Paratransit contract award delayed

Appeal by bidder spurs public works board move

November 13, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The state Board of Public Works made a last-minute decision yesterday to delay the award of $43 million in contracts for transportation for the disabled to two out-of-state companies after a losing bidder filed a toughly worded protest.

The move to take the contracts off the agenda clearly surprised some Department of Transportation officials, who arrived at the meeting expecting to present the contracts for approval despite a pending appeal by Yellow Transportation.

The item was deferred to the next board meeting even though several disabled people came to Annapolis to weigh in on the disputed award to Laidlaw Transit Services of Overland Park, Kan., and MV Transportation of Fairfield, Calif.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp -- the board's three members -- made the decision behind closed doors before the scheduled meeting yesterday morning.

Kopp said the decision was unanimous and that board members needed time to consider a protest filed Monday by Yellow Transportation, chief contractor for the MTA's Mobility service. The paratransit service provides van and taxi rides to about 2,200 disabled riders each day.

Mark Joseph, president of Baltimore-based Yellow, said the company was "very pleased" by the delay.

"Normally contracts aren't awarded in the face of a protest," said Joseph. "It should go before the Board of Contract Appeals."

The company, an affiliate of the international transportation company Connex, appealed the award to the board last month, accusing Maryland Transit Administration officials of conducting a biased procurement process.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said he arrived at yesterday's meeting prepared to defend the contract award.

Flanagan said that he met with Kopp and Schaefer on Monday night to discuss their concerns.

"I understand from our discussion that they were looking for a lot of information and trying to sort out a lot of complex facts," Flanagan said.

He added that the department will continue to press for an award at next month's public works board meeting in spite of the appeal.

"We feel confident that appeal will be denied," he said.

Yellow's performance under its current contract has been controversial.

Some of its disabled passengers have criticized service, saying drivers showed up late or not at all, prompting Flanagan to recently describe the service as "dysfunctional."

Joseph said many of the problems with the service have been caused by the MTA, which handles the calls and the scheduling of rides.

He said MTA officials have consistently ignored the company's suggestions on how to improve service.

"The selection process was managed by the same people who are responsible for a dysfunctional service," Joseph said.

In the company's latest protest, Yellow alleges that most of the members of the selection committee were employees at the MTA of the panel's chairman.

Flanagan declined to respond to specific allegations because litigation is pending.

He said the process was "carefully scrutinized" by the attorney general's office.

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