Committee's decision doesn't reflect City Lines' service history
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the citizens of Rochester for your patronage and loyalty to Rochester City Lines over the past 45 years.
In 1966, my mother and father dedicated themselves to creating a public bus system for Rochester, when none was available. Over the years, our family has established and provided a reliable, safe, clean, courteous and affordable service that has helped our city grow and prosper.
We have been a good neighbor and a good corporate citizen; we even operated for many years with no allowance for profit, contrary to the very basis of all business. Rochester City Lines (RCL) operated before receiving a public subsidy, with a public fare subsidy, and we will continue to operate without subsidies to meet the expectations of our neighbors — if the city does not put us out of business.
The city receives money from the state and federal governments that it uses to subsidize in-city transit service to keep the fares low. The city has for many years been content to allow RCL to absorb the capital costs of real estate for garages, yards, administrative facilities and personnel. Our drivers belong to a union, Local 1005 of the ATU . The city has taken money from the Federal Transit Administration to replace the facilities we built at no cost to any taxpayer, and they have put the entire Public Works Department in that new space.
The city buses are paid for with 80 percent federal funding; the balance, over the years, has been paid through a combination of state, city and RCL money. Most years, the city does not put a dime of its own money into the transit provided by RCL. We hire, train, and pay the drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and everyone else it takes to operate transit. All in all, it makes for a sweet deal for the city.
Now, the city proposes to hire a contractor to take over the bus service. A contractor, to be picked from four bidders, will be paid a guaranteed fixed return on an hour-for-hour basis. It will have no stake in the success of the system except for keeping the fixed-price fee. That may sound like an improvement to some, but not to me.
The city’s evaluation committee, consisting of city employees and government outside contractors, says that of the four prospective operators, RCL is least likely to provide good service based on past performance. That may seem conceivable to the committee, but inconceivable to the community that knows and relies on our service.
Our peers awarded RCL the "State of MN Transit System of the Year" award in 2003. The city’s evaluating committee even found that RCL would be the least likely of the proposers to successfully assume control of the transit service. Once again, this is inconceivable since we have operated for 46 years with the highest praise and compliments from our customer base and civic and city leaders in prominent positions.
The city adopted the "best value" method for the new contract, meaning that price alone should not be the deciding factor in choosing an operator. We can all appreciate why that would be so. RCL came in second on the objective criterion of price. We are only about 10 percent above the "recommended" choice on a level of bus service that is 20 percent greater than we currently provide. The city will have the chance to negotiate after it selects a contractor. If we kept our "no profit" history, we would be the lowest price bidder, too. Who else would operate for no profit allowance?
My point is that the evaluation committee’s view that RCL does not present the "best value" for Rochester does not reflect the reality of our common experience. The council should reject the evaluation committee’s recommendation when it considers this matter on April 2, and might just do so if the council members hear from the many friends and supporters who have come to know us over the years.