Transportation firm cut from state contract over bidding process

Improper contacts found between Laidlaw, panel

April 17, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Department of Transportation has cut ties with a company that was found to have had inappropriate contacts with state officials during bidding for a $43 million contract to provide van and cab service for the disabled.

The department disclosed yesterday that Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan terminated an emergency contract a week ago between the state and Laidlaw Transit Services of Shawnee Mission, Kan.

Within days of the award, the state Board of Contract Appeals found that a Laidlaw executive had improper contacts with two members of the panel evaluating bids for a three-year contract awarded in October. Ruling on a protest brought by incumbent provider Yellow Transportation Inc., the board said the contacts had illegally tainted the procurement.

Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the department, said it was "fair to say" that the board's finding was a factor in the decision to fire the company. A Laidlaw spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

The termination was the latest twist in a contract dispute that puts some 14,000 Baltimore-area disabled people in doubt about who will be providing transportation services under the state's Mobility program after July 1.

Cahalan said the department will continue its emergency contract with MV Transportation, a California company that was awarded part of the transportation business last fall.

Flanagan awarded the emergency contracts as a result of a dispute with Yellow over the department's threat to withhold payments for sub-par service.

Cahalan said officials have not determined how they will deliver the part of the service that Laidlaw would have provided as of July 1, when the department intends to stop doing business with Yellow.

The department's decision raises the possibility that disabled riders will have to deal with two transitions in as little as three months. Cahalan said yesterday that in addition to going through with the award to MV, the department will rebid the long-term contract as ordered by the Board of Contract Appeals.

Mark Joseph, president of Yellow, called the department's plans a "recipe for chaos" and questioned how MV would be able to provide the service with drivers hired for only 90 days. He said the department should cancel MV's contract as well as Laidlaw's and extend Yellow's contract until a new pact can be awarded.

Andrew Levy, a lawyer representing a group of riders who are suing the Maryland Transportation Administration over the quality of the Mobility service, said he shares Yellow's concern about a potential double transition.

"It raises all sorts of questions," he said, adding that typically there are "glitches" whenever vendors change on such a contract.

Cahalan said the department will "do everything in our power" to avoid inconvenience to Mobility customers.

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