City considers $9.5M bus contract, service options

Springfield rates haven’t increased since 1984, but commissioner says review is needed.

The five-year contract, running through 2020, would cost the city about $200,000 annually, said Finance Director Mark Beckdahl. About $8.5 million of the five-year deal will be paid with money from the Federal Transit Administration and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The city will examine the transportation service to make improvements for the future, Beckdahl said, including different route design and the possibility of operating later into the evening.

“We’ve had requests to do that, but we’re still trying to figure out how we can do that and still say within our budget,” Beckdahl said.

The operating company, First Transit, manages about 20 employees and runs about 25 buses for the city. The service averages about 22,000 passengers per month on its 11 fixed routes.

Bus fares would not change as part of the contract, if approved, Beckdahl said. The rates are set by the City Commission and haven’t increased since 1984, he said.

The fees should be reviewed, said City Commissioner Karen Duncan. She had concerns the contract renewal would lock the city into the current rates for five years.

“When you think about it, for a person to ride all the way across town for a dollar or less, that seems like an incredible, almost unbelievable bargain,” Duncan said.

With many people unemployed in the city, Springfield resident David Sanford hopes commissioners won’t increase bus fees.

“If you raise the fees, they won’t be able to catch the bus at all,” Sanford said. “If they don’t have any money now and you raise the fees, how are they going to pay for it?”

City commissioners heard a first reading of the contract at Tuesday’s meeting and will vote on the deal in two weeks.

A First Transit Inc. spokesman declined to comment.

City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill also asked about an escape clause being included as part of the contract. Both sides have the option to end the contract with a 90-day notice, said City Manager Jim Bodenmiller.

“If something happens budgetary that we can’t afford to do this service, we need to be able to get out of that,” O’Neill said.

The company has served as the city’s bus operator since July 2011. The city extended the contract by one year last November, according to public documents.

First Transit will receive a $36,000 management fee and can also earn up to $20,000 annually in incentives based on contract revenue, advertising and expense control. In 2020, the management fee will increase to $40,800 and the incentives could increase to $24,000, Beckdahl said.

Springfield Bus Company previously ran the service for more than four decades, but the city opted to work with First Transit in 2011 to save money. The city requested proposals for its bus service in August, Beckdahl said, but First Transit was the only company to place a bid.

The Cincinnati-based company – which operates more than 11,000 transit vehicles across the country –has done an excellent job operating the service in Springfield, Beckdahl said.

“They’ve been very professional and have brought some cost-saving ideas to the table,” Beckdahl said. “I think they’ve done a very good job over the life of their previous contract.”

The lack of evening hours and weekend service is difficult for some people, said Springfield resident Teresa Victoria. She rides the bus about two to three times per week.

“We don’t have the weekend (service) to get around,” Victoria said.

Springfield resident Kathy Engle was happy with the bus service, but also said she would like to see later hours.

“A lot of people who work during the week don’t have time to get everything done, and they depend on the bus,” Engle said.

Vanessa Whitt of Springfield rides the bus every day, she said. She would also like to see weekend hours.

“It would be nice to be able to go to the store,” Whitt said.

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