KSU, PARTA hit rough spots in negotiations

Kristine Gill

Issues between both parties seem unclear

Kent State has a plan should negotiations with PARTA end on a sour note this year. The request for proposal (RFP) issued by the university in January invites private transportation companies to submit plans for a potential contract.

Official documents:

Click to view/download PDFs

VIEW the new schedule.

VIEW the transportation route for disabled parties.

VIEW the letter of agreement between Vice President for Administration David Creamer and PARTA general manager John Drew.

VIEWthe service letter agreement.

VIEW Arterial Level of Service Descriptions, KSU Transportation employees and Pay Structure.

VIEW the unsigned contract.

“The RFP is our backup, quite frankly,” said John Peach, director of public safety and Kent State police chief, who added the university prefers PARTA to any other vendor at the moment.

But Peach’s statement contradicts PARTA operations manager Joe Yensel, who previously said, “There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in (the RFP),” indicating the university was only renegotiating a contract with his company should the RFP fail.

It’s not the only issue the two parties seem to be unclear about. When asked why the university chose to re-evaluate the contract now, Peach said it was because PARTA wasn’t living up to its end of the deal. He said PARTA was in an awkward situation because it provides good service but not the hours the university is paying for.

Thomas Clapper, general manager for transportation services, said PARTA asked to scale back service hours from the 27,000-hour total outlined in the contract, and the university agreed.

“PARTA came to us a few years ago and said we want to drop these hours, and we said, ‘OK, fine,'” Clapper said.

Yensel had a different response. He said the university opened discussions about a new contract because of the bad economy and to ensure it was getting an appropriate level of service. Yensel provided numbers showing PARTA is driving enough hours compared to totals agreed to in the contract, and, in some cases, more than what it calls for. For the 2008 fiscal year, Yensel’s numbers showed PARTA drove 37,240 hours when the target hours called for 33,079.

“The hours I provided include all service hours provided for the routes outlined in the sections of the contract the target hours are derived,” Yensel said in an e-mail last week.

But according to an attachment to the contract, campus route hours for the year are to total 27,560 – a few thousand hours shy of the roughly 34,000-hour total Yensel reported.

Peach said according to the contract, the university can break ties with PARTA now on the grounds that it isn’t providing that service, even though the university approved a scaling-back of hours to make changes to routes and hours. In order to avoid that, the university has decided to negotiate a new contract for fall. In addition to providing insufficient hours, Peach said PARTA is late turning in end-of-semester ridership data.

“This isn’t a game, and we aren’t leveraging it. It’s on the table,” Peach said. “I know there are speculations.”

Still PARTA the plan?

Hours PARTA drove in the 2008 fiscal year – 37,240

Hours PARTA is to drive in Kent State contract – 27,560

Hours of difference between the two – 9,680

*PARTA has been working Kent’s on-campus routes since 2004

Clapper said he didn’t want to get into “the he-said, she-said” type of argument. Nonetheless, Clapper said the university wants PARTA to provide 28,000 hours for the new contract.

Regardless of which company ends up busing students on campus, PARTA will remain the university’s neighbor as the transit authority in this county.

“The RFP regards only the on-campus component,” Clapper said. “No matter what we do on campus, the off-campus stays in place.”

Since 2005, the university has paid a fee between $120,000 and $135,000 to cover off-campus transportation through PARTA for its students and employees. Clapper said the university will continue to pay that fee.

Kent State formed a campus bus system in the 1960s as a result of rapid enrollment increases and struck a deal with PARTA in 2003 when it won a countywide

tax levy.

“PARTA now had local money,” Clapper said, adding it was only logical to begin paying PARTA a fee to take over the university’s off-campus routes.

In 2004, PARTA took over on-campus routes as well.

“We don’t have another backup position if we don’t go with the RFP,” Peach said. “But I’m hoping PARTA will come to an agreement.”

Clapper said it’s been a good agreement for both parties, and Peach agreed.

“PARTA is always going to be our neighbor in the county,” Peach said. “We always want to be good neighbors to them.”

Contact public affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].