Union: Only 1 firm bid on T bus repair work
Lack of interest may complicate privatization efforts
THE MBTA’S BID TO PRIVATIZE as many as three of its nine bus maintenance garages may be in trouble, as the union representing existing workers said only one firm had submitted a bid to do the work.
Luis Ramirez, the T’s general manager, refused to comment on how many companies had submitted bids and was circumspect about the agency’s plans for privatizing bus maintenance other than to say the procurement process was continuing. Union officials insisted their information about the lone bidder was accurate.
The bus privatization procurement has become a political football. State and federal lawmakers have sided with the union in opposition to privatization, while MBTA officials have pushed to privatize some bus maintenance work to cut costs. The union and the T have been trying to find common ground, a way to introduce privatization that would be acceptable to the union. Sources said a number of approaches have been explored, but the lack of interest in the maintenance contract among private companies may complicate the process.
In prepared remarks on Monday to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, Ramirez said the agency’s procurement process yielded “analytical and other baseline data it had previously lacked. The T will be able to use this information to produce a more cost effective and efficient bus maintenance operation that will benefit both the ridership and the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.”
Ramirez’s comments came after Michael Vartabedian, business agent for Local 264, which represents workers at the MBTA bus garages, said he had learned that only one company submitted a bid to perform bus maintenance for the T. The T had expected three companies to submit bids. Vartabedian said the lone bidder was First Transit of Cincinnatti, Ohio. He read off numerous news reports about First Transit’s difficulties with contracts around the country.
“You can’t have a legitimate bidding process with only one controversial, unreliable company bidding,” he said in a prepared statement.
But there is nothing to prevent the T from signing a contract with First Transit. Under the procurement process, bidders were asked to submit bids on the three garages in Jamaica Plain, Lynn, and Quincy. Bidders were also asked to submit bids to operate the individual garages, so the T could privatize just one, two, or all three facilities. The MBTA could also start the bidding process over again from scratch in an attempt to attract more bidders.
At Monday’s meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, Vartabedian said the T’s other privatization efforts have not gone well. He singled out efforts to privatize the agency’s warehouse operations by hiring Mancon LLC of Virginia. Vartabedian said the warehouse is not open 24 hours a day as T officials promised. He also noted two employees were arrested recently for stealing parts, others have been caught sleeping on the job, and some have been reprimanded for using drugs at work.
“This is just another example of privatization failure,” he said.
At the request of Brian Lang, a member of the control board who was not present at Monday’s meeting, Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the board, asked top T officials to prepare an update on the Mancon contract.Having just one bidder for the bus maintenance work could make final pricing negotiations difficult, since First Transit knows it is the only firm in the running. Having multiple bidders is the preferred approach. The control board approved two projects on Monday – a $56.9 million contract for the replacement of a bridge in Gloucester and a $21.2 million contract to build a test track for new Red Line cars in South Boston. In both cases, five bids were submitted and the T selected the lowest bidder. Three companies have also submitted bids to design and construct the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford.
“If you don’t do it now, it’s probably never going to happen,” he said.