The Orange County Transportation Authority has fined its contract bus operator, First Transit Inc., $135,471 for dozens of missed bus trips and rider complaints between July and December 2015.
First Transit has been under scrutiny since earlier this year when Voice of OC reported that after it took over the Transportation Authority's outsourced bus routes last June, the company failed to hire enough drivers and left hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of riders stranded when their buses did not show up for scheduled stops.
Although the issue had been simmering throughout the end of 2015, Transportation Authority staff did not bring it to the board's attention when the transit performance report was presented in November, focusing instead on positive trends.
Recently, some members of the Transportation Authority board have sharply criticized the company for failing to fulfill the basic duties of their contract, which the company won after submitting a bid $11 million less than the bid from the previous contractor, MV Transportation.
The Transportation Authority has outsourced an increasing number of bus routes in an effort to cut costs. In 2009, they outsourced six percent of bus services, and gradually increased their outsourcing to 36 percent today.
But, until the issues with First Transit prompted staff to change the standards for outsourced routes, contractors were generally held to a lower standard and were allowed more complaints than in-house drivers, according a Voice of OC review of records.
Since the 2012-13 fiscal year, contract bus routes have also received more rider complaints than routes operated by the Transportation Authority, according to a Voice of OC analysis.
During the 2014-15 fiscal year, in-house routes saw over 37.8 million boardings and received 1,467 complaints. The outsourced routes, meanwhile, received 1,482 complaints despite much lower ridership, at 9.2 million boardings.
At a meeting in January, First Transit Vice President Nick Promponas explained that the company initially misjudged the availability of drivers in Orange County and struggled with training dispatchers.
And at a Transit Committee meeting of the board earlier this month, Transportation Authority staff said that the contractor is now reporting full employment and that the number of missed trips is much lower, with just two missed trips in January compared to 21 in October of last year.
"Even though we do have some missed trips -- and those are not to be minimized, it’s not acceptable -- but we are overall as system performing well into the high 90 percentile," said Transportation Authority transit manager Beth McCormick.
Of the $135,471 in fines, $77,000 are the result of missed trips and $40,000 because of excessive complaints.
First Transit received 106 complaints in January, or 17.2 complaints per 100,000 boardings, according to the performance report. Under the contract, First Transit can have one complaint per 7,000 boardings. After that, every complaint carries a $100 fine.
Transportation Authority staff will now report on the company's performance on a monthly basis.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.