New operators for Palm Beach County's busing service for disabled

By Andy Reid, Sun Sentinel
6:38 p.m. EDT, September 9, 2014

Three companies were picked Tuesday to take over operations of Palm Beach County's troubled busing service for the disabled and elderly.

The County Commission approved moving ahead with reaching a seven-year outsourcing deal, which could total $184 million, to be shared among three companies selected to run Palm Tran Connection.

Palm Tran Connection is a by-appointment, door-to-door public transit system that helps some of the county's neediest residents get to important destinations such as doctors' appointments, work, school and the grocery store.

Switching from one operator to three new companies is expected to cost taxpayers at least $5 million more a year. But the county is banking that the investment in hiring more help will correct late bus pickups and other service problems that triggered a flood of rider complaints.

"I am really excited about the three companies," said Palm Tran Connection rider Drew Merritt, who is blind. "People are going to be picked up more on time."

Out of the 12 companies once in the running to operate Palm Tran Connection, county commissioners chose MV Transportation, based in California; First Transit, based in England; and Maruti Fleet and Management, based in Orlando.

Work now begins on finalizing the contracts for the three companies. Those contracts are expected to go before the County Commission for a vote on Oct. 7. 

The new companies would take over Palm Tran Connection operations by Feb. 1.

"We are ready to begin moving forward with a much-improved paratransit system," said Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque-Bass, who has helped oversee changes at Palm Tran Connection.

In an effort to save money, the County Commission in 2012 opted to hire just one Palm Tran Connection operator — Metro Mobility Management Group.

Switching from multiple transit companies to one operator proved problematic in the state's geographically largest county.

After Metro Mobility took over, the county was flooded with complaints from riders about late buses, traffic accidents, maintenance backlogs, filthy buses and other service problems.

As a result, commissioners in January agreed to phase out Metro Mobility's operation of Palm Tran Connection by 2015, just halfway through what was supposed to be a 5-year, $90 million deal.

The new approach for running Palm Tran Connection calls for the three companies approved Tuesday to share transporting responsibilities, taking the lead in different parts of the county.

MV Transportation proposed a $73 million deal to handle about 40 percent of the work for Palm Tran Connection. First Transit proposed a $76 million deal to handle another 40 percent of the Palm Tran Connection trips. Maruti Fleet proposed a $35 million deal to handle about 20 percent of the trips.

Those Palm Tran Connection contracts are being required to meet the county's "living wage" standard, which means paying an hourly wage above the usual minimum wage. County government's minimum-allowable, base-wage increases to $11.80 an hour in October.

Palm Tran Connection has about 12,000 riders a year, averaging about 73,000 trips a month. Riders pay $3.50 for a one-way trip on Palm Tran Connection.

abreid@sunsentinel.com, 561-228-5504 or Twitter@abreidnews
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