day, but there will be no love lost when the subject of a new fixed-route bus contract is heatedly discussed in the Clark County Government Center .

In fact, local transit service could experience a “disruption” this midsummer if Veolia Transportation is not awarded a new contract to operate and maintain buses for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, the president of the union for drivers threatened in both an email and follow-up phone call last week.

Veolia, which has been the RTC’s only bus contractor for the agency’s 20 years, is not the choice to operate either of two newly divided lots — one based in the northern valley and one in the southern valley — when its current, extended contract ends July 6.

Instead, using a two-tier system to winnow the field of applicants, the RTC recommended to its eight-person board of directors that its northern Lot A be operated by MV Transportation and its southern Lot B be operated by Keolis Transit America.

MV Transportation and Keolis Transit each came in as the low bidder in the second tier of competition, where the bid accounted for 70 percent of the contract scoring. The process was handled by a team of RTC and outside evaluators.

A decision on the RTC’s recommendations is expected to be made at a contentious — and lengthy — public board meeting Thursday. The board is not bound to accept the RTC’s recommendations.

“Should the RTC commissioners ignore our pleas Thursday, I can almost guarantee a ‘disruption’ of service in the summer months because we will not have the same (working relationship) that we have with Veolia,” Jose Mendoza, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 1637, said in an email.

“We sure hope that we can get at least four RTC commissioners to have HEART and think about the livelihood of over 1,000 Veolia (contracted) employees, and when you put in our families, it is more like over 5,000 affected Las Vegas citizens that the RTC commissioners will have impacted.”

Mendoza, in a follow-up call Friday, said the disruption would occur July 7 if a collective bargaining agreement, similar to what ATU 1637 has with Veolia, cannot be worked out with MV Transportation and Keolis Transit.

“If there is no agreement, or one not to our liking is imposed upon us, I will tell our drivers not to move the coaches,” Mendoza said.

He said he is not so upset with the recommended change of bus contractor — although he feels badly for the likely ouster of Veolia — as he is that the RTC did not mandate the current collective bargaining agreement be carried over when it sent out its request for proposal last year.

“We’re tired of being treated like second-class citizens by the RTC,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza will be responsible for working out new agreements with MV Transportation and Keolis Transit if they are contracted by the board. A new collective bargaining agreement also would be required with Veolia if it bucks the odds and is selected.

Negotiations between the contractors and the union can begin March 1.

Mendoza expects “major complications” from the likelihood of separate agreements with different pay rates and benefits that could pit drivers against each other.

Tina Quigley, the RTC’s general manager, said it’s “really premature” for Mendoza to bring up a possible disruption of service.

“To my knowledge, I don’t know if there has been discussion yet between these proposed contractors and ATU. I’m surprised he has come to this conclusion until the (RTC) board has had a chance to discuss and vote” on the contracts, Quigley said.

Mendoza’s email cited concerns with MV Transportation over its costs for medical benefits, which would have a negative impact on his drivers, while he said Keolis is not significantly experienced to take over service the size of Lot B, which includes the Strip corridor.

Mendoza’s email came before the RTC made its recommendations public on its website late Thursday afternoon.

Veolia officials declined to take questions on not being selected but said in a statement:

“We are surprised and disappointed at the reported scoring of the RTC evaluation committee which could find two companies with little to no experience in operating and maintaining transit systems of the size and complexity of Las Vegas to be technically on a par with Veolia Transportation.

“We have confidence that the RTC Board of Commissioners will do what is right after a thorough evaluation of the proposals and staff recommendations. Our concerns remain for the future of a bus system that has achieved the status of one of the Top 10 in the U.S., for a city and neighboring communities that rely on its continued excellence, and for the livelihoods and well-being of the men and women who are critical to it.”

MV Transportation (94.63 points) beat out Keolis Transit (91.17) and Veolia (89.73) to win the recommendation for the Lot A service, while Keolis (96.79) edged Veolia (94.17) for the Lot B recommendation.

In winning the recommendation for Lot A, MV Transportation came in with a low bid of $525,707,909 for the four-year contract that has four two-year options. Keolis Transit was second at $572,313,480 and Veolia was third at $577,116,071.

Keolis took the Lot B recommendation with a low bid of $497,931,450 for the five-year contract with two two-year options, while Veolia’s bid was $511,390,149. MV Transportation did not bid on Lot B.

MV Transportation is based in Dallas and has 130 operations in 28 states, as well as Washington, D.C., two Canadian provinces and Saudi Arabia.

Keolis Transit, based in Los Angeles, has more than 100 operations, primarily in California but some in south Florida.

In opting to divide the bus contract into two the RTC board did not permit any one company to win both lots.

But for Veolia, the incumbent based in Lombard, Ill., not to receive the recommendation of either came as a surprise, especially to the RTC’s Quigley.

“Locally, they are great partners,” she said. “They just couldn’t get the cost down. That was the tipping point.”

The new tipping point is whether service will continue uninterrupted come July 7.

From the RTC’s standpoint, it is up to its two contracted bus agencies to work out the details with the union — as stipulated in the contract.

One possibility, should a strike ensue, is for the companies to bring in out-of-state drivers — or, as Mendoza terms it, “attempt to break our union.”

“This will be like it is twice a year for us when we make our service changes,” Quigley said. “The rider will not notice a change. It will be seamless for them.”

Mendoza begs to differ.

“This is our bread and butter that the RTC is messing with,” he said of the possibility — or likelihood — of a disruption of service.

Contact reporter Joe Hawk at
jhawk@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2912.

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