Summit County government officials have released a controversial request for proposals (RFP) from private companies interested in taking over operations of the Summit Stage.
The call for bids on the contract outlines a three- to five-year agreement that would aim to reduce operating costs of the free bus system while retaining all “qualified” employees, improving training and increasing efficiencies.
It’s the first step toward privatizing the publicly funded service, an option the Summit Board of County Commissioners have been exploring in response to a budget shortfall and change in management within the system.
“Once we get the bids back, that will really be the first time we know whether this is worth continuing to look at or not,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “We’ve had the Summit Stage for going on 20 years now, and it’s time to take a look and make sure there are not other options that could sustain (it) into the future by creating a little more efficiency within the department.”
Bids are due back by 1 p.m. August 12.
Under a privatization contract, the county would maintain responsibility for the high-level decisions regarding the transit system, including the frequency of buses and the structure of routes, while the private operator would take over day-to-day management responsibilities, such as employee training and schedules.
But the proposal has been hotly contested by Stage drivers and some local residents, who have put together a petition against it that is now more than 1,000 signatures strong.
“Transit faces tough decisions all over the U.S., but privatization is not the answer,” former driver and local drivers union president Cathy Brosius stated in an email to the Summit Daily. “The depth of experience and insight among drivers at the Stage could be better used to explore solutions.”
Brosius, and others who oppose privatization, say they’re concerned about the impacts to the system’s current employees if an outside company takes over.
But county officials hold that jobs and pay will be continued through any future management transitions, and the RFP states that maintaining “a balanced economic package by offering comparable compensation and benefits package to (that of the) current labor union,” is a key goal of the procurement of services from a contractor.
“They’ll need to keep all of the drivers that are qualified that pass their background checks,” Noll said. “In our conversations with various contract providers, that’s a standard practice that they all do. They all want experienced drivers because the drivers know the routes and know the terrain.”
The RFP indicates county officials will evaluate bids submitted by the due date and will negotiate a final agreement with the bidder that comes back with the highest-ranked proposal.
If commissioners decide to proceed with privatizing the system, it could be under the management of a private company by the fall.
Officials confirmed that there have already been conversations with First Transit Services, a private company with a fleet maintenance arm that took over maintenance operations on all county vehicles several years ago.