Staff recommendation on awarding contract for Sarasota County bus service to private firm expected after Feb. 8, 2019 presentations

Responses to Request for Proposals to be opened on Dec. 19

A SCAT bus stops in front of Beach Bazaar in Siesta Village. File photo

Responses to Sarasota County’s Request for Proposals (RFP) for the potential privatization of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) operations are due on Dec. 19, Rob Lewis, the interim SCAT director, reported to the County Commission this week.

If the timeline unfolds as planned, Lewis indicated, then a recommendation for awarding the bid likely could be ready for the commission to address during the first quarter of 2019.

Earlier this year, Commissioner Michael Moran expressed optimism that the county could address a change in bus service operations when it works on its budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

Dec. 12 was the original date for opening the bids, Lewis pointed out on Dec. 11, during the commission’s regular meeting in Venice. However, because county staff received about 150 questions from interested firms, he continued, several addenda to the RFP had to be issued.

In a search this week of the Procurement Department webpages, The Sarasota News Leader found a total of five addenda, with the most recent having been issued on Dec. 6. The first one was posted on Nov. 27.

During a non-mandatory site visit, held on Nov. 5, about five company representatives showed up, Lewis reported this week.

A committee established to evaluate the responses to the RFP will hold its first session on Dec. 14, Lewis told the commissioners. The committee members will begin going through the responses received by that date, he added; then, following their review of all the proposals, they will determine the companies from which they would like oral presentations. Those sessions have been set for Feb. 8, Lewis noted.

Along with Lewis, the other two voting members of the evaluation committee are Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, and Matthew Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department.

Interim SCAT Director Rob Lewis addresses the County Commission on Jan. 31. News Leader photo

They will have advisors assisting them with the evaluation, Lewis noted. In August, he indicated that he would include the directors of the county’s Information Technology and Human Resources departments — Glenn Zimmerman and Chris Louria, respectively — among those advisors.

After the oral presentations, Lewis said, the committee members will provide information about their ranking of responses to the commission, before issuing the formal notice of award of the bid.

Finally, Lewis said, the contract negotiated in response to the RFP would come back to the commission for its approval.

On Aug. 22, the County Commission voted unanimously to authorize staff to proceed with the RFP, which could lead to the county’s contracting with a private firm to operate its bus service.

Since they made that decision, they have heard a number of complaints from residents. People have pleaded with the board not to seek privatization of the service out of fear that that will lead to higher fees for riders, with fewer route options.

Lewis has made it clear that if the county does enter into an agreement with a company, the commission still will set policies and monitor the performance of the bus system.

Their goal, commissioners have said, is to determine whether a private firm could manage SCAT more efficiently and with less expense, as the county annually subsidizes the bus service.

The commissioners also have been firm about “assurance of employment” for SCAT’s workers, as Commissioner Alan Maio put it on Aug. 22.

Facets of the RFP

The RFP calls for any responding firm to have a minimum of five years of experience “providing transit operation and maintenance services.”

A table in the SCAT Request for Proposals notes criteria that will be considered in ranking responses. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Each response must include a detailed management plan, the RFP points out, including the following:

  • A “comprehensive, detailed plan of how all transition and start-up tasks shall be completed. This plan shall address the activities and procedures that will be followed to ensure the smooth transition and start-up of service. The plan should document recruitment and training schedules, acquisition of necessary equipment, licenses, and all other activities necessary to implement a successful transition of transit services. The end date of the start-up plan shall be the service start date.”
  • A description of the strategy for providing day-to-day operational services that meet the county’s requirements, “including, but not limited to, procedures to ensure quality service delivery, road supervision, and emergency and incidents procedures that will be utilized by the Proposer.”
  • A summary “of any additional technology that would be used for delivering services and managing operations. Highlight how this would contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the system, minimize operating costs, improve performance reporting, enhance the customer experience, and maximize employee productivity. Provide information on useful life and replacement schedule(s) for any technology proposed and/or purchased.”
This is among SCAT route information included in the Request for Proposals. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Furthermore, the RFP asks for a description of the firm’s hiring strategy, along with its “ anticipated turnover rate, incentive plans, retention strategies, and other assumptions regarding hiring plans to meet start-up requirements including compliance with Section 13(c) of the Federal Transit Act that indicate the Proposer’s understanding of the Sarasota County market. The Proposer should include recognition of the collective bargaining rights and strong assurances of employment to protect employees and Sarasota County from negative impacts caused by worsening employment.”