How Would It Work


If you haven’t yet, click here read our 2017 report Fool DC Twice on the history of DDOT transit privatization


Unlike fully-privatized utilities, many of the assets used by First Transit to provide Circulator service are already owned by the District of Columbia via the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Likewise, many of the administrative functions that may be conducted by the contractor in other privatized transit systems are already performed by DDOT. Recent changes set into motion by DDOT have further laid the groundwork for a simple, smooth transition from private to public operation and maintenance.  The transition to a fully municipalized service is primarily an issue of staff capacity, not expertise.

According to DDOT’s DC Circulator 2017 Development Plan Update, DDOT already does the following:

  • System-level planning, like schedules
  • Policy development, like fare policy
  • Financial planning
  • Fleet procurement
  • Marketing
  • Customer relations


Buses:  Currently, nearly all of the Circulators 72 buses are owned by DDOT. In 2017, DDOT assumed full control of the fleet procurement process, completing its first purchase of buses.

Facilities:  DDOT has taken responsibility in its latest RFP for providing maintenance and operations facilities for use by any new contractors. This is a significant shift, as First Transit was previously favored for its possession of a bus maintenance garage in the District. DDOT says it is in the process of identifying, securing, and modifying facilities to meet the needs of existing DC Circulator service and to accommodate new electric buses.

Core Frontline Personnel: Existing First Transit-employed bus operators, mechanics, dispatchers, and other frontline staff all already meet DDOT hiring requirements. They should be hired as DDOT employees, with their seniority, wage rates, and other provisions of existing collective bargaining agreements honored.

The contractor also employs support and administrative staff in human resources, clerical, data/IT, marketing, and customer service. Under DDOT’s existing organizational structure, divisions already exist which are responsible for doing this work in departments across the agency. There is no reason not to expand their scope to the DC Circulator.

To assume control of DC Circulator, DDOT would need to take on:

  • Developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Safety Operating Procedures. DDOT is already involved in the review and approval of SOPs of First Transit.
  • Drug and Alcohol Testing Program (DATP). DDOT is required to oversee First Transit’s program.
  • Developing and executing personnel, hiring, and training programs. DDOT is already involved in the approval of these programs.
  • Managing operator assignments, picks, relief, extra board. As DDOT already develops schedules for Circulator service, First Transit is responsible for managing operator schedules.
  • Blocking and runcutting. Currently, First Transit manages software for establishing bus route runs, trip pairing, setting headways, and tracking data for NTD purposes. DDOT staff already review and approve all of these processes.
  • Dispatching. First Transit employees currently manage communication between operators and the control center. DDOT reviews these processes.
  • Pre and post trip vehicle inspections. First Transit oversees vehicle inspections performed by operators. The breakdown and correction of failures in this process has required more DDOT staff time than if DDOT were to take this on in-house.


Again, DDOT may have to expand its capacity but will not need to invest in new expertise.

Management: DDOT’s primary staffing need is in management. The agency already has a division—the Transit Delivery Division—devoted to managing the Circulator.

In 2018, DDOT assumed daily oversight responsibility of First Transit, a role previously played by WMATA. As we can see above, even those processes managed day-to-day by First Transit are closely watched, reviewed, and approved by qualified DDOT staff. In its latest RFP for a new contractor, DDOT lays out in detail requirements and job descriptions for each of the following managerial positions, some of which may no longer be necessary given DDOT’s organizational structure:

  • General Manager
  • Assistant GM of Operations
  • Assistant GM of Maintenance
  • Assistant GM of Safety and Training
  • Assistant GM of Administrative Service

To accomplish municipalization, DDOT would need to:

  1. Extend the existing revenue contract with First Transit to no longer than nine months to allow for a smooth transition to municipal operations
  2. Transition assets: Initiate discussions necessary to begin assuming ownership and control of any remaining First Transit-owned assets, processes, services.
  3. Transition personnel: Initiate discussions  with First Transit and ATU to ensure labor peace, discuss successorship, honor terms of the existing collective bargaining agreement, and initiate public employment of existing Circulator personnel. Also, DDOT should work with the DC Department of Human Resources to enroll Circulator employees in DC employee health, retirement, and related benefit programs.
  4. Hire and/ or assign management.