PARTA the past?

Kristine Gill

University seeks new on-campus transportation

Kent State is looking for a new campus bus system and a general scaling back of the transportation services it offers. The plan is to have the new – or revised – contracted busing system in place by Aug. 31.

The university issued a request for proposal (RFP) Jan. 28, inviting companies to propose plans and costs for “the operation of a new campus bus system at Kent State University.” The RFP calls for a five-year, 27,000 hours-per-year contract.

The RFP comes after nearly five years of what is potentially a 20-year contract between Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority and the university. The contract agreement is for July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2014. The agreement will be automatically extended for up to five, two-year renewal periods unless either party provides written notice 18 months prior to the end of the agreement or each extension.

PARTA won’t be submitting a proposal for the university’s RFP.

“We can’t bid on it,” PARTA operations manager Joseph Yensel said. “We receive public funds and can’t compete with a private company.”

John Peach, director of public safety and Kent State police chief, said there are strict standards for public transportation systems. Peach said under the current contract, the university will pay PARTA a little more than $2 million for this year’s service. Peach said the RFP was issued so the university can explore cheaper busing opportunities.

“This is a money issue,” he said.

PARTA is funded in part through a sales tax of one-quarter percent in Portage County and by contract with Kent State, but that contract is up in the air now.

Yensel said he isn’t sure what the RFP will mean for the future of PARTA’s relationship with the university.

“They didn’t ask our permission before they put an RFP on the streets,” he said, adding that regardless of the outcome, this won’t hurt the company.

“This contract doesn’t make or break us,” Yensel said.

Thomas Clapper, general manager for transportation services at the university, said the RFP came after taking a look at transportation trends on campus over the past few years.

“We felt it was time to recheck the market place at our service levels,” he said, adding he’s noticed more students walking to class along the newly finished esplanade through campus. The recent demolition of the Small Group dorms – the 11 residence halls on the east side of campus – have made bus stops at that end of campus less popular destinations and pickup locations.

PARTA is gearing up for fall semester regardless of what Yensel calls an “overall scaling back of the scope” of what the company is doing in response to the university’s request for less service. Peach said the new PARTA contract for fall should be in place by July 1.

“There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in (the RFP),” Yensel said.

“What we can’t afford to have happen is to assume everything is going to be agreed upon with PARTA and then miss the (RFP) deadline,” he said, adding the university wants to have a plan in place should the RFP yield poor results.

Yensel said there are new student employees training right now for the fall semester. PARTA employs 68 students, some of whom were recently hired and are still in the training process. An article in the RFP alerts bidding companies of the need to accommodate student employees.

Peach said transportation companies are usually eager to employ students.

“We know who’s putting in proposals,” said Frank Hairston, marketing director and equal employment officer for PARTA.

He said PARTA continues to discuss plans for revamping on-campus transportation with the university. Having provided services at the university for more than five years, PARTA’s input will affect transportation on campus next semester and whether it will provide it.

Clapper said 10 companies, including AMPCO and Carnation Transit, have been targeted, and three to eight proposals are expected by March 27.

Clapper said completion of the esplanade through campus made it easier for students to walk to class. He also mentioned – and the RFP includes – use of smaller vehicles that would hold 26 passengers. Current PARTA buses can hold 60 passengers.

Yensel is skeptical about using smaller vehicles.

“People complain now that the buses are crowded,” he said. “I don’t know how that

would work.”

Hairston disagreed with Clapper’s assertion that fewer students ride the buses. He said ridership has held steady.

“Just because Small Group is gone doesn’t mean there aren’t students going to the (Mathematics) and (Computer) Science building or (Windchimes) Apartments,” Yensel said.

“And believe me, when the weather is rough, they get on the bus,” Hairston added.

The RFP mentions the university may purchase 12 new buses. Peach said the university owned its own buses, which it sold to PARTA for a dollar each when the university signed PARTA’s contract five years ago.

“If it ever reverts back (and) the transit service exchanges hands, we may require them to give us back buses for a dollar a piece,” Peach said.

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