The city of Asheville plans to solicit proposals from new companies to manage its transit system.
“We’re developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) and we’re hoping to have it ready to go to invite proposals beginning in June,” reports City Manager Gary Jackson.
The City’s transit infrastructure is currently being managed by First Transit, Inc. The Cincinnati-based company was awarded a three-year contract in 2008 with a two-year extension option. The city pays First Transit about $130,000 a year to perform duties that include maintaining vehicles and hiring and supervising drivers.
Asheville is required by law to use a management company for day-to-day transit operations. This is because cities in North Carolina are forbidden to negotiate directly with unions, and Asheville Transit’s drivers are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The relationship between First Transit and union workers has reportedly been tense, and the company has been the subject of criticism for its safety record. Last winter the city completed a safety audit and plans to incorporate additional safety measures into any new contract, says Jackson.
“We’re going to insert some structural changes in the contract to implement some of the safety audit findings that came back to us this winter,” he explains. “[The audit] offered some suggestions and we’re going to make sure that we have management plans aligned with those. And accountability for implementing those audit decisions.”
The RFP takes the city’s plans to roll out the first wave of reforms called for in its Transit Master Plan “to the next level,” adds Jackson. “It’s part of our ongoing effort to get the very best transit system we can get for our money.”
Starting in June, the Asheville Transit System will implement changes designed to improve its routing and on-time performance. The city will also mount a marketing campaign to increase ridership, changing the name of the system from ATS to ART (Asheville Redefines Transit).
Jackson assures residents that picking the next management company won’t be a “political process,” stressing that “it’s a merit based decision.”