Rid­ers frus­trated by Cir­cu­la­tor

As city switches ven­dors, ser­vice is re­duced or elim­i­nated for a few days

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Colin Campbell cm­camp­bell@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cm­camp­bell6

Michael Peery used a plas­tic CVS bag to shield his head from the pour­ing rain Thurs­day morn­ing near Bal­ti­more’s In­ner Har­bor as he waited on a Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor bus that never came.

The Bal­ti­more Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion can­celed ser­vice on the sys­tem’s Green and Ban­ner routes and ran fewer buses on the Pur­ple and Or­ange routes Thurs­day with less than 24 hours’ no­tice to rid­ers while it tran­si­tions to a new bus ven­dor. The new ven­dor, RMA World­wide Chauf­fered Trans­porta­tion, has not fi­nal­ized a con­tract with the city and is in the process of test­ing its buses for safety, the city trans­porta­tion depart­ment said.

Peery, 39, said he rides the city’s free buses daily to get to Beans & Bread, a re­source pro­gram that of­fers meals, health care and other ser­vices for the home­less. Rid­ers should have been warned fur­ther in ad­vance about the ser­vice in­ter­rup­tion, he said.

“You should at least give some­body a day or two [of ] no­tice, not just a cou­ple hours be­fore peo­ple are get­ting up and go­ing to work and [de­pend­ing] on this ser­vice,” Peery said.

The switch to a new ven­dor comes in the wake of the city su­ing the prior op­er­a­tor last month, al­leg­ing Tran­dev Ser­vices Inc. over­billed it $20 mil­lion on the con­tract for the free buses since 2010.

Trans­porta­tion Direc­tor Michelle Pour­ciau said the depart­ment hoped the overnight tran­si­tion would hap­pen with­out any dis­rup­tion, but “we started run­ning into some glitches at the last minute.”

Thurs­day morn­ing, only four of the sys­tem’s usual 14 buses were run­ning and only on the Pur­ple and Or­ange routes, which run north-south and east-west through down­town Bal­ti­more, city trans- por­ta­tion depart­ment spokesman Ger­man Vigil said Thurs­day. The new ven­dor is pro­vid­ing the ser­vice un­der a three­month, $1.7 mil­lion emer­gency con­tract un­til a per­ma­nent con­tract is in place, he said.

By 4 p.m., three more buses were added, re­open­ing the Ban­ner route, which runs through South Bal­ti­more to Fort McHenry, Vigil said. The Green route could re­open Fri­day morn­ing, he said.

Buses will be added each day un­der the emer­gency con­tract with all 14 in place by Mon­day, Pour­ciau said.

To help fill the gap in the mean­time, Lyft an­nounced it will of­fer two free rides of up to $15 value be­tween any two Cir­cu­la­tor stops Thurs­day and to­day, the rideshare com­pany an­nounced. Rid­ers can ac­cess the free ser­vice by en­ter­ing the code “CIR­CU­LA­TOR.”

The city did not pay Lyft to put on the pro­mo­tion, a com­pany spokes­woman said.

“Ac­cess to a va­ri­ety of trans­porta­tion op­tions is crit­i­cal to Bal­ti­more res­i­dents,” Mike Hes­lin, Lyft’s Bal­ti­more mar­ket man­ager said in a state­ment. “We’re happy to work with the Bal­ti­more City Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion to pro­vide a so­lu­tion dur­ing this tem­po­rary gap in pub­lic trans­porta­tion.”

Pour­ciau said the tran­si­tion to the new Cir­cu­la­tor ven­dor has been in the works for months, and she at­trib­uted the un­ex­pected ser­vice in­ter­rup­tion to RMA need­ing to in­spect the buses — as well as “ad­di­tional volatil­ity” with the out­go­ing ven­dor.

“All of the things that needed to be de­liv­ered in keep­ing with the con­tract close-out were not de­liv­ered,” Pour­ciau said.

The con­tract with Trans­dev re­quired the com­pany to in­spect and turn over the city-owned buses to the city on Wed­nes­day, but the buses did not have the proper in­spec­tions when they were re­ceived, Vigil said. He said the city law depart­ment is de­ter­min­ing whether to seek resti­tu­tion for the safety in­spec­tions, the cost for which is not yet known.

A Trans­dev spokesman did not re- spond to a re­quest for com­ment Thurs­day.

The $1.7 mil­lion cost of the emer­gency con­tract, signed Tues­day, was roughly equal to what the city would be pay­ing the new ven­dor for three months un­der a per­ma­nent con­tract, Vigil said.

“We re­ally thought every­thing would line up,” Pour­ciau said. “It’s so un­for­tu­nate that we had less no­ti­fi­ca­tion than we would want. But we’ve got four buses out there; we’re ramp­ing up.”

Shelby Smith, 32, of Es­sex, was wait­ing on St. Paul Street Thurs­day morn­ing for a south­bound Pur­ple route Cir­cu­la­tor bus to her job as an as­sis­tant kitchen man­ager for a non­profit re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter in Fed­eral Hill. She called the ser­vice in­ter­rup­tion “pretty rude, for lack of a bet­ter term.”

“We all got sched­ules and stuff, so [it’s] putting us be­hind,” Smith said. “And I don’t have a bus pass.”

Mar­tinique Brown, 25, of Edmondson Vil­lage, takes the Cir­cu­la­tor to coun­sel­ing on North Charles Street. She also chafed at the lack of ser­vice with lit­tle no­tice to rid­ers.

“I don’t think they re­spect peo­ple,” she said. “They should at least give peo­ple 24 hours’ no­tice.”

Af­ter wait­ing in the rain for no bus to ar­rive, Laura Seifert and a group of other Ban­ner route rid­ers ended up walk­ing from their stop in Fed­eral Hill to their jobs down­town, she said.

Seifert said she even called the new phone num­ber listed on the Cir­cu­la­tor mo­bile app Thurs­day morn­ing to check on whether there would be a dis­rup­tion and was told that the Ban­ner route was run­ning as usual.

“She said, ‘ Yes, they’re run­ning on time,’ ” Seifert said.

Seifert said she couldn’t un­der­stand how the city al­lowed ser­vice to be dis­rupted when it knew the con­tract would be turn­ing over — and didn’t warn rid­ers ear­lier about the in­ter­rup­tion.

“That didn’t have to hap­pen,” she said. “How could you not get this right? You have peo­ple get­ting to work an hour late.”

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