“A 2015 audit found that First Transit, the contractor that operates and maintains the D.C. Circulator fleet, had fallen short on maintenance.” – Washington Post, 2017
“Metro has been in charge of [the DC Circulator] contract with First Transit, frequently docking the company payments for failing to meet the daily quota of operational buses.” – WAMU, 2017
Despite internal audits, external reports, testimony from riders and bus operators alike, and extensive media coverage of the root causes of the DC Circulator’s problems, DDOT is preparing to swap one problematic contractor for another. The problems plaguing First Transit’s oversight of the D.C. Circulator are endemic to privatized transit provision across the United States. The problem is the model. Publicly-owned and operated transit isn’t magically better, but rather ensures a clear line of accountability and mechanisms for a correction of service failures unencumbered by the profitability and public relations concerns that animate private sector contractors.
Unfortunately, DDOT’s current director Jeff Marootian is refusing to show the public which contractors are bidding to run our bus system. Based on recent bidding in the region, let’s take a look at a couple of the likely bidders:
- US subsidiary of French multinational Keolis Group.
- In 2016, the Group generated €5.1 billion in revenue.
- Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français (SNCF) owns about 70% of Keolis. This relationship with SNCF resulted in a major scandal in the State of Maryland in 2014. Keolis was part of a consortium seeking to operate the proposed Purple Line. Thanks to a Maryland law requiring disclosure, SCNF admitted that it assisted Nazi authorities in transporting tens of thousands of European Jews to concentration camps. Maryland legislators blocked Keolis from being able to receive the bid.
- From September 2016 to September 2017 alone, at least ten unfair labor practice charges were filed against Keolis for its treatment of transit workers, including for retaliating against workers engaged in concerted activity, coercing employees, and refusing to furnish information.
- From January 2015 to September 2017, OSHA inspections found violations at four of Keolis’s properties, resulting in more than $52,000 in initial penalties.
- In 2014 and 2015 in Boston, the MBTA fined Keolis $2.4 million for failing to meet on-time performance, cleanliness, and staffing standards.
- In 2011, MV Transportation settled an EEOC gender discrimination lawsuit for $35,000 after female bus cleaners alleged they were being discriminated against and targeted for termination because of their gender.
- In 2017 in Fairfax County, Virginia, MV Transportation’s approach to labor relations resulted in a unanimous strike authorization vote by its employees. Workers cited a lack of adequate break time, buses lacking adequate maintenance and fume mitigation, mid-employment credit checks, disparity in wages for workers doing the same job at different locations in the county, and no reliable retirement plan as their top concerns.
- At the WMATA MetroAccess Call Center, MV uses mandatory overtime to force call center workers to work six days per week on average, allow only one 10 minute break during six hours of work, and deny workers pay while using the restroom.
- Premiums for the healthcare plan offered to employees are so high that MV distributes Medicaid and welfare enrollment office contact information in its New Employee packet. 37% at the MV MetroAccess Call Center have no insurance at all.
- A lawsuit filed in 2013 revealed that MV “submitted inaccurate invoices for reimbursement for MetroAccess transportation services that charged for trips taken by customers who were known or should have been known by MV Transportation to be deceased.”
- For calendar year 2016, at least 48 unfair labor practice charges were filed against MV in the United States by unions and individuals.
- From January 2014 to November 2017, 9 OSHA inspections resulted in $8,455 in violation penalties.
- Transdev, formerly Veolia Transdev, is a French-based international private public transport operator.
- In 2015, net income was €84.8 million.
- In 2016 in Flint, the Michigan Attorney General sued Veolia for its role in lead contamination in drinking water.
- In 2017, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit filed by Flint residents alleging negligence against Veolia for the way its failure to meet its basic obligations in protecting the integrity of water systems.
- Since the year 2000, Veolia Environment and its subsidiaries have had at least $898,000 in penalties levied against them for environmental, workplace health and safety, wage and hour, labor relations, railroad safety, and motor vehicle safety violations.
- As a Veolia subsidiary, Transdev had 66 unfair labor charges filed against it in calendar year 2016, including worker coercion and violation of Weingarten Rights.
- In 2016, Transdev had at least five OSHA complaints filed against it in three different states.
- In its 2012 proposal to WMATA for MetroAccess service, Transdev built low wages ($13-$15) into its business model and stated in black and white that “turnover assumptions are: 40%.” As low wages drive high turnover, it was no surprise then in 2016-2017 when Transdev claimed that high turnover was making it impossible to meet on-time performance standards.
- Transdev accrued almost $2 million in fines from WMATA in FY2016 for failure to deliver trips ordered by riders with disabilites.