Columbia again searches for bus service operator

08/12/2014 11:20 PM

08/12/2014 11:22 PM

The agency that oversees the Columbia area’s bus system is to take a second stab Wednesday at starting the process of selecting a company to operate bus service for the next decade.

Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority has scheduled a specially called meeting to finalize a competitive bidding document that likely will be published Monday, CMRTA board chairman Brian DeQuincey Newman said Tuesday.

This will be the second time this year the agency has attempted to reach a new agreement to run the bus service for 10 years.

CMRTA has had only one operator, Veolia Transportation, since the system became a public service in 2002. Before then, the buses were operated through South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

As renewed negotiations for an operator proceed, Newman said CMRTA is to continue a month-to-month agreement with Veolia probably through the end of the year – and perhaps into January.

August is the first month the agency has been paying Veolia about $600,000 per month to continue operating the buses as well as vans that provide transportation to disabled residents, the chairman said.

Veolia, along with First Transit and Keolis, were the three finalists for the new contract negotiations that began in January and ended in June.

The CMRTA board has not publicly explain why talks broke down this spring, citing procurement laws. But negotiations moved from the first finalist to the second before the whole process was halted, Newman said.

One of the sticking points was the proportion of subcontractors that are locally and minority-owned, board members said at the time. The initial agreement called for a goal of 30 percent of the services to be provided by local or minority-owned businesses.

In January, Newman said he expected a contract to be ready for a board vote in February. He previously had said the agreement would be reached by the end of 2013.

Newman said Tuesday he anticipates final negotiations with the transportation company the agency ultimately selects will extend to October or November.

The bus system has been activating more bus routes as its funding has been shored up, especially by the passage in November 2012 of a 1-cent-on-the-dollar increase on Richland County’s sales tax. Taxpayers approved the tax increase with the condition that 29 percent of the money it generates goes toward improving the bus system.

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