Westmoreland transit seeking new bids for bus, shared-ride services
After a bumpy ride over the past year, including nearly a quarter-million dollars in fines, the Westmoreland County Transit Authority could move on from the company that runs its bus and shared-ride system.
National Express, which in 2018 was awarded a five-year, $29.5 million contract, has been in the cross-hairs of the authority over numerous route cancellations, driver shortages and other disruptions that have resulted in more than $220,000 in fines.
“Both our fixed-route service contract and our shared-ride paratransit service contract call for annual rate negotiations. We have been unable to agree on new contract rates with National Express due to significant changes in economic conditions since the start of this contract. At this point, the authority and National Express agree that it is in the best interest of both parties for the authority to issue a new procurement and review responses,” according to a statement from authority Executive Director Alan Blahovec.
Blahovec declined further comment or to answer additional questions. He said he will speak about the issue at the authority’s board meeting on Thursday.
National Express was one of five companies last year that submitted proposals to operate both programs, but its bid was not the lowest. After negotiations, the authority awarded the contracts to National Express, in part because it had served as the agency’s private operator since 2010.
National Express spokesman Edward Flavin on Monday referred all comments to the statement issued by the transit authority. Flavin said the company might submit new proposals.
“That opportunity exists, and we will explore that,” Flavin said.
Proposals are due in mid October.
The existing deals with National Express could run through mid-2023 and calls for annual rate negotiations to reflect current economic conditions as well as performance issues. Without a renegotiated deal, the contract will expire at the end of December, Blahovec said.
National Express provides drivers, mechanics, administrators and support staff to operate the authority’s fleet of 41 buses that service 25 weekday and Saturday routes, including daily commuter runs to Pittsburgh and local service throughout the county. Ridership on those routes has decreased by about 14 percent over the past three years and last year carried about 415,000 passengers.
The shared-ride paratransit service operates door-to-door subsidized rides for about 195,000 low-income residents as part of the county’s social service programs.
National Express did not publicly challenge any of the fines imposed by the authority. In an interview this summer, the company’s local general manager touted improvements that he said corrected many problems while conceding driver shortages were an ongoing issue.
Meanwhile, authority board members and county commissioners in June approved a change in the transit agency’s charter that allows it to serve as its own program operator. Blahovec on Monday did not respond to questions as to whether that option is being considered.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .