Taken for a (Bus) Ride

A French transit firm wins a no-bid deal with Phoenix, and taxpayers are left without a transfer

Again, we're talking a collective 79 percent on Veolia's two management contracts, without any competition for the work! And while it's conceivable that harried midlevel staffers might sign off on deals like this, I can't imagine how an elected body of supposedly intelligent people could approve them both, unanimously, particularly in an election year.

Legally, they covered their tails, of course. When the city negotiated that shuttle-service contract, they gave the contractor the right to come back in a few years and renegotiate. Brilliant — and the next thing we know, Veolia managed to double its fees. (The city's assistant aviation director, Carl Newman, tells me that since the service was new a year ago, they hadn't known what to expect. "This has been fully audited, and we're confident we're doing the right thing," he says.)

The bus-service contract was trickier. Federal regulations generally require cities to get proposals from multiple companies, not just re-sign with the same company as usual — even if that company is mighty friendly.

The feds allow an exception if only one vendor is qualified for the work. The city's deputy transit manager, Al Villaverde, admits that wasn't the case here.

"We acknowledge there are several other companies that could do this service," Villaverde tells me. In fact, two of them put in a proposal for the contract in 2002.

Instead, Villaverde says, the bus-service contract was a case of "special circumstances."

They were adding bus routes. And hosting meetings to unveil those routes. And planning a new $15 million transit center.

Basically, as Villaverde admits, "It was a very busy year, and we just weren't staffed up enough."

So.

The city transit staff was too busy to, well, do their jobs.

And the city politicians blindly followed the advice of the way-too-busy transit staffers.

No wonder the French were able to triumph!

It's pretty clear that was the city's intention all along.

Here's how I know that. If cities skip the whole multiple-proposal thing, the Federal Transit Authority strongly suggests they perform a detailed cost analysis to make sure they're not getting hosed.

Phoenix did, in fact, do one for this bus contract. But I'm not sure why they bothered.

First, the analysis compares Phoenix with only three other entities. One covers a big area in California. But the other two aren't even close to comparable size. Raleigh, North Carolina, is bad enough — but it's an enormous metropolis next to the third place on the list, Florida's Escambia County. That place barely tops Glendale in population.

Even worse, all three entities contract with the same company for bus service. And if you guessed that the vendor in question is Veolia, well, come right on down for your free Betamax.

So the city decided that Veolia's rates were reasonable compared with, well, Veolia's rates. I love it.

And I love this part even more: As it turns out, the auditors didn't finish their report until June 22.

That's two months after the thing sailed through two different committees, and more than a week after City Council formally approved the deal.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. But the timing is clear: No one at City Hall really questioned whether they were getting the best deal. Instead, they decided to re-up with Veolia — and only after that did they bother to track down some data to support their decision.

That decision might not matter if we, the taxpayers, weren't footing the bill. Or if only tens of thousands of people didn't depend on Phoenix's bus service.

Dianne Barker is one of them.

A gadfly who's long focused on public transportation, Barker is also one of those rare Phoenix residents who really does depend on the buses. And, with two fellow local activists, she's filed a formal protest against both contracts with Veolia.

"We've got no bidding, no competition, and no oversight," she tells me. "Every time the contractor asks for a change order for more money, the city just pays it."

Barker concludes: "These contracts are ripping off the public."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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12 comments
Joe Elie
Joe Elie

I loved your article. I use to work for Veolia in Mesa AZ. I was let go after I had started finding allot of wrong doing. They was allot of money on parts. Due to the fact they are replacing parts that do not need replacing. Getting kickbacks from Vendors. Anti Union. They never have the right parts in stock and the Buses sit there for weeks and months. Plus there parts inventory is so out of wack the techs can never finish their jobs. I worked for great companies. But Veloia in Mesa AZ is the worse. The management their has no clue on how to their jobs. They let the common worker take the blame for their mistakes. If the City did an investigation they would get rid of this company and get a company that cares for its workers.

Gregory Kueneman
Gregory Kueneman

I've began a boycott of the Metro, it's group online is located on myspace via this url: http://groups.myspace.com/vall... . Also you can view an ad on craigslist in reference to it by using this url: http://phoenix.craigslist.org/....

All information is available on these two URLs. Discussion and topics are available in the myspace group for those who would like to join in this struggle.

Thank you for the article, it helps!

I'll be borrowing it for the group if you don't mind (don't worry I'll give proper respects)

We, the people of Phoenix, will not take this sitting down.

Brad McNeal
Brad McNeal

Any news from the 8-21-07 public hearing ? Didnot see any coverage in the local outlets .

Stephen Cerda - Account Execut
Stephen Cerda - Account Execut

"A response to Robby Katz"

Let me tell you about buses... to put in a blunt, easy-for-anyone-to-understand format: riding the bus sucks!! It�s hot, stuffy, seldom on time, and customer service is horrible. From drivers who don't know their routes to agitated call center reps that have an "I don't give a fuck" attitude. It�s atrocious! How do I know this you might ask? Two words: PERSONAL EXPERIENCE! I ride the bus every single day to get around town. Including to work here at NT. Imagine spending as much time going from 7th Ave & Roosevelt to 12th St & Jefferson as it takes someone who commutes from Mesa to Downtown Phoenix in the morning. Trust me, if I had the choice, I'd drive. Unfortunately, I can't drive. Not because I lack the knowledge or skills to drive, but because my license is suspended because of a DUI. Now before anyone get a case of the "high and mighty" on the dangers of drunk driving let me say that I know I did it to myself. I was impaired and shouldn't have been behind the wheel. My lap in judgement isn�t at issue here, though. The issue is that a company who is failing to come through on their end of an agreement is getting a renewal of said contract and a raise! I pose the question to anyone who reads this that if you pay for a product or service and it doesn't perform the way its supposed to, do you pay for it again at four, five, six, or even seven times the cost? The answer is not "no" but "HELL NO!" A person would have to be a complete moron to do that, right? But that's exactly what's happened here in PHX. Viola�s contract shouldn't have been renewed at all! There are other transit companies out that that could have contacted for a proposal. City officials responsible for approving these proposals (the mayor, city council, et al) could have easily performed their duty to the citizens of Phoenix and had other options researched. The fact of the matter is that they didn't. Now, because of that lack of oversight the taxpayers will suffer. I challenge any of those gas-guzzling, SUV-driving Phoenicians out there to get up and ride the bus just one week. You'll agree that the state of public transit is absolutely ridiculous. We are one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US, and we can't even get a bus to show up when it�s supposed to. San Francisco's BART is amazing. In New York or Chicago you don't wait longer than the time it takes to smoke a cigarette (yes, I smoke, spare me that lecture too). Hell, even in my little home town of St. Petersburg, FL the PSTA was great! Never in my 25 years of existence have I ever experienced such horrible service. To detractors of NT's story about the shady bus dealings at city hall I say look at the facts... FACT: The city did no research into find alternative providers for bus services. FACT: Our Mayor has received campaign contributions from Viola or members of that company. FACT: This new bus contract is going to cost the city a lot more money that could be put to better uses. For instance crime prevention, city maintenance, or even, God forbid, paying a different transit provider to actually do the job they're contracted for. Let me give all of you out there who've never ridden a bus before an example a typical day of bus riding. The morning of August 16, 2007. The day I read the letter from Robby Katz regarding Sarah Fenske's article from the previous issue ("Taken for a Bus Ride", August 9, 2007). Robby, by the time I read your letter, I was already thirty-five minutes into my morning trip, but lets start at the beginning: The alarm went off at 6:00am. I woke up and go through the typical morning routine. Shower, shave, breakfast, a bit of morning news. At 6:40, I make the ten minute walk from my apartment to the bus stop at 7th Ave & Roosevelt. Where I catch the #8 southbound bus to central station Monday through Friday. It's not even 7am yet and its almost 100 degrees out and I'm already feeling sweaty and sticky. As usual, the bus is late. Its always late. Anywhere form 5-15 minutes. As I step onto the bus, I'm greeted by a scowling, elderly woman who can barely see over the steering wheel of the bus she's driving. She looks pissed that she had to stop and pick me up. I swipe my bus pass and squeeze through the mass of humanity to grab a spot standing between a drunken native and a woman wearing a city employee laminate who looks like she's still asleep. A few twists and turns later the bus makes it to Central Station, finally, and that mass of crowded humanity spills out of the bus. Personally I'm overjoyed to be off of the bus for a moment. I light a cigarette to get the bus scent out of my nose. God, I hate that smell. Why does every bus smell like a mixture of vomit and baby shit? I look up in time to see my connecting bus pull away from the stop on the Van Buren side of the Chase Bank building. This is nothing new. I only catch it about two times a week because my first is usually late. I cross to the stop, grab a copy of NT from the rack and wait for the next bus, as usual. Sitting at the stop I feel the sweat dripping down my face and onto the paper that I'm reading. The bums pass by begging for change from every person they pass. I manage to ignore the black guy who sits down next to me ranting, seemingly, to everyone as much as to himself about the coming revolution of the African people, the beauty of blackness, and the oppression of the white man. After about 25 minutes of sitting in the morning heat, ignoring the Malcolm X wannabe's rants to my right, and six bums asking me for change. The Washington Eastbound bus arrives. Another pissy driver, another uncomfortable seat, and more of that damn smell. To add to the fun, the bus is just as hot inside as the weather outside. Finally, I get to work. I'm early. I'm have to be. If I try to take a later bus odds are I'll be late for work. I work all day with the knowledge that i get to repeat the process after I finish work. I'm not looking forward to it. That's just the morning trip. Imagine doing that everyday. Twice a day. Through heat, rain, dust storms, construction, and whatever else the city tries to throw at your from gang bangers staring you down because he thinks you "disrespected" him, to lost bus drivers. Don't you think you'd be a little perturbed at the city for allowing a no-bid contract to go through then not owning up to their own laziness, self-interest, and corruption? I'm disgusted and angered that anyone could possibly think the public at large wouldn't want to know about this. My disillusion doesn't end there. This bus fiasco is just another in a long line of foul ups, payoffs, kickbacks, and other assorted shenanigans perpetrated by our city's elected officials and their underlings. My hope is that citizens of the PHX will finally step up and vote these parasitic leaders out of office and get some real leaders who have the best interest of the people in mind in control.

bob mcknight
bob mcknight

Just what does Veolia do for the citizens of the City of Phoenix?

Does it own any buses? Use ITS money to provide capital for the transit operations?

Does it own the Land that the bus maintenance facilities are located on? Lease/Rent the land? Does it pay taxes on the Land and/or buildings that the maintenance/storage facilities are located at? Does it own/lease the buildings and equipment at the bus maintenance facilities?

What physical assets does Veolia own/lease/rent in the City of Phoenix? Do those assets pay taxes (i.e. property, sales tax)

How many people are on the Veolia payroll in Phoenix?

What consultants/contractors are employed/paid by Veolia?

Does Veolia spend ANY money from the Phoenix General Fund? Does Veolia issue purchase orders or sign contracts that are paid for from the City of Phoenix.

Does Veolia pay Sales Tax on purchases for the Phoenix Transit System?

I am sure there are lots of good questions that need answers, but these are the only ones I can ask now.

bob mcknight General Fund?

Does Veolia have any employees that work out of City of Phoenix buildings?

Does the City of Phoenix have any employees that work out of Veolia controlled buildings?

J Stevens
J Stevens

There's more to the story about "Taken for a (Bus) Ride." Phoenix staff told me that the City of Phoenix had committed to funding Veolia's (formerly ATC Vancom) pension fund until 2010, before the City awarded the transit contract.

writingonthewall
writingonthewall

So the mark of the Globalist Beast is upon US? Well blame the two party system, and special interest...let the minions of the faux social-globies eat cake!

It is time to end the foreign interest & equal opportunity racket... in our City. The two party political system has transformed Phoenix a great American city to an Idiocracy, led by Smartballs Gordon!

Vote for Mark Yannone, an Independent, certified write-in candidate for Phoenix City Mayor on September 11, 2007. Yannone prefers to keep donations and special interest out of his campaign and politicks. Besides Yannone is very smart, where it counts...

Kenneth Weene
Kenneth Weene

The only thing that makes me more unhappy than the truth of this article is the absence of public notice before these events and others like them. When will government make citizens active participants in what goes on? When will citizens expect themselves to take a responsible active role? The bus riding public should have had a chance to be part of the decision process, and they should also undrstand the reasonable needs of companies to make profits. Without that kind of public involvement, competitive bidding on contracts probably would make things worse since it would make bribery a more active part of the competition.

Dianne Barker
Dianne Barker

Thanks for doing a terrific good job a, Ms. Fenske, informing the public on important matters as local municipal bus operations.

Sarah, although public opinion on an obvious emotional issue as transit service is interesting to know and can even be helpful, persons should realize there are local administrative regulations and even perinent federal laws against such "no-bid sole source" bids. The general rule is for the federal govenment to oversee the locals to provide healthy competition for best service and quality operations.

Finally, these two (2) City of Phoenix bus contract extensions lack necessary Federal Transit "FTA" rountine approval most definately past these ten (10) year durations. FTA 's guidance is mandatory for City of Phoenix who is our local FTA grant receipient receiving all bus federal monies for this region.

Kevin Cullen
Kevin Cullen

Viva la France, viva la difference!

Anyone who has been to France is greeted with highly efficient public transport in a myriad of forms, all on time, all gleaming clean and then some. I see no problem with French business people running the show, they do a better job there then we do here for many things and hopefully some of that savvy will rub off on the local methods...

I ride the bus to work every day. When I moved to Arizona three years ago from Ireland, local people would tell me that public transport was utter rubbish (trash) and that the drivers were a mean unhelpful bunch. Those inaccurate fools couldn't have been more wrong, a frequent symptom of modern times is reeling off borrowed opinions with no basis in fact. I wonder how many of those nay sayers have ever used public transport in the Phoenix area. As I had expected, the staff are wonderful under the circumstances. They are mannerly and helpful above and beyond their call of duty, its a pleasure to give them my money. I always feel safe with their driving skills as they negotiate amongst the muppets who don't know how to drive in the valley. Each day on every single bus ride I take, without fail I observe a driver helping passengers when they could have simply taken their money and driven onwards. The staff are wonderful. Kudos

My only complaint? More than half the buses operating within Tempe are completely out dated and prone to breaking down on the hotter days of the summer. After waiting for anything up to forty minutes in 115 degree heat (the wait in part due to the poorly designed transit infrastructure), the last thing anyone wants to experience be they passengers or drivers alike is to be stuck on the side of a busy road in a dead bus without ac... Who cares what company operates the system so long as they continue to staff it correctly as they have been doing. Yes its true, more money needs to be invested in new vehicles while more time and replacement parts seem to be currently missing from budgets and that certainly needs to be addressed. Invest, invest, invest. They definately have more capitol at their disposal, lets see if time will show them to utilize some of it in improving an already more than acceptable service.

Now if they could address the rude and utterly ignorant passengers...

syl
syl

Quote: "No wonder the French were able to triumph!" Be careful not to get into trouble with racist suggestions ... These are new times when a French President is mending fences with our leader. And spending his euros in our nation. Try to think.

margie
margie

as a former Bus Driver, and patron to Phoenix transit service, working for The City of Phoenix is a challenging job within itself. I worked at the Airport. Working as a Bus Operator is a challenging, and hazardous job within itself. every year, our Union fought for raises, and showed an effort to at least try to keep up with inflation! However, I think this article is grossly unfair to this company. These workers need better equipment, and much needed raises that they haven't seen in a long time!It is all about supply and demand, and you get what you pay for. Obviously, the better the pay, the better driver you will have on the road, which is a win-win situation! As a bus patron for many years, probably my biggest complaint was the heat. Yet, I don't see to much finger pointing there. Probably because everyone has to deal with it. Obviously, if the industry is lacking the funds, they cannot give proper raises to their drivers, thus they leave for less hazardous jobs, such as myself. And, without proper funds they cannot afford to clean the busses properly, do the proper check maintenance required by law, or keep their Admin or Supervisors (who are very much underpaid, btw!) If anything, this article is garbage. people still have to commute to their jobs, and workers for this company need an affordable wage in Phoenix, without having to live in the slums of Phoenix just to survive. As for busses being late? I know that the transit does everything humanly possible to make sure that busses are on time! there ARE things that are unavoidable, such as parades, construction, personal accidents, and the President coming to town, all of which I have witnessed first hand. This company is actually a pretty decent company, and one I'd work again, UNLIKE some of the businesses in the Phoenix Valley. so, if you REALLY want to do some serious researching, I'd suggest becoming a bus driver, and seeing how that half lives. Oh yes, and don't forget to get ON the bus to goto work, and save your SUV for some real driving!

 
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