CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) — For years, a private company hired by the city of Charlotte controlled almost every aspect of the city’s bus service. But virtually none of the city’s elected leaders knew about it.
WBTV began investigating the bus system after months of problems plaguing CATS operations: two shootings, dozens of daily driver absences, buses not showing up on schedule and other journeys that are never made at all.
The lack of clarity among city leaders over who controlled bus system operations changed after WBTV began asking questions for this story in June.
On Monday, CATS CEO John Lewis briefed a city council committee on the operating structure of the agency’s bus operations – including the private contractor – after spending weeks refusing to answer questions in front of the court. camera.
Council members, for the first time, were asking questions about the role of the contractor who runs the city’s bus system.
“Does RATP Dev manage the bus operation division? asked Councilman Larken Egleston.
Lewis responded with a word.
For years, a private company hired by the City of Charlotte controlled almost every aspect of the city’s bus service.
City’s contract with private company flies under the radar
The current contract between CATS and the contractor, RATP Dev, was approved by the city council in February 2019.
RATP Dev operates a subsidiary called Transit Management of Charlotte, which oversees a host of CATS operations, including routing, scheduling, fare analysis, employee selection and training, labor relations, security and security, among others.
Despite RATP’s massive role in running the city’s bus service, there is very little publicly available information about the company.
An analysis of past city council meetings by WBTV shows the company is rarely, if ever, mentioned at public meetings. WBTV found no instance in which an RATP employee was asked to publicly address city leaders.
Document: Development contract City of Charlotte and RATP
The last time the company was mentioned at a full City Council meeting was in March 2019, when then-Councillor LaWana Mayfield asked about it.
Mayfield is running to win back a seat on the city council this year.
“It’s very concerning as a resident and as a taxpayer,” Mayfield told WBTV of the lack of transparency surrounding CATS and RATP. “Yet we haven’t heard from them during this crisis”
At a recent meeting of the city’s transport and planning committee, Councilor Egleston asked if council could hear from RATP leaders in the near future. Lewis pushed back.
“I understand the committee’s interest in hearing from them directly,” he said. “Once the collective bargaining process is completed, I think that would be an option.”
“We should definitely hear from them but, I would ask, why haven’t we heard from them before?” Kyle Luebke, who is also a candidate for Charlotte City Council, told WBTV.
Luebke works as a lawyer and frequently takes the bus. We showed him and Mayfield a copy of the contract we got between CATS and RATP Dev.
Contract approved with little scrutiny, renewed without debate
During his Monday briefing with board members, CATS CEO Lewis said CATS would put the bus operating contract out to tender next year when the current contract expires.
But Lewis failed to mention that the current contract has already completed the original term this year and RATP is still operating as the head of the bus operations division.
The effective date of the contract was February 11, 2019, and the initial term of the contract was three years, but also gave the city the option to extend the contract for an additional year up to two times.
Driver Ethan Rivera was driving a CATS bus on February 11, 2022, when he was shot and later died of his injuries. Filming took place on the third anniversary of the start date of the RATP contract and the start of its fourth year.
WBTV could not find information on the city’s or RATP’s website definitively indicating that the contract had been renewed, and CATS did not accept an interview to answer questions about the contract.
Nevertheless, the RATP is still a contractor for CATS and the city.
“If someone fails to do something and doesn’t provide a service that we pay them for, they should provide that service and shouldn’t just get an automatic extension because we didn’t do their due diligence. “said Luebke. .
Mayfield, who was on the board when the contract was approved, said the automatic renewal clauses pose a problem for the current operation of the board’s election calendar.
“One of the other challenges of being on a two-year term is that a lot of these things happen between terms. They all occur at the end of a term. New people are elected, and they don’t have the background,” Mayfield said.
Approval of the RATP contract was on the board’s agenda, meaning it was not discussed publicly and was voted on along with dozens of other board action items.
The city takes little action because the contractor continually lacks performance measures
The contract obtained by WBTV specifies that RATP Dev is responsible for the punctuality of the city’s buses. If the company fails to meet certain performance measures outlined in the contract, it must pay the city’s damages.
A performance standard for “service outage” says RATP could face $5,000 in damages for each calendar day the company is unable to provide 75% of scheduled service hours.
Another section requires a penalty of $1,000 per month if punctuality falls below 80% and $200 per month if it falls below 87%. Data provided to WBTV by CATS in April showed the OTP was below 87% since the 4th quarter of fiscal 2021.
At Monday’s council committee meeting, Lewis made broad reference to performance metrics saying there were financial disincentives for the contractor not providing “the necessary labor” and that the city “implemented these contractual mechanisms”. He did not specify which performance standards he was referring to.
But CATS published daily the number of driver absences on its Twitter.
“They’re trying to save themselves and cover up their inept failure to provide needed service to our community,” Luebke said.
“As far as the court of public opinion goes, I’m concerned that our drivers will lose that because individuals lose their jobs because they can’t get to work,” Mayfield said.
“I’m afraid our CATS manager is unavailable.”
Lewis also told the council that CATS and RATP are working on a contingency plan to change bus schedules and minimize wait times and missed routes for passengers. The Charlotte Transit Service Advisory Committee is meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss changes that Lewis said are relatively minor.
But the contract raises questions about whether an emergency plan should have already been completed by the RATP.
A section of the contract states that RATP must “respond accordingly with a contingency plan” in the event of service disruptions that prevent a driver from making scheduled pickups.
CATS data shows that buses missed 3% of their trips between January 1 and March 31 and employee absences averaged 23 per day since May 1.
Audit raises other concerns
In addition to operational challenges, which Lewis focused on in his Monday presentation to board members, WBTV also uncovered an audit raising questions about CATS’ sourcing practices and its oversight of RATP Dev.
A 2021 internal audit found that “CATS did not consistently follow established city policies for the procurement of goods and services.”
The audit largely focuses on internal CATS issues but makes several mentions of RATP and its Transit Management subsidiary in Charlotte.
The 2019 contract between RATP and the city clarifies what procurement responsibilities lie with RATP stating that “the company (RATP Dev) shall make recommendations as to the type, quantity and quantity of materials , supplies and equipment to be purchased”.
According to the contract, these purchases “may be made by the company (RATP Dev) after consultation with the procurement and contract management section of CATS and in accordance with the city’s procurement policy in force at the time” .
The CATS procurement audit found that the contractor had “failed to incorporate manager-ordered changes” during the two-year transition period to company-wide procurement policies. the city.
“Price changes initiated by [Transit Management of Charlotte] staff without properly executed contract amendments has resulted in payment disputes with vendors and late payments. For a major supplier, CATS had to agree to pay as-invoiced prices (which often disagreed with the contract price) with the option of reconciling them later,” the auditors wrote.
Overall, auditors cited RATP and CATS for their “reluctance to comply with city-wide procurement policies and lack of follow-up on actions taken by contractor BOD RATP Dev which does not are not coordinated with the city and continue to lead to policy violations and increase risk to operations.”
In a taping request filed May 24, WBTV requested a list of policy violations mentioned in the audit. CATS and the City of Charlotte did not produce these records.
In response to the audit, RATP submitted a proposal to “take charge of all aspects of the bus operations management’s operational procurement process”. CATS and City Procurement agreed.
Political opponents agree change is needed at CATS
Given all the concerns about transparency, Luebke and Mayfield – two candidates vying for the same seat, from opposing political parties – agree that RATP Dev should address city leaders publicly.
But more importantly, they said council and city manager Marcus Jones must hold CATS and RATP Dev accountable.
“The fact that our elected leaders are not holding that third party they hired accountable or that John Lewis of CATS is not holding that third party he hired accountable…that’s why we need to change “said Luebke.
“I’m not going to put all the blame on the city council for not knowing, but after that you have no more excuses,” Mayfield said.
WBTV has requested interviews with CATS CEO John Lewis and RATP Dev to comment on this story. The RATP did not respond. A public information officer for CATS said Lewis would not be available for an interview for this story at the time of publication.
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