City and university transit recommending a new contractor to operate buses

photo by: Mike Yoder

A Lawrence Transit System bus stops just south of Seventh and Vermont streets, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

After working with MV Transportation for the past 18 years, members of both the city of Lawrence and University of Kansas transit systems are recommending a change.

They now want First Transit Inc. to be the contracted service provider for both services. The proposal will be presented at the Nov. 6. Lawrence City Commission meeting. If approved, First Transit will begin its contract in January 2019.

City Public Transit Administrator Bob Nugent said transit contracts have been reviewed every five years, and the most recent contract with MV Transportation was scheduled to sunset on Dec. 31.

The contract with MV Transportation has been renewed every year since 2000. The job of the contracted company is to hire drivers, dispatchers and maintain vehicles.

“Every five years we go through and evaluate all the vendors, and this year we chose First Transit over MV Transportation,” Nugent said.

A number of reasons exist for recommending the change, Nugent said.

“It’s nothing specific, except MV Transportation lost some of their experience when the previous general manager of 18 years left,” Nugent said. He had been with the company the entire time that it had the contract in Lawrence.

In April, Scott Forman took over as general manager, moving from Baltimore, where he worked for the company. He declined to comment to the Lawrence Journal-World about the decision but directed all questions to Nugent.

“Without that intimate knowledge about the history of the service we decided to go in a different direction,” Nugent said. “We are going to be a little more technology-driven.”

Nugent said the bus system had transitioned several years ago into using GPS and sharing information with the public through technology; however, it was looking to do more, although he didn’t provide specifics.

The contracts of the employees currently working for MV Transportation will end Dec. 31. They will need to reapply with First Transit Inc., if the contract change is approved.

“When you make this transition, and I have been through it, all will have to reapply,” Nugent said.

Drivers, mechanics and dispatchers are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1754, which would have to renegotiate their contract.

“The bus service has to keep running,” said Kait McNeely, the financial secretary for Local 1754.

Nugent said he thought the affected 160 employees would be rehired in the event of a contract change.

First Transit is the largest contract provider in the U.S., with 330 contracts in the U.S. and Canada, according to Nugent. Included in its contracts is the cross-country bus service Greyhound. The parent company is First Group, based in Great Britain.

“It does a lot of work in Europe and is the largest international surface transportation in the world,” Nugent said.

The company currently has the contract for First Student with the Lawrence school district.

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