MARTA issues RFP to privatize paratransit as union warns of potential driver shortage

By David Pendered

MARTA has issued a request for proposals for a private company to operate MARTA’s paratransit system, a move intended to lower MARTA’s operating costs and continue the restoration of the system’s fiscal health.

MARTA paratransit

MARTA’s Keith Shaw introduced riders to MARTA’s new fleet of paratransit vans when they rolled out in 2013. Credit: atlwebmag.com

Responses are due May 15, at which time MARTA will get a sense of the potential savings to be gained privatizing the maintenance and operation of the paratransit system.

The paratransit system provides more than 2,000 trips a day. MARTA’s Mobility service is restricted to: “Eligible individuals whose disabilities absolutely prevent them from using MARTA’s fixed route service,” according to the RFP.

Plenty of opportunities exist to lower costs, according to a management audit conducted for MARTA by KPMG in 2012.

MARTA’s cost per trip is 27 percent higher than the market average, and the cost per revenue hour is 17.7 percent higher than average, according to the audit.

MARTA’s board of directors approved the issuance of an RFP last month. The board considered alternatives to privatization that were presented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, but opted to proceed with the privatization plan as outlined in MARTA’s 12-step improvement program.

MARTA's paratransit vans are intended to provide space for the disabled/handicapped client and up to four companions: A personal care attendant; a companion; two children who ride for free if under 46 inches in height. Credit: atlwebmag.com

MARTA’s paratransit vans are intended to provide space for the disabled/handicapped client and up to four companions: A personal care attendant; a companion; two children who ride for free if under 46 inches in height. Credit: atlwebmag.com

The union contends that there’s plenty of opportunity for MARTA to improve its internal oversight of the program and keep the system in-house.

ATU President Lawrence Hanley sent a letter to MARTA in October that contends privatization could lead to high rates of turnover among drivers:

  • “Private contractors making lofty promises that cannot possibly be honored are locking cities into multi-year contracts and failing miserably, providing awful service that is not fit for anyone, especially elderly and disabled people. The most important reason for the poor quality of service is paratransit turnover, and this of course is tied directly to wages and benefits.”

Hanley referenced a national report that determined paratransit systems have turnover rates ranging from 30 percent to 80 percent. The 30 percent figure was determined by a survey conducted for the study; the 80 percent figure came from compliance reviews for the Americans with Disabilities Act, as conducted by FTA.

MARTA paratransit steps

Paratransit drivers can expect to help passengers on and off the bus, and sometimes to and from the door to their home. Credit: atlwebmag.com

Wage disparity may be part of the turnover issue, because paratransit drivers earn from $1 to $2 an hour less than fixed route drivers, and because of lower salary caps on paratransit drivers, according to the report.

In addition to lower salaries than other drivers, paratransit operators are required to provide care and support for their disabled passengers. Here’s a sample taken from MARTA’s RFP that indicates the types of situations drivers can encounter:

  • Drivers will provide door-to-door assistance with advance notice;
  • Drivers are not permitted to go into homes to set alarms or lock doors;
  • Drivers are permitted to help ambulatory riders get to and from the bus, and up and down the van’s steps;
  • Drivers are permitted to help riders who use wheelchairs;
  • Drivers are not to administer oxygen or prescription medicine, and are to call 911 if a rider needs medical assistance;
  • Riders who use oxygen are advised to have at least four hours of oxygen, in case their van gets delayed in traffic congestion.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

2 replies
  1. Guest says:

    30$ a trip sounds a lot, but it’s probably no more than normal taxi fare, so it’s hard to see it getting reduced significantly, besides this is like 2,000 trips scattered around a huge area (Fulton + Dekalb, with Clayton is even worse)… The only thing that may make sense is to have less vehicles, and put them in public parking lots instead of dedicated ones, or even have the operators drive them home in order to have good coverage in different areas. It’s also hard for those buses to be even used for other purposes in off-peak hours since they have like only 5 seats, who would rent such a huge van with only 5 people?Report

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