Cap Metro Switches UT Shuttle Providers
During their regular monthly meeting last week, the Capital Metro board of directors tapped Ohio-based First Transit Inc. as its new subcontractor to run the UT shuttle bus service. First Transit will take over operation of the service on June 1, after the current contract with ATC/Vancom expires. First Transit's contract will run for three years with a pair of one-year extension options for a total cost of $44 million with which the company will operate 87 buses along 16 fixed shuttle routes and one fixed "Flyer" route. According to a Cap Metro press release, the proposal submitted by First Transit which operates 120 transit systems, maintains 5,200 vehicles, and provides more than 100 million trips per year outpaced competitors based on their proposed management structure and personnel plans, quality control plan, corporate experience, and past performance. (Price was "evaluated" but not "scored," the agency reports.) Cap Metro expects that First Transit will "retain a majority" of the nearly 200-driver UT shuttle workforce, and the "wages and benefits provided to employees under the contract are expected to meet wages and benefits received by current union employees," reads the press release.
It was a disagreement over wages and benefits that sparked a conflagration last year between ATC/Vancom management and UT shuttle drivers, who worked for the Cap Metro subcontractor for nearly two years without an employment contract. Although the contract lapse was caused by a number of factors, the length of the lapse was exacerbated by two ATC/Vancom proposals that failed to address driver concerns about low wages and substandard benefits. The shuttle drivers' employment terms paled considerably in comparison to the wages and benefits afforded to the rest of the Cap Metro workforce under a contract with StarTrans, the quasi-independent company that officially employs Cap Metro drivers an arrangement designed to satisfy federal law requiring employees get an opportunity to unionize and engage in employment bargaining. Currently, pay for UT shuttle drivers starts at $9.45/hour, capping out at $13, compared to starting pay of $13/hour for StarTrans drivers, capping out at $18/hour. Since the two sets of employees essentially work for the same company, the disparities just aren't fair, shuttle driver union past President Cordie Ray told the Chronicle last spring. Indeed, comparatively, UT shuttles carry more passengers per mile than do Cap Metro's city buses; yet the shuttle's ridership numbers are carried by Cap Metro in determining the amount of federal funding the agency receives. According to Ray, the cause of the disparity and, ultimately, of last year's vocal dissent by the shuttle drivers and a group of UT students was ATC/Vancom's 1998 lowball bid for the job. What exactly will happen under First Transit's management of the contract is as yet unclear, but Cap Metro president and CEO Fred Gilliam is apparently optimistic. "First Transit rose to the top of a competitive group of transit providers during the [proposal] review process," he said. UT's "students, staff, and faculty are important to Capital Metro, and we believe that First Transit will provide the quality of service our university customers expect and deserve."