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MARTA may seek new operator for paratransit service

The company that runs MARTA’s paratransit service for the elderly and the disabled could lose the job because of concerns over minority contracting.

Last week the MARTA Board of Directors voted to allow CEO Jeffrey Parker to search for a new company to operate its paratransit service, which is currently run by Dallas-based MV Transportation.

Parker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he sought the authorization because the company had not met its goal for employing minority- and women-owned subcontractors to help do the work – an issue that has sparked an investigation by the Federal Transit Administration.

VIDEO: More about MARTA

Channel 2's Justin Wilfon counted and of the 43 lights above the stairwells in the station, only one is working.

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The agency is investigating whether MARTA violated rules designed to ensure that businesses owned by minorities and women – dubbed “disadvantaged business enterprises” – get a share of government contracts. The investigation stems from a complaint that MARTA allowed MV Transportation to wiggle out of a subcontract with a minority-owned business, Gresham Transportation Services of Atlanta.

MARTA’s contract with MV Transportation included a goal of providing 20 percent of the work to disadvantaged businesses. The company said Gresham failed to maintain the insurance needed to do the work. Gresham said that’s because MV Transportation failed to provide the work and revenue needed to pay for the insurance.

The transit agency has said MV Transportation has found another minority business to handle some of the service. But U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, has gone to bat for Gresham, warning that federal funding for MARTA could be in jeopardy if the FTA finds the agency acted improperly.

MV Transportation has operated the paratransit service since 2016. The company operates on-call shuttle vans that transport seniors and the disabled to and from destinations within three-quarters of a mile of MARTA’s fixed-route transit lines.

The company has a three-year, $116.9 million contract, with two possible one-year renewals. Parker said MARTA needs to advertise the paratransit contract now if it plans to consider allowing another business to do the work. He said no decision has been made about whether to drop MV Transportation.

MV Transportation issued a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying it strives to “meet the operational performance standards specified by MARTA.”

MARTA’s relationship with the company has sparked controversy from the beginning. MARTA previously operated the paratransit service itself, but decided to outsource the contract to save money and improve efficiency.

The Amalgamated Transit Union contested the decision, and an arbitration panel ruled that MARTA had violated the terms of its labor contract. But the agency appealed to Fulton County Superior Court, where a judge overturned the arbitrator’s decision.

Since then, the union has expressed concerns about the safety of the service and staged a one-day strike in protest those concerns and what it calls unfair labor practices. MARTA has said the service is safe.

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