The current operator of Boston’s beleaguered school bus fleet was the only company to submit a bid to run the operations next year and beyond, as the school district is under state pressure to drastically reduce tardy buses.
School district officials are still reviewing the proposal submitted by Transdev, which has been operating the school bus fleet for nearly a decade. The contract would be for five years, beginning next summer, with the option of three one-year extensions. The first year of the contract is estimated to cost $17.5 million in management fees, wages, and other costs.
A School Committee vote on the proposal could take place in January. The district transports about 22,000 students each day to more than 220 public and private schools and specialized programs.
The lack of bids come as Boston Public Schools has been struggling for more than a decade to get its buses to run punctually. The state, under a new district improvement plan this school year, is mandating BPS get at least 95 percent of its buses to school on time each month, a benchmark it has yet to meet.
Roxi Harvey, chair of the Boston Special Education Parent Advisory Council, expressed disappointment that Transdev was the sole bidder, noting the company has repeatedly failed families.
“Across their last 10 year term including extensions, School Committee and superintendents have heard families testify about the horrific service they have provided and pleaded with the district not to renew Transdev’s contract,” she said. “People should be questioning why so many other bidders dropped out ... while the company that failed our families has a clear path to continue the same mistreatment we have received.”
The City Council touched upon the bid at a public hearing on school transportation Thursday night. Councilor Kendra Lara was among the parents who shared their own frustrating experiences with late and no-show buses.
“Every morning, one of the biggest worries that I have is whether or not my Autistic nonverbal first-grader is going to get picked up in the morning,” said Lara, who co-sponsored the hearing with Councilors Julia Mejia and Erin Murphy. “My colleagues have first hand experience of me walking into hearings late and missing things in the morning because the school bus didn’t come and I have to drive him to school ... So I have to be honest, if I wasn’t a public official, I would have lost my job at this point.”
The late buses also force parents without vehicles to pay for cabs and rideshare services and cause students to miss valuable class time. The councilors implored BPS to do a better job of tracking how many hours of class time is lost, especially for students with disabilities who might be missing specialized therapies.
BPS originally brought in Transdev in 2013 — replacing its former contractor, First Student — with high hopes it would substantially improve on-time performance. But Transdev working in partnership with BPS hasn’t made much progress.
Yet the School Committee, based on recommendations by a variety of superintendents, approved five one-year extensions, the maximum number allowed under the 2013 deal out of concern they wouldn’t get a better price if they issued a bid.
Under the current contract, Transdev primarily manages the running bus fleet and drivers. BPS, which owns the three bus yards and the fleet of more than 730 buses, signs up students for transportation and puts together the bus routes.
“Boston Public Schools takes our commitment to getting every student to and from school safely and on time seriously,” a school district spokesman said in a statement in response to Globe questions about the bids.
The outlook for a change in contractors appeared possible towards the end of September when more than 30 interested parties participated in a pre-bid conference call. But one week later, interest had nearly evaporated: Just four vendors did a mandatory walk-through of the bus yards on Sept. 29. And by the end of last month, Transdev was the only vendor to submit a bid by Oct. 28.
In its bid proposal, Transdev said it has been an honor to serve as BPS’ transportation provider and wanted to continue efforts to improve services.
“We proudly collaborate with BPS on your mission to provide safe, reliable, on-time, and cost-effective transportation to students throughout the City of Boston,” the company wrote. “Transdev welcomes the opportunity to expand and continue to improve our services for BPS and your students, and we look forward to continuing to grow our partnership with you during the coming years.”
But given the low interest, Matthew Cahill, executive director of the Boston Finance Commission, said BPS should consider whether it should start the bidding process over.
“The language of the bid should be reviewed or examined because we should have more than one bid for a contract this size,” said Cahill, who questioned whether aspects of the bid made a contract unappealing to companies or perhaps could have prevented companies from applying.
In an interview before the council hearing, Mejia, said she had lots of questions about the bidding process and whether families and the public were well served by it.
“I’m curious about what the (requests for bids) looked like and was it competitive, and why people weren’t inspired to pursue it,” Mejia said, noting the contract provides a critical service and represents a hefty sum of money. “These are our tax dollars.”