T hires new paratransit dispatcher

New contractor, Transdev, came in second in 2016

THE MBTA OVERSIGHT BOARD hired a new vendor on Monday to manage paratransit operations, a move that T officials characterized as a bid to correct an earlier mistake and to upgrade the agency’s overall contracting practices.

Transdev, one of the world’s largest transportation providers, was given a five-year contract worth nearly $12 million annually to oversee the provision of vehicle rides to people with disabilities. In its entirety, the paratransit service, called the RIDE, costs about $100 million a year.

Transdev replaces Global Contract Services, which was hired in 2016 to operate a centralized call and control center that was expected to save the T an estimated $12 million annually.  The MBTA concluded late last year that Global was not up to the job, so it kept Global on while it searched for the new vendor.

Transdev came in just behind Global in the original procurement.

Nearly all of the current 150 employees working for Global are expected to transition over to Transdev as it assumes control of the command center in Medford and seeks to consolidate all operations there; Global had only managed to consolidate two of the three regional reservation and dispatching operations.

Ben Schutzman, who oversees the T’s paratransit service, told the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board that Global’s operations had stabilized at acceptable levels over the last several months with the help of T staff and outside consultants. He said missed trips and customer issues were down. On-time performance, defined as within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time, has been above 90 percent since December, hitting a high of 95 percent in February.

Schutzman said Transdev’s first priority is completing the transition and then consolidating all reservation and dispatch services. The T is not counting on any cost savings from consolidation in the coming fiscal year, but officials say their hope is that, as dispatch efficiency improves, costs will come down.

Officials said the contracting process that resulted in Transdev’s selection was much more rigorous than the one that led to the selection of Global.  The selection came down to three finalists, Transdev and two of the three companies that currently provide rides to paratransit customers – Veterans Transportation and National Express. Veterans was tops in technical scoring but way behind Transdev on price.

Luis Ramirez, the general manager of the T, said one of the agency’s weaknesses has been its inability to successfully implement contracts with vendors. The new contract with Transdev attempts to remedy that by providing the necessary managerial supports to the company while also offering the firm a mix of incentives and penalties to keep service levels high. For example, Transdev will be incentivized financially to keep vehicle utilization and productivity at high levels and penalized for late or missed trips.

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Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Ramirez called the contract process a great learning experience for the T.

Brian Shortsleeve, a member of the control board, said the Transdev contract could be a template for future contract negotiations.  “We’ve got a lot of contracts out there and getting them right is a top priority,” he said.