Thursday, March 10, 2011 | 11:59 p.m.
A major change could be coming to the valley’s public bus system but one that will likely not be noticed by most residents.
The Regional Transportation Commission is negotiating a contract with a new company to run the bus system that carried 54.8 million people last year. If approved by the RTC’s board, the contract would shift the service away from the largest transit provider in the world to a different foreign-owned company.
While the commission owns the buses and sets routes, a private company, Veolia Transportation, has employed bus drivers and operated the service since 1993. Veolia’s contract expires Sept. 25 and the RTC wants to hire a new company, First Transit, to run the system.
“This is the largest public services contract for bus operations in the country. It is a very large contract,” said RTC General Manager Jacob Snow.
The value of the current contract, which began in 2008, fluctuates as bus routes and other services change, but so far the RTC has paid Veolia $59 million this fiscal year, which began in July.
The new contract will be for three years with two two-year options to extend.
In anticipation of the Veolia contract expiring, the RTC issued a request for proposals in September and received responses from three companies.
All three are large corporations with experience running similar bus systems: California-based MV Transportation has operations in 24 states and Canada; First Transit has operations in the U.S., Canada and the UK and is a subsidiary of a Scotland-based company that also owns the Greyhound bus system; and Veolia, the French company that recently merged with Transdev to create the largest transportation provider in the world with services in 28 countries.
The RTC’s bus system is the first “key contract” listed on Veolia’s website, where the company says it is “extremely proud to be the exclusive operator of the RTC bus and BRT (bus rapid transit) system.”
While Veolia is the only company that operates the RTC’s main bus system, First Transit currently operates the RTC’s paratransit service, so it too has experience in Las Vegas and with the RTC.
When the RTC evaluated the three companies’ proposals, it immediately dismissed MV Transportation.
“MV Transportation did not meet the competitive range based on our evaluation,” Snow said.
The RTC held interviews with representatives from the other two companies and requested a “best and final offer” from each.
Those offers were evaluated and scored. For technical qualifications, First Transit scored 83.1 and Veolia scored 87.2. For price, First Transit scored 100 and Veolia scored 92.8.
The total score was then calculated based 45 percent on the technical qualifications and 55 percent on price. First Transit scored 92.4 while Veolia scored 90.3.
The RTC has claimed to be the most cost-effective transit provider in the country and at the board’s Thursday meeting, the commission’s staff recommended the contract be awarded to First Transit.
The board, which is made up of elected officials from each of the municipalities in the county, did not vote on the proposal but directed the staff to proceed with the contract negotiations and return with a contract for approval at the April board meeting.
Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, the chair of the RTC board, asked the staff to make sure the proposed contract and other details of the offers are posted publicly online a week before the Apr. 14 meeting.
Until that happens, board members are prohibited from discussing the contract with the companies and the bus drivers union.
Brown said the board may have to push the contract approval back a month if there are any concerns from the board members.
Snow said that is OK but might cramp the transition process if First Transit is to take over operations.
There is likely to be some lobbying from Veolia once the final contract is presented. CEO Mark Joseph hinted that the company would be discussing the contract with the board members.
“We have many questions regarding this evaluation process,” he said in brief remarks during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting. “We understand there is a significantly lower price. We don’t understand how, but we will look for information, try to understand what the process is and get back to you.”
The president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1637 also asked commissioners for a chance to present the union’s ideas to the board. But after the meeting, union Financial Secretary Jeff Raske said the union doesn’t have a preference which company operates the service.
If the contract does change to First Transit, the company will likely hire most of the same drivers after the required drug and background tests, Raske said.
The union, however, hopes to be more involved the next time the contract is opened for new providers, likely in seven years.
The union previously said it wanted the RTC to shift to a structure where the employees would work under a direct contract with the RTC rather than a contract with a third-party operator.