County expects to save $600,000 a year after privatizing paratransit services

Three-year contract goes to Missouri firm, which will lease SCAT equipment and retain current employees

A paratransit bus stops at the Southgate Mall bus shelter. File photo
A paratransit bus (right) stops at the Southgate Mall bus shelter. File photo

About 17 months after the Sarasota County Commission gave staff the go-ahead to seek proposals for privatizing the paratransit service of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), the board on Jan. 12 unanimously awarded an $18-million, three-year contract with Ride Right Transit LLC of Lake St. Louis, MO, which should produce annual savings of $600,000, SCAT Director Rocky Burke told the board.

The contract includes what he called “disincentives,” or key performance measures. Ride Right will face financial penalties, Burke pointed out, if county staff documents problems with its operations.

The contract also has an option for two, one-year renewals.

Prior to the board vote, Burke said, “If all goes well today, they will start business on March 15.”

After learning that its cost per paratransit trip — $38 — was higher than the same expense for 11 peer bus systems, the commission voted unanimously on Aug. 20, 2014 to seek bids for privatizing the operation.

The paratransit service, which is provided by buses marked as “SCAT Plus,” is for individuals with disabilities who are unable to use regular SCAT equipment.

Burke told the board on Jan. 12 that Ride Right’s average cost per trip will be $32.90. The firm will lease SCAT’s paratransit equipment for $1 per vehicle per year, a Jan. 12 memo to the board notes. Ride Right also will bring in new equipment, Burke pointed out, which will improve the overall age of the fleet, and it will provide updated technology, including mobile terminals that will enable SCAT to collect “real-time data.”

Additionally, Ride Right will retain all the full-time employees operating the county’s paratransit vehicles, Burke said, and the firm will continue to subcontract services to South County Transport Ventures, a local business with which SCAT has been working.

SCAT Director Rocky Burke. Image courtesy Sarasota County
SCAT Director Rocky Burke. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Jan. 12 memo points out that the contract “provides for a turnkey paratransit operation,” which will include all aspects of the service SCAT has been offering, including administration, trip planning, training, dispatching and acceptance of reservations. However, determining the eligibility of patrons will continue to be a SCAT function, the memo notes.

Commissioner Christine Robinson made the motion to award the contract to Ride Right and to approve the lease agreement for the vehicles, referencing the long process leading to the county’s reaching that point. “It was somewhat contentious at times,” she said.

“You did a really good job on the contract,” she told Burke. “I was impressed with the protections involved.”

Robinson added that she hoped riders would see a seamless transition.

Commissioner Carolyn Mason seconded the motion.
“We’re really looking forward to this new partnership,” Burke told the board.