unedited Jan. 09 Tahoe Mt. News story
By Kathryn Reed
Chaos is a mild word for what ensued after all but Councilman Bruce Grego voted to terminate Area Transit Management’s contract to run South Lake Tahoe’s bus system.
Andrew Morris’ company was supposed to turn over operation to interim operator MV Transit on Dec. 15. Morris called John Andoh, BlueGo transit administrator, the night of Dec. 11 saying he was stopping operations the next morning.
Not only did MV operate the city’s bus system ahead of schedule, the company took over Heavenly Mountain Resort’s routes. ATM abandoned the ski resort contract without warning.
Heavenly can run 30 buses on a peak day for its seven routes. About 400,000 ride its buses each ski season.
“It was a little rocky that weekend especially picking up the Heavenly service,” said Rick Angelocci, assistant city manager. He is on the South Tahoe Area Transit Authority (STATA) board which oversees the BlueGo bus system.
Andoh said the system is not running at 100 percent efficiency, but expects to be at that level by the end of February.
Morris did not respond to an email inquiry from the Tahoe Mountain News.
Andoh admits riders are upset about late buses, drivers not knowing routes and dispatch being hard to reach. He is addressing every complaint. Free bus passes, taxing people to their destination and sending out another bus have been solutions.
When ATM abruptly left, company officials also took drivers’ names and numbers so it was a scramble for those left picking up the pieces to track down workers.
MV has been on a hiring spree. Drivers are working overtime.
“A lot of employees didn’t transition (from ATM to MV). They didn’t get their BlueGo operator card from the police department or they had felonies or their paychecks bounced and they were mad at transit altogether,” Andoh said. “I have Andrew (Morris’) creditors calling me. A lot of employees’ checks bounced that Friday.”
The entire bus garage, which is on city property, was a mess when ATM crews left. Three dumpsters of trash were hauled away.
“We had to go in and do repairs to the heating system. Neither of the hoists to lift the buses was working. We had to fix the tire changer and garage doors,” Angelocci said.
Andoh is documenting everything and keeping track of all expenses related to what is being spent to cleanup after ATM.
“I believe the beef is with who Mr. Morris bought ATM from,” Mike Weber said Dec. 9 hours after relinquishing his seat on the council. He calls Morris a friend, but said that is not a reason he would have voted to keep ATM onboard. Weber went on to criticize Morris for being an absentee owner and only showing up when he felt threatened.
A slew of safety infractions are what led the city to ax ATM. Morris has run ATM since purchasing the company from Ken Daley in November 2006.
“A lot of skeletons are out of the closet as a result of the transition,” Andoh said. He said employees are talking about missed routes and parts taken from one bus to fix another.
Andoh is also tracking down a complaint from a woman who said while ATM was the operator her 4-year-old daughter was caught in the rear door of a bus and dragged several feet. This could be an interlock brake system malfunction.
“(ATM) had written on one of the repair reports that the interlock braking system was not a safety issue,” Angelocci said. “That’s why we were concerned about ATM continuing the system.”
Angelocci said STATA will meet to decide what action as a board it might take against ATM. Heavenly and South Lake Tahoe could pursue legal action independently, though those decisions have not been made.
The city expected to meet this month to figure out if ATM owes franchise and fuel fees, and what other money should be recouped.
Andoh is credited with keeping the system from totally collapsing. He practically worked around the clock, including riding routes to help educate drivers. He said at the end of December he was able to take three days off. However, those three days were spent in Phoenix checking out that city’s light rail.
In the long run, the STATA board wants to hire one company to operate the entire fleet that services South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado and Douglas counties, the casinos, Kingsbury Grade and Heavenly. Request for proposals will be accepted until Feb. 13. The board expects to make a decision in May.
The plan is offer a three-year contract with two one-year extensions.
Before the ATM brouhaha Andoh had been asking for comments about local and basinwide bus service. He is accepting them through Jan. 16. Write him at: John Andoh, TRPA, PO Box 5310, Stateline, NV 89449; call (775) 589-5284; fax (775) 588-4527; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other BlueGo news, fares for those 17 and younger changed Jan. 1. Valid identification is required to secure the $1 one-way fare, $3 day pass, $8 10-pack or $35 monthly pass. Kids 4 and younger ride free. Summer youth passes (June 1-Aug. 31) cost $45.
For additional BlueGo info, call (530) 541-7149 or visit www.bluego.org.