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RTC votes to continue bus contract battle in court

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Steve Marcus

Members of the Regional Transportation Commission Board meet at the Henderson City Council chambers on Thursday.

Updated Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011 | 5:07 p.m.

RTC Meeting on Bus Contract

Clark County Commissioner and Regional Transportation Commission board chairman Larry Brown, left, talks with Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler, center, and North Las Vegas Councilman Robert Eliason before going into a closed meeting at the Henderson City Council chambers Thursday, September 1, 2011. Launch slideshow »

The Regional Transportation Commission board had its first unanimous decision Thursday related to its controversial bus contract, but the fate of the valley’s bus system is far from determined.

The vote at the emergency board meeting was to continue the fight over the contract, which has entered the court system.

At issue is a lucrative contract to operate the valley’s public bus system. The contract is worth more than $80 million per year for four to seven years.

When the contract was open for bids, the current operator, Veolia Transportation, came in about $50 million higher over seven years than First Transit’s bid. First Transit currently operates the commission’s paratransit bus service.

Despite the price difference, the commission’s eight board members split 4-4 on awarding the contract, with some of them saying the commission should consider alternatives rather than to award the contract to First Transit, which had the lower bid.

First Transit sued the commission Aug. 22 in Clark County District Court, asking the court to intervene and award the contract to it.

The commission has until Sept. 6 to respond, and since the regular board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8, an emergency meeting was held Thursday at Henderson City Hall for the board to discuss the lawsuit with the commission’s legal counsel.

After more than an hour in a closed-door meeting, commissioners quickly voted to direct the commission staff to oppose the lawsuit. None of the commissioners spoke on the subject during the open portion of the meeting.

After the meeting, Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, the board’s chairman, who has voted against awarding the contract to First Transit, said he opposes the court intervening in a decision the board has the power to make.

“We were elected to make decisions,” he said. “Even though this has been a difficult one, there is progress being made. There is still optimism on this board that working with both Veolia and First Transit we will get to a solution that’s best for our constituents.”

The board is composed of elected officials from Clark County and each of the cities in the county.

Henderson Councilwoman Debra March, Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler, North Las Vegas Councilman Robert Eliason and Mesquite Councilman Kraig Hafen have voted for First Transit to get the contract. County commissioners Brown and Chris Giunchigliani, and Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross and Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian have voted against First Transit.

Brown said the board would discuss the contract again at its regular meeting next week, including some of the alternatives to the current deadlock.

The agenda item posted for the meeting only allows the board to discuss the operation of the bus system. It does not allow the board to vote again on the contract.

But Brown said the discussion will be “with the intent of moving this forward.”

In the meantime, commission officials have promised that there will be no effect on bus passengers. While the current contract expires at the end of this month, the commission already has arranged to extend the old contract month-to-month with Veolia until a new contract is approved.

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