Transit officials dumped the biggest transit provider in the East Valley because the company couldn’t keep buses cool enough during the triple-digit heat of Arizona’s summers.
Valley Metro ended its contract with MV Transportation for other reasons, too — including accusations of falsified maintenance records — but largely because of complaints from sweltering passengers.
MV repaired air conditioning units last year and over the winter, but Valley Metro spokeswoman Susan Tierney said the transit authority feared a repeat.
“We’re coming toward summer and the maintenance was still not to the level we expected,” Tierney said.
MV operates the bulk of service in Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, and some routes in Scottsdale and Tempe. It also operates East Valley Dial-A-Ride service, which was widely criticized in Scottsdale. Service got worse when MV took over last year, said Scottsdale resident Lisa Haskell, who yelled into the phone when she learned the company lost its contract.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” said Haskell, who often accompanied her 82-year-old mother on Dial-A-Ride. “Seniors everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief.”
Valley Metro called MV officials Wednesday to inform them of the split and that a new company would take over Saturday, Tierney said. The deal was “a friendly separation” that the parties mutually agreed to, Tierney said.
But the Tribune obtained a Valley Metro memo dated Wednesday that said the transit authority had decided to terminate the contract because “MV transportation is unable to provide quality and consistent levels of service.”
“In addition, continued and increased levels of deferred maintenance leads management to believe that the buses will NOT be prepared for summer service,” the memo states. It also said MV altered mileage figures on maintenance records.
Valley Metro asked MV to improve maintenance as summer approached, Tierney said. MV in turn demanded a higher rate from Valley Metro, Tierney said.
“We felt there was no way we could raise rates after what happened last summer,” Tierney said.
Transit officials lost confidence in MV’s management, the memo said.
Valley Metro lined up another contractor Monday. The new company is Maryland-based ATC/Connex, which provided East Valley bus service until it lost the bid to MV in mid-2004. At the time, some ATC/Connex drivers protested at a Valley Metro meeting that MV would offer lesser service and pay.
But Valley Metro officials said MV offered a better price — saving up to $6.6 million over a 10-year contract of about $200 million. Officials from Scottsdale and Phoenix also envisioned better Dial-ARide service, saying customers were happier when MV took over a Dial-A-Ride contract in Phoenix.
The service improvements didn’t materialize in the East Valley, several officials said.
Passenger complaints rose when MV took over in Chandler, transportation manger Mike Normand said. The gripes focused on buses that broke down or didn’t have air conditioning.
“That was a big concern last summer,” Normand said.
But Scottsdale Councilman Jim Lane was surprised because MV seemed to have made improvements with Dial-A-Ride. The company assembled a group of Dial-ARide users to meet on a regular basis and share their concerns, and it started a complaint card system, Lane said.
“It seemed like it was working pretty well,” Lane said. “But if it was too much of a strain, maybe it’s better somebody else takes a shot at it.”
MV’s employees will transfer to ATC/Connex, which is part of Paris-based Veolia Environment. Valley Metro officials don’t expect any service disruptions or noticeable changes during the transition, Tierney said.
MV officials could not be reached Thursday.
THE NEWS: Valley Metro ends its contract with transit provider MV Transportation.
WHY THE SPLIT? Complaints from passengers that the company couldn’t keep buses cool enough during Arizona’s summers and falsified maintenance records.
WHO IS AFFECTED: MV operates the bulk of service in Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, and some routes in Scottsdale and Tempe. It also operates East Valley Dial-A-Ride service.
WHAT’S NEXT: Valley Metro will contract with Maryland-based ATC/Connex, which provided East Valley bus service until it lost the bid to MV in mid-2004.