The company set to take over Metro's troubled service for disabled and elderly passengers next month has been cited by two California transit systems for problems similar to those experienced by the contractor it was hired to replace.
The Metro board of directors hired California-based MV Transportation Inc. in September to operate MetroAccess, which provides heavily subsidized, curb-to-curb rides for passengers physically unable to use Metro's buses or trains. Metro signed a four-year, $210 million contract with MV Transportation after The Washington Post revealed in June that the current service was fraught with problems, including drivers who frequently failed to pick up passengers on time or at all.
MV Transportation, however, has agreed recently to make payments to two California transit agencies that said they had trouble with its service.
In Riverside, the company admitted that employees altered computer records to make it appear that drivers picked up passengers on time more often than they did, said Bradley Weaver, spokesman for Riverside Transit Agency. The company was required by contract to show up on time at least 90 percent of the time or pay a penalty, Weaver said.
After an investigation by the Riverside Transit Agency unearthed the problems, the company and the agency agreed that Riverside would not extend the company's three-year contract when it ends Dec. 31. MV Transportation also agreed to pay $1 million toward the cost of hiring a new company, Weaver said.
Pamela Wilkins, Metro's assistant general manager of contract services, said she learned of the problems in Riverside after the contract was awarded. However, she said she does not believe that they pose a concern as MetroAccess attempts to improve its service.
She said Global Positioning System tracking devices are being installed in vans to ensure that dispatchers and Metro managers can track drivers -- something Riverside lacked. New software means Metro officials can access trip data at all times, she said, and on-street monitors are being hired to check driver performance.
"The proof in the pudding is always in the performance," said Wilkins, who said she has been working closely with MV Transportation to prepare for the company's Jan. 15 takeover. "I'm very, very concerned that we have good performance here, and everything I've seen through this morning tells me we're going to get that good performance."
Meanwhile, Merced County in central California and MV Transportation agreed to end their contract in June -- three years early -- and the company agreed to pay the county $105,000 after clashing with transit officials over terms of their deal, county officials said. In that case, a Merced official reported widespread performance problems with the company in January, according to documents on the transit agency's Web site.
Jon Monson, MV Transportation's chief executive, said the company initiated the cancellation of both contracts because it was losing money from rising fuel costs.
He acknowledged that three employees altered on-time record reports in Riverside 6,500 times over 41/2 months but said the employees were fired or retrained. In addition, he said, the company's recordkeeping software has been changed so that workers could not do that again. An independent committee is investigating and will report back to the company's board.
"There's no doubt in my mind that what our people did was wrong. It should not have been done," Monson said.
He disputed, however, Merced County's service complaints and said the company has sued the county over an unpaid bill.
Across the country, he said, the company has earned a reputation for taking over and improving troubled systems. In all, MV Transportation has 180 transit-related contracts, including work in Baltimore and New York City.
"Our company has never defaulted on a contract and never been terminated on a contract for cause," he said. "We don't have a perfect track record, but outside of these couple of events, we've had a sterling record."
Metro is being sued by a group of its disabled riders, which claims that service on the federally mandated ride system is so unreliable it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act. Elaine Gardner, an attorney for the group, said yesterday that she was not aware of the California complaints but that she was hoping to learn more.
"It's certainly something that we want to look at further. It does raise some concerns," she said.
The Post articles reported that part of the problem with the previous contractor, LogistiCare, was poor oversight by Metro managers and an unclear contract that provided the company too many loopholes for poor performance.