Warner Robins rethinking bids for transit service

chwright@macon.comMay 15, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Although the Macon Transit Authority wants to provide public transportation in Warner Robins, the authority won’t bid on the service.

Because of that stance, Warner Robins city officials say they may hire MTA without seeking official bids.

“We can provide them cost estimates, but we won’t participate in any formal (bidding) process,” said Rick Jones, general manager and CEO of the MTA.

Jones said a formal bidding process ultimately could cost Macon taxpayers for Warner Robins’ service. Still, Jones and Warner Robins officials seem to agree MTA managing a system in Warner Robins is the best option.

“We should contract with Macon Transit,” Councilman Mike Brashear said. “They’re regional. They’re already here. They’re not for profit.”

Brashear said City Council will talk about public transit at its 3 p.m. work session Monday. In an email, Mayor Chuck Shaheen indicated he would arrange a time for the council to meet with MTA officials.

“We can sit down and negotiate with MTA, one government agency to another,” Brashear said, indicating more research is needed to lock down the best procedures in establishing public transit.

Though interested in how much it would cost Warner Robins for MTA to begin public transportation in Warner Robins, council members agreed last week to issue a request for proposal, which is the bidding process used in most large-scale contracts and purchases.

Jessica Bird, transportation coordinator for Warner Robins, said the offer to submit bids must be made to all transit providers in order to receive federal funding. She said the city would need to determine exactly what services it wants in order to decide if federal funding is necessary.

Jones initially said the MTA would bid, but later he said the transit system couldn’t participate in such a formal bidding process that essentially guarantees a price.

If services cost more than predicted, MTA would be responsible for any overruns. And since the MTA is publicly funded, that would mean Macon and Bibb County taxpayers could foot the bill.

“And they can’t pay for bus service in Houston or Warner Robins,” Jones said. “Vice versa, Warner Robins and Houston wouldn’t want to pay for service in Macon-Bibb County.”

Jones said he also is uncertain whether he could participate in a bidding process since the majority of MTA funding is through state and federal grants. City Attorney Jim Elliott said he isn’t sure of the legalities.

Jones said if Warner Robins were to ask MTA to operate its system, buses could be running in as soon as three months. Warner Robins wouldn’t have as many start-up costs as the city would with a private management company seeking a profit and needing to buy all new equipment, Jones said.

“We need to be the people that do the service, no questions asked about that,” Jones said. “Because you get the best service from that. You get the most efficient productive service that you can get by us providing it.”

If Warner Robins decides to opt for a private provider, Jones said, the MTA would help in any way it could because the service is vital to the city’s progress.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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