Privatization will bring better service

In a unanimous vote earlier this month, the MARTA Board of Directors took action to enter into a contract with a private company that will assume operation of the Mobility service for our elderly customers and persons with disabilities.

After a comprehensive review process by MARTA staff, MV Transportation was ranked highest among a short list of other reputable companies competing for the Mobility contract that will run for three years with two, one-year options.

Based in Dallas, MV is the largest provider of paratransit services and the nation’s largest, privately owned transportation contractor. Several local firms will also be working with MV beyond the transition period and throughout the term of the contract.

The decision to outsource Mobility was a difficult and necessary step toward improving customer satisfaction, increasing on-time performance and leveraging private sector know-how to achieve greater operational efficiencies. Until now, MARTA stood as the only major public transportation agency in the nation that had not outsourced all or part of its paratransit service. Despite efforts over the years to implement reforms, Mobility’s “in-house” business model was not meeting expectations.

There were other compelling reasons that the status quo was no longer an acceptable option for Mobility. Since 2002, MARTA has been under a federal consent decree mandating the transit agency to improve the quality of its Mobility service. A separate, independent management audit commissioned by the MARTA board in 2010 also identified outsourcing as a viable way to operate Mobility more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Mobility service is available to eligible customers for travel within a three-quarter mile corridor of MARTA’s fixed-route bus and/or rail stations and trips must be booked in advance. Specially equipped Mobility vehicles with wheelchair lifts provide curb-to-curb service to customers. The requirements, policies and guidelines will not change as a result of the contract.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, MV will be responsible for managing Mobility drivers, trip scheduling and maintaining the paratransit vehicle fleet, which will still be owned by the transit agency. To ensure continuity, MARTA will also retain the role of determining eligibility and certifying customers who qualify.

It’s no surprise that this major policy shift has elicited understandable concerns among customers, employees and other stakeholders. In hopes of allaying some of their concerns, it’s important to note that:

• MV cannot raise Mobility fares; only MARTA’s Board has the authority to do so.

• MV has stated their intent to hire incumbent Mobility drivers with good performance histories, pay them wages comparable to their current rate and offer competitive benefits.

• MV is required to maintain an on-time performance for Mobility of at least 90 percent.

• Current Mobility drivers seeking to remain with MARTA are encouraged to apply for other open positions within the agency.

• MV cannot reduce the level of Mobility service that is currently offered.

• Unlike a previous attempt to privatize Mobility in the 1990s, MARTA staff will be keenly focused on ensuring MV is abiding by the contract.

• MV will provide monthly reports to MARTA’s Board of Directors.

• MV has proposed a robust communications plan to include a transition committee, an employee hotline and a number of community meetings.

• MV will recognize the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents MARTA’s represented workforce, as the collective bargaining unit.

The transition period will begin in January and MV is scheduled to step into its new role in spring 2016. While MARTA and MV are committed to a successful public-private partnership, both parties are sober about the possibility of some growing pains in the months ahead. Outsourcing is not a magic bullet; we’re counting on the continued support and constructive criticism from loyal customers, veteran Mobility drivers and the community to help us to get it right.

It’s worth noting that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a civil rights milestone that ensures equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in employment, government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation.

As Georgia’s largest public transit provider, MARTA is bound to uphold the spirit and letter of the law by making improvements that our Mobility customers demand and rightly deserve.

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