By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Petaluma City Council has awarded an unusual dual-provider contract for the city’s bus and paratransit services, thus preserving a relationship that began nearly three decades ago.
The contract will save the city about $700,000 over the next seven years, which is about half the savings predicted had the city dumped the Petaluma People Services Center in favor of a single-server contract with MV Transportation of Fairfield.
Currently, MV handles the city’s fixed-route bus service while the nonprofit PPSC provides specialized service to disabled, indigent or elderly residents who cannot rely on standard buses for their transportation needs.
Contracts for both expire at the end of June, and MV submitted a proposal to take over all transit services and save the city about $1.4 million, or $200,000 a year over the next seven years.
But several residents urged the council to stick with the local provider, saying the personalized service and individualized care shown by PPSC has become an important part of the “continuum of care” for vulnerable residents.
Late last week, the two groups negotiated a partnership with MV as the main contractor and PPSC as a sub-contractor and Monday night the council voted unanimously to accept that plan.
Two PPSC dispatching and scheduling jobs will be eliminated, but MV president John Siragusa said he hopes to find ways to keep the employees. Drivers will be retained.
Elece Hempel, who coordinates PPSC, said the situation wasn’t ideal, but it was best for Petaluma’s needy citizens. The drivers know their clients well and can spot potential trouble signs others may miss.
“It boils down to us serving our clients. We’ll figure out how to make it happen because it’s so important to the people we serve,” she said.
Having MV take over management and scheduling of both systems will allow greater use of technology to increase efficiency, Councilman Gabe Kearney said.
Savings, expected to be about $73,000 the first year, likely will be used to add routes or expand service hours.
Councilwoman Tiffany Renee said she still had concerns about how PPSC employees would be treated and whether their wages and benefits would be fair.
Siragusa, a longtime Petaluma resident, said his mother, grandmother and mother-in-law have all used PPSC services. He said riders should “notice no difference at all,” Siragusa said.