County Bus Contractor Grilled Over Poor Service

County Supervisor Andrew Do Thursday publicly grilled an executive with the Orange County Transportation Authority’s private bus operator, following revelations that the company failed to hire enough drivers as it took over the agency’s outsourced bus routes.

Do, who is also a Transportation Authority board member, took Cincinnati-based First Transit Vice President Nick Promponas to task at the regular meeting of the board’s transit committee. He accused the contractor of failing to deliver on promises that it would be ready to assume operations of a substantial portion of the agency’s sprawling bus system.

“What I’m hearing today troubles me greatly,” Do said in response to Promponas’ acknowledgement that there have been several instances wherein buses failed to show up at scheduled stops, primarily because of a driver shortage. “You missed on the biggest aspect of the contract on your bid?”

The heated questioning from Do comes after a Voice of OC article revealing how hundreds of bus riders – perhaps thousands – have been left stranded in recent months when their buses never showed for scheduled stops. First Transit has struggled to hire the drivers needed to staff buses, leading to dozens of missed bus trips.

Yet even as the contractor was falling short, Transportation Authority staff did not raise the issue when the transit performance report was presented in November, focusing instead on positive trends.

First Transit took over the agency’s outsourced bus routes in June after it submitted a bid that was $11 million less than the bid from the previous contractor, MV Transportation.

According to Promponas, company officials misjudged the Orange County labor market and its availability of drivers. The company eventually started looking to hire drivers in neighboring counties, and will have its buses fully staffed as of Friday, he said.

But the company has also struggled with training new dispatchers, with errors from those employees also contributing to a high number of missed trips. Promponas said the dispatchers have since gone through much more rigorous training.

“We do believe that we’ve corrected the problem,” Promponas said.

Do — after board Director Greg Winterbottom pointed out that its difficult to hire drivers in Orange County at First Transit’s offer of $12 per-hour – questioned whether First Transit had underbid for its over $140 million contract.

In looking at the bid now, Do asked “are those just hopeful numbers?”

The Transportation Authority’s in-house bus drivers earn between $16.63-per-hour, the trainee rate, to $26.13-per-hour. Yet, Promponas responded that his company had misjudged only in where it would find drivers, not their pay rate.

And in answering further questioning by Do, he said that one of the reasons the company didn’t have enough drivers was because of a month-long delay in awarding the contract. The delay was “devastating to us, if you must know the truth,” he told the committee.

Also at the committee meeting, Transportation Authority staff presented a revised transit performance report covering the first quarter of fiscal year 2015-16.

Among the changes was an overhaul of the acceptable complaints standard the agency used as a performance indicator for routes operated by First Transit. Previously, the outsourced routes were allowed almost five complaints per 20,000 boardings, which is nearly four times as many allowable complaints as the standard for in-house drivers.

In the previous version of the report, the contractor had met the lower standard, with almost 20 complaints per 100,000 boardings. The agency had started used a lower standard for outsourced routes previously because privatized routes represented a much smaller portion of bus services, according to agency staff.

But the agency’s transit manager, Beth McCormick, told the board that outsourced bus services are now a much larger share and said the staff would talk with the contractor about adjusting the standard.

Committee members also asked to be updated about transit performance monthly rather than quarterly, at least in the near term. Do asked that agency staff inform the board “immediately” after it becomes clear that the contractor isn’t meeting a performance standard.

The next quarterly report, which will cover a period that saw the largest number of missed trips on outsourced lines, will be presented at next month’s transit committee meeting.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • I am curious how much of that contract goes towards paying management
    and executive salaries, (and how much went to line the pockets of OCTA contracting staff/decision makers). I know in the construction and other Government
    Contracting a prevailing wage is part of the contract, why didn’t the
    OCTA place wage standards in the specifications of the bids, especially from out of state contractors from slave wage states? I am curious why there were no raised eyebrows when a $140 Million contract was $11 million less than the previous contractor submitted? I feel this contract should have been terminated when the first signs of non performance were raised and the contractor be fined the difference between their bid and the next bid who should have been awarded the contract. But of course, the only reason for outsourcing these jobs was to bust the Unions.

    • Dawn

      Two words: “low bid.” Do alluded to that in his questions. And getting rid of a contractor can take months of documentation, warnings, and paper work. I’ve been there.

      • Low bid only goes so far, well, at least in the 30 years I worked in the private sector. I have seen low ball contractors run off jobs the first time they showed inability to perform, (usually in the first weeks of the contract) it did not take 30 days. But of course there were performance standards in the contracts at that time and contractors were required to post a sizable performance bond prior to being awarded the contract. It was cheaper for a general contractor to let a substandard low ball contractor take them to court than wait for them to get their ducks in line.
        But at the same time, the contracts I worked under were for months at a time seldom years in duration, there was no time to play games because when several trades are dependent on other trades performing in a timely manner the costs can be substantial.

  • David Zenger

    Posturing. How about “grilling” the staff and politicians that awarded this contract?

  • LFOldTimer

    Where are you going to find someone with a clean driving record w/ no history of drug or alcohol abuse to drive a bus 8 hours a day for $12/hr in the OC? That’s $480 gross pay per week. Where the heck could you live on that? They have to pay a minimum of $15. Driving a bus all day and putting up with demanding and unruly passengers is no easy task. Granted, a bus driver should not get a pension. Very few workers should get a pension today based on gold standard practices in the private sector that is forced to fund all the big pensions for the public sector. But you have to pay a bus driver a living wage to get a qualified worker. $12/hr is not going to cut it. The County should have realized this when the contract was awarded. The County should have questioned the $12/hr wage. But once again, the Country has to put out a fire that it should have seen smoldering when this contract was signed. We pay executives for their vision. County executives seem to have 20/500 vision in both eyes.

    • Why should any employee working a career position not be entitled to a pension? I agree public service pensions have a stupid confusing schedule, but 2 wrongs don’t make it right. My union has negotiated an hourly pension rate to be paid by employers, the more hours worked, the more pension to be collected. Our holiday & vacation & medical benefits are also paid on a particular contracted hourly rate.

      • LFOldTimer

        Dweezle, because economics and math says that we, as a society, cannot afford it. If everyone in the private sector got a 2.7@55 pension the entire system would collapse under it’s own weight. And since the private sector is forced in large part to pay for the public sector pensions – the public sector should adhere to the retirement benefit gold standard that exists in the private sector. which generally consists of a social security benefit and a 401-k. It would be nice if all of us could retire at age 55 and live off a defined pension payment until we’re 80 and go to the other side. But mathematically it’s totally unrealistic. But we shouldn’t have 2-tiers of retirement benefits that allow one group to retire at 55 with 80% of their final paycheck while the other group must work until they’re age 67 or older and get a lesser benefit. Look, it has to do with the basic concept of fairness and equity. The ones who work in the private sector are at much greater job security risk. If anyone should get pensions it should be private secot workers. But then we return to the affordability problem. America 2016 is much different than America 1950. Economically it’s a completely different country. Our waning GDP and huge debt ratios can’t finance pensions for everybody.

        • It seems you did not either read or comprehend my simple statement. I stated that the public sector has a stupid confusing schedule. but, for years and years the powers that be have been signing the contracts. It never was questioned until the financial crisis created by Wall Street gamblers. I agree 80% at age 55 is stupid, but, who authorized such pensions, (and how much did their personal accounts benefit).

          I stated my pension as a logical alternative. a certain dollar amount is paid on an hourly basis, In the case of salaried employees make the amount included as a set amount per pay period. My union wisely invests the pension funds which proceeds fund existing pensions.

          Anyone that falls for a 401k where “Wall Street Fund Managers” are the only ones making a profit off the fees and kickbacks from investments is not the brightest candle on the birthday cake.

          No this is not the same America of the 1950’s the working person has been robbed, kicked and thrown to the curb by right wing politicians. in the 1950’s over 33% of private sector workers had union contracts, which is why they had retirement pensions, health care, holidays & other benefits of their labors. These people were the Middle Class now known as worker class or wage slaves. In the 1950’s they could actually afford to buy what they made. Perhaps if incompetent CEO’s were not awarded multi million dollar golden parachutes when they are fired for incompetence, (Fiorina/HP, Whitman/E-bay, FTD, and many others) workers could collect fair wages.

          I will take a wild guess that you support outsourcing American Jobs to China, India, Vietnam & the Philippines as American Workers are Greedy? Tell me how much do the people of those countries pay for their residences? I understand a 3 bedroom house in the Phils runs about the equivalent of $20,000, that same house in California will cost $300,000-500,000. so yes American wages should be higher, (And residences should be Homes, NOT Investments) The sole reason for outsourcing was not profit, it was to bust the backs of the American Worker so they will be happy to return to the working conditions of the 1870’s thru the 1930’s

          • LFOldTimer

            “I agree 80% at age 55 is stupid, but, who authorized such pensions, (and how much did their personal accounts benefit).”
            It’s not only the politicians. It’s the evil public unions that bribe the politicians and use their financial powers to oust the politicians from office who don’t rob the taxpayers and give them extraordinary reitrement benefits. It’s not as simple as you portray.
            “I stated my pension as a logical alternative. a certain dollar amount is paid on an hourly basis.”
            Based on your description it’s impossible to financially evaluate your pension plan. Put a number on it. What % after how many years? SS caps individual benefits to about $30,000 a year regardless of income. There have to be limits. Otherwise the taxpayers end up getting strongarmed.
            “These people were the Middle Class now known as worker class or wage slaves.”
            It was easy to pay pensions to everybody in 1950. Most productive nations were destroyed in WW2. We were one of the only left standing. So we supplied the world with goods. Lots of jobs. Lots of discretionary income. We live in a competely different world today. We compete with emerging economies. It’s basic math that many like you continue to ignore. You must think money grows on trees. We’re $19T in debt at a Federal level. Hello? I’m not a fan of Wall Street. But the democrats have been carrying the water for Wall Street for many years. Some of the richest pols are democrats (Feinstein and Boxer) who got rich by supporting Wall Street and the defense contractor. Blaming only Republicans is disingenuous. Btw, I am neither Democrat nor Republican.
            “I will take a wild guess that you support outsourcing American Jobs to China, India, Vietnam & the Philippines as American Workers are Greedy?”
            Your wild guess would be flawed 100%. It was your Democrat buddy Obama who pushed TPP. heh. The one who promised us “Hope and Change”. Remember? The majority of Dems in the House and Senate voted to pass it. Maybe it’s time for you to take a look in your own backyard and stop pointing fingers. Oh, and what is your opinion on illegal immigration? Do you approve of foreigners coming to America and stealing US jobs and forcing down the average wage? heh. Have a nice day.

          • “Evil” Unions? excuse me while I catch my breath from laughing so hard. Do you think such organizations as the Lincoln Club are honorable? As I understand no republican politician cannot run for office without a nod from them. Unions are created by workers. In my union all business agents actually worked in the trade before becoming a representative. did you enjoy not having to compete with a child for a job? Were you exploited to work for whatever wages an employer chose to pay you? or were you guaranteed a minimum wage, even non union wages have been scaled by Union Scale wages. Why are we 19Trillion in debt? maybe as Shrub led us into 2 simultaneous wars with no budget, billed as credit card debt. fora start, How about Ronald Reagan taxing workers something like 4 trillion dollars to “save Social Security” how much of that money went to the social security fund? zero, it all went to pay for his tax cuts for billionaires. Smedley Butler was a famous General who earned 2 medals of Honor, He wrote a book titled, “War is A Racket” where he described himself as a military hitman for corporate racketeers. He was sickened at corporations profiteering for struggles paid for in blood, (overwhelmingly the blood of worker class & poor Americans)

            A fact that you fail to note is runaway CEO pay packages, while worker wages have remained flat when adjusted for inflation since the 1960’s executive pay has skyrocketed, primarily based on highly inflated, fraudulent wall Street returns.

            As far as I understand Feinstein & Boxer were both wealthy when first elected, Boxer voted against fast track, while Feinstein voted for it. (I personally wrote her demanding her resignation for slapping American workers in the face again.) My representative in the House Alan Lowenthal also a democrat voted against fast track. as I understand the TPP itself has not yet been put on the floor, I understand it will be held after the 2016 election. But yes I was duped by Obamas promise of “Change” but I voted for the lesser of 2 evils the second time.

          • LFOldTimer

            I’m not a partisan like you appear to be Dweezle. So we just won’t agree on at least half the issues. You seem to lean in the direction of the liberals and democrats. IMO they have caused as much, if not more, damage to the nation as the Republicans. The Democrats were in charge of Congress when the meltdown happened. And most voted for TARP to benefit the big banks. And Bwarney Franks, et. al., were getting cheap personal loans and handouts from their Wall Street sugar daddies. They raked us over the coals and screwed Main Street. And those were Democrats with a Capital “D”.
            Oh, and unions (especially public unions) were created and perpetuated by dirty politicians and crooked union managers. The workers just went along for the ride. It was all about ‘quid pro quo’ and still is today with the taxpayers holding the empty bag. The stock market is crashing again and the pension bubble will eventually explode. And then y’all will have that deer in the headlights look and say “we never saw it coming”. ha. Mark my words.
            Obama had the opportunity to put a stop to all the criminality on Wall Street. Instead he pushed the accelerator down and promoted quantitative easing and gave his Wall Street buddies everything they wanted. Bush poured accelerant into the fuel system and then Obama (and the Democrats in congress) pushed the pedal to the metal. Being a partisan just plays into their shenanigans, Dweezle. You become their pawn.
            Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize then droned Pakistani schools full of kids and Afghani hospitals full of sick people, bombed Libya and Syria without UN authorization (in violation of the War Powers act of 1973) and set up Ghaddafi to be assassinationed in violation of the Geneva Convention. That’s what “hope and change” got ya! ha. Feel snookered yet??? 😉
            Obama was the driving force behind TPP. You haven’t been keeping up. TPP is pretty much a done deal. The vote to fast track it has been approved. More jobs sent overseas, more foreigners imported to steal US jobs. That’s Obama’s baby. Make no mistake about it. Go check the record.
            Boxer is as big a hawk as Feinstein. She never saw a defense contractor that she didn’t love. She voted to fund the air strikes on Libya – which is an illegal military intervention into a sovereign nation. Feinstein is a hawk on steroids! ha.
            You and I won’t agree on many issue, Dweezle. When you finally realize that the dems are no better than the pubs come back and we can have a meeting of the minds. Until then, keep promoting the status quo. Sleep well.

          • I hate partisan bickering, however yes I tend to lean to the Democratic Party as they traditionally have supported workers, but in the past 20 years that has changed. most democrats today seem to make Eisenhower, Nixon & Ted Roosevelt look like bleeding heart liberals. The 2008 financial crisis started with Reagan’s financial de-regulation as well as his assault on workers. Clinton and the Republican majority in the house (remember their “Contract with America”) were no better. Reagan is the grand daddy of tax breaks for the wealthy even though the supply side economics fantasy as I have read is actually older than this nation and never has worked.
            TPP is not a done deal, I have read statements from both sides of the aisle that it will not be passed without seeing the details.
            I agree the stock market is ready to crash, CEO’s have been falsifying corporate strengths (at the expense of workers) for a long time to line their pockets.
            I believe our perspectives may be different due to our economic situations. As I have shown in my statements I am worker class, I volunteered to fight for my country in 1970, I am now retired, living on a union pension & social security I paid into since the early 1960’s. You have not stated your ties, from the sounds of your statements you have been in upper management or even a member of the Lincoln Club, but I really do not know.

          • LFOldTimer

            You couldn’t be more incorrect with your speculations that I have associations with the Lincoln Club. I left the Republican Party several years ago and never looked back. IMO the Lincoln Club have compromised their conservative values – just like the Republican Party has done. Today my vote is predicated on the person running for office, not the political party. No political party owns me. And that freedom is very refreshing. And if no one running for a particular office meets my standards, I do the right think and abstain. I refuse to lower myself by voting for the ‘lesser of 2 evils’. That’s only promoting the ‘status quo’ which is killing the country. All of us must look into the mirror every morning. Thanks for the discussion.

          • KenCoop

            You constantly whine about what you believe is wrong. What do you believe should replace those wrongs you detail? More importantly, can you point to a nation that adopts your style of government you believe should be the norm?

        • KenCoop

          That’s not true. DB plans in the private sector are still very popular for the principal officers. It’s the lower workers who get are being denied that opportunity.

  • Paul Lucas

    When are you guys going to understand that privatizing public services and operations doesnt work?