The Maryland Department of Transportation has settled its differences with its longtime provider of van and cab services for Baltimore-area disabled people - bringing to an apparent end a bitter contract dispute that had threatened to disrupt service to clients.
Secretary Robert L. Flanagan and Yellow Transportation Inc. said yesterday that the department has agreed to extend the company's contract for nine months, with a potential of up to six one-month extensions before the service is put up for bid again.
The Maryland Transportation Administration will continue to provide about 300 of the estimated 2,300 rides available daily under its Mobility transit program. Yellow is expected to split the remaining business with California-based MV Transportation, which Flanagan expects will sign a contract in the next few days.
Both companies will operate under a new procedure for which the MTA will do all the routing, dispatching and scheduling of trips. The previous model, which divided those responsibilities between the agency and the contractor, was severely criticized in a recent federal report.
"This model, unlike the prior model, will encourage the vendors to provide on-time service," Flanagan said. "There will be financial incentives for them to provide on-time service and financial disincentives to provide late service."
The former procedure helped foster an adversarial relationship between Yellow and MTA officials, who routinely exchanged accusations over who was responsible for lapses in service that left disabled customers stranded. When the agency recommended awarding a new contract to two other companies last fall, Yellow took its claims of bias to the Board of Public Works and the Board of Contract Appeals.
Last month, Flanagan moved to oust Yellow as of July 1, complaining that on-time performance had deteriorated. He announced an emergency contract with MV Transportation and Laidlaw Transit Services of Shawnee Mission, Kan., the firms that prevailed in the disputed bidding process last year.
Several days later, the contract appeals board ruled that two MTA officials had improper communications with Laidlaw that tainted the procurement. The scathing opinion left Flanagan with little choice but to disqualify Laidlaw, making it unclear for the past month which company would provide the service after June.
Yellow President Mark Joseph, who until recently was exchanging charges with Flanagan, praised the secretary yesterday and expressed satisfaction with the result. "We're very enthusiastic about moving to the new model," Joseph said.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made improving transportation service for the disabled a priority of his administration, but efforts have been overshadowed by the conflict with Yellow.
The agreement was important enough to the governor that on Monday he personally notified Joel Meyerberg, an advocate for the disabled who took Yellow's side in the dispute. Meyerberg said the governor's leadership "made the big difference" in resolving the matter.
Flanagan said Ehrlich has directed Christine Cox, secretary-designate of the newly created Department of Disabilities, to establish an advisory group to provide feedback to transportation officials and to monitor the performance of the Mobility service.