Miami-Dade: $9 mil no-bid contract for private transit provider hops around

Transit workers leader calls for end of private service

Nobody wants to touch the $9 million no-bid contract the Miami-Dade county administration wants to give to Transportation America for privatized bus routes. It’s a hot potato that keeps getting passed around.

The contract was first up at the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust on April 28, but after Ladra wrote about it, members were too scared to show up and the meeting was cancelled for lack of quorum even before it started. It was sent to the full commission meeting, but Commission Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz pushed it back to the transportation and mobility committee that meets Tuesday.

And it’s still an inside deal with a troubled company that has had multiple complaints — whose owners have donated close to half a million to the campaigns of elected officials who approve their contracts.

More than one county administrator has told Ladra that they have recommended repeatedly that the county end the practice begun in 2017 when the county started outsourcing routes. They want to bring these routes back under the county’s belt. Javier Betancourt, the executive director of the CITT, told Ladra he would also like that, but that a shortage of drivers might mean the county can’t do it right now.

“It’s not the ideal situation. They have their limitations,” Betancourt said about the private company. “We at the CITT would love to see all those routes return to county service,” Betancourt said last month.

Read related: Troubled private transit provider to get no-bid $9 mil Miami-Dade contract

And, obviously, the Transport Workers Union members are supportive of that.

“It would be an understatement to say that TWU Local 291 is extremely disappointed not only by the manner in which this was presented to the public as a sanitation contract when it is not, but with the decision to waive the competitive bidding process in favor of awarding a contract to LSF, a provider that has a long track record of delivering inefficient, inferior, and oftentimes dangerous transportation services to Miami-Dade County riders,” wrote union President Jeffrey Mitchell, noting that Limousines of South Florida’s owners Raymond Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez have 44 other companies and are serial campaign contributors.

“However, their ‘generosity’ and strong interest in securing very lucrative county contracts should not supersede the public’s safety. By approving this bid waiver, Miami-Dade County would be allowing contractors who are ill-equipped to handle passengers to continue endangering riders all under the guise of ‘saving money,’” Mitchell wrote, offering the following arguments.

It is a fact that LSF has been forced to double and sometimes triple the number of buses it used to accommodate passengers just to match what one county bus was servicing.

Per the resident testimonial provided to the MDBCC above, LSF routinely passes up passengers without accountability because their wheelchair lifts do not work. Meanwhile, our buses not only have working wheel chairlifts at all times, in the event that they don’t, we come out and pick these riders up immediately.

Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance that allows contractors to use rebuilt, second hand equipment and allowed them to stretch out the lifespan of an older bus to 15 years with no accountability for maintenance, while our fleets have to be completely replaced or rebuilt every 12 years, despite receiving manufacturer scheduled maintenance consistently. 

As a result, on more than one occasion LSF buses have caught on fire while out on routes due to lack of maintenance and safety oversight. 

Their buses are not only environmentally dirty, they are old, often requiring parts that are very hard to find and replace. This is ironic given that the county is simultaneously spending millions to make our fleets green and touting itself as a leader in environmentally friendly transportation.

LSF hires drivers who have been let go from Miami-Dade transit for having unsafe and unprofessional practices.   

“Meanwhile, we have trained drivers, maintenance crews and mechanics with more than 20 years experience who are being sidelined and pushed out in favor of these subpar services and polluted vehicles,” Mitchell said.

“These giveaways, which yield no return on investment nor are they aligned with our clean initiatives, are a farce and are only compounded by our significant transit labor shortage, our lack of accountability and leadership at the department level, and add more stress to our residents who are becoming increasingly dependent on public transit because they cannot afford to live where they work.

“After years of failed and misguided attempts to privatize our transportation system and deliberate efforts to disenfranchise our Miami-Dade workers, it is time for the Board of County Commissioners to end this shell game and do right by our community. These services need to be provided by our transit department and led by our workers, many of whom have the experience necessary to provide safe, effective and efficient transit services for Miami-Dade residents.”

The county’s transportation, mobility and planning committee meeting begins at 2 p.m. — if they don’t chicken out of a quorum — and can be watched on the website here.