The Midlands transportation system board of directors is negotiating its operator contract with Keolis.
At a special called meeting on Wednesday procurement attorney Liz Crum announced the negotiations with Keolis, a French company that operates in several countries, while summarizing the reason for the board’s executive session.
At the previous meeting, the board voted to switch gears from negotiating with the No. 1 firm to start talks with the No.-2 ranked firm. The No.1 ranked firm for the multimillion dollar, potentially 10-year contract could have been either First Transit or Veolia Transportation, the current operator for the system, which has had the contract for about 12 years.
Until now, the board has not revealed which firm they were negotiating with, citing the law allowing them to keep the procurement process private.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board members took no action after they came out of executive session.
The contract value is estimated at $7.5 million for the first year, but that number would grow to $12 million to $15 million per year by 2020 as services are added, Bob Schneider, executive director of The COMET, has said.
The COMET has about 12 employees in charge of finance and planning, and provide information to the board for members to make decisions.
The bus system operator employs dispatchers and performs all route supervision, driving, maintenance work and repair work.
Chairman Brian DeQuincey Newman said he expects the contract to be decided on by the board’s April meeting at the latest.
The second round of negotiations should be a faster process than the first because the board has fine-tuned the points that are important to the board and community, he said.
However, until a formal contract is signed, the board could switch gears again if it wanted to.
Newman said that every company that was interested in the contract was a well-qualified company.
“Our negotiations are purely to make sure we get the best fit for our community – not just a qualified operator,” he said.
A sticking point in the negotiations has been the potential operator’s commitment to hiring local and minority-owned subcontractors as well as financial transparency.
The three companies competing for the contract were given a goal of 30 percent of services to be provided by local and minority-owned businesses, according to the request for proposals developed by the board.
THE THREE FINALISTS
First Transit is the U.S. division of the United Kingdom-based First-Group mass transit company, which operates in more than 40 states, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Keolis, a French company, operates in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Australia and China. Keolis America has more than 100 U.S. systems, including on college campuses.
Veolia Transportation is based in Paris and operates transit systems in about 200 communities in Europe and the U.S., including Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, Atlanta, Baltimore, the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Toronto. Veolia has run Columbia’s buses for about 12 years.