By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The possibility of saving $200,000 annually is enticing to Petaluma City Council members. But it will mean cutting ties with a nonprofit group that has worked with the city for three decades to provide transportation services for its most vulnerable residents.
In the end, late Monday night, the council delayed the decision until May 2 on which provider — or providers — will win the city’s bus and paratransit business for the next seven years.
For the past 10 years, MV Transportation, a Fairfield-based, national transportation company, has handled the city’s fixed-route buses. For the past 29 years, the nonprofit Petaluma People Services Center has managed the transportation needs for the elderly, sick and handicapped.
Both contracts expire June 30.
MV Transportation, which has 210 contracts nationwide including the paratransit contract in Santa Rosa, said it could save Petaluma $1.4 million over seven years if the city consolidated its fixed-bus routes and paratransit services with MV.
Petaluma People Services Center’s paratransit service is individualized, “door-through-door,” for eligible seniors and physically or mentally disabled riders who cannot use fixed-route service.
Its supporters argued that it provides a “value” that is more important than simply the cost of services and that its drivers care about their passengers and provide an indispensable step in the continuum of care.
The savings achieved by consolidating services could allow the city to expand existing fixed-route service by running later in the evenings, increasing the frequency of buses, providing Sunday service and improving Saturday service.
MV says it can save the city $200,000 a year by reducing administrative overhead, primarily because it would not need the nonprofit group’s paratransit manager and dispatcher positions, which would have been eliminated in a consolidation.
MV President John Siragusa, a Petaluma resident for the past 27 years, said his mother, grandmother and mother-in-law all have used PPSC services. After several speakers urged the council to retain the local group, Siragusa offered the council a compromise.
“Maybe marrying the two companies together may be the best decision for the council,” he said.
Mayor David Glass jumped at the proposal, asking if the council would agree to postpone a decision until May 2 to allow MV and PPSC a chance to negotiate a more efficient, cooperative transit plan.
The contract under consideration would have required a new paratransit provider to offer jobs to all PPSC drivers and maintain their salaries, but not necessarily their benefits. Some council members said if they were to award a contract to MV, they wanted PPSC employees to be treated “humanely.”