Bus operator has to absorb the increases in costs in locked-in city schools contract

February 20, 2000

Joe Louis Gladney feels trapped in a losing proposition. Last year, when diesel was running about a dollar a gallon, he extended his bus company's contract to provide transportation for Baltimore City public schools. Since then diesel prices have nearly doubled.

"We have to absorb the increase with no restitution from Baltimore City," said Gladney, who opened Gladney Transportation Inc. 30 years ago. "If profits are constantly being eaten up by expenses and you're not being reimbursed, how does that leave you? Unprofitable."

He owns 27 school buses that each use about 25 gallons of diesel a day, and he pays about $1.89 a gallon. The increase is costing him nearly $630 a day.

Gladney said he's forced to continue, not only because he would likely get sued if he breached his contract, but because he can't walk away from a venture in which he's invested so heavily.

"You're trapped in the business," he said. "It's a lot of tension, a lot of pressure. One loses a lot of sleep."

Gladney also owns six charter buses, but he doesn't want to raise rates on that side of the business because he's afraid he would lose customers.

"You have to stay competitive," he said. "If you have to bite the bullet, then you bite the bullet."

Ron Dillon Sr., co-owner with his brothers of Dillon's Bus Service Inc. in Millersville and president of the Maryland Motor Coach Association, said many companies are in the same situation.

His company provides 28 buses for the Mass Transit Administration and also is locked into a fixed-price contract. "It's to the point now where it's almost an emergency situation for us," he said. "Our fuel bill used to be $30,000 a month and now it's $60,000."

To save on costs, Dillon and his brothers, Keith and Brian, have taken to driving routes themselves.

"A guy who would normally be working gets knocked off the job for a day," Dillon said. "It trickles down and hurts employees."

He said he and other association members plan to meet with the MTA in hopes of getting some relief, but Dillon's hopes of success aren't high.

"Their costs are going up like ours are," he said. "It's just unreal."

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