Grand Valley buses could run later at night

Grand Valley Transit riders who have clamored for longer bus service hours for years may soon get their wish.

The Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee voted unanimously Monday to recommend that buses run three hours later in the evening starting Jan. 1 and that MV Transportation of Fairfield, Calif., take over operation of GVT from First Transit of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The recommendation from the panel that oversees GVT’s operations goes to the Mesa County Commission, which is expected to make the final decision next month.

Committee members who have been trying to figure out how to extend service without spending more money supported MV Transportation’s bid because the company offered nighttime service for nearly the same price as First Transit proposed to maintain the current level of service.

“This is a very slim opportunity that’s been afforded us,” said Laura Luke, Grand Junction city councilwoman and member of the GVRTC, referring to expanded service hours. “I don’t really want to give that opportunity up.”

Buses currently run every hour from 5:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. six days a week. Under the recommendation, buses would run until 10:15 p.m. on all 11 routes. Officials had been contemplating cutting service on lesser-used routes in order to pay for the nighttime operations.

The county sought bids to run the bus service because First Transit’s five-year contract expires at the end of this year. Officials received five proposals, and an evaluation team rated MV Transportation and First Transit the highest.

The proposals from MV Transportation and First Transit varied in several areas:

MV Transportation’s $8.5 million price for existing service and $9.7 million price for expanded service were $1.1 million and $1.5 million less, respectively, than First Transit’s prices.

MV Transportation will pay drivers $8 an hour during training, $9.40 an hour to start and $9.90 an hour after six months. First Transit offered $10 an hour to start. The starting wage under the current contract is $9.40 an hour.

MV Transportation will offer phone numbers and interactive kiosks riders can call or look at to receive updates as to whether their bus is on time or behind schedule.

MV Transportation will staff phone lines and the lobby at the downtown transfer station from 5:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The lobby currently is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Committee members and other officials praised First Transit’s service, noting ridership has steadily climbed over the years. But they said they couldn’t bypass the chance to add service at virtually no extra cost.

“It has nothing to do with First Transit. They’ve done a great job. This is strictly a business decision,” said Todd Hollenbeck, manager of the Mesa County Regional Transportation Planning Office.

Prior to the vote, GVT General Manager Valdon Lewis predicted MV Transportation will make no profit or lose money on the contract and struggle to hire employees for $8 an hour.

“As the economy starts to recover, people will leave for the oil fields” and other higher-paying jobs, Lewis said. “The only way to retain them is to pay a living wage.”

County officials said MV Transportation intends to hire existing GVT employees and bring them into the fold on their current wages.

Susan Spry, region vice president for First Transit, claimed there were mistakes in MV Transportation’s proposal, although she didn’t specify them.

No one from MV Transportation attended Monday’s meeting.


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