Company seeks renewed contract with city

Published on Saturday, 15 February 2014 22:49 - Written by Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

Lisa Batchelor is pleased with private transportation company NDMJ Ltd., and uses it “quite often.”

Ms. Batchelor, 59, said she feels she is well taken care of by the company, which provides paratransit services in Tyler for those with physical disabilities.

“The drivers know us. They know our routine. They know what we need, and they do everything they can to accommodate us,” she said.

“Cab drivers see to it that we get in the house. … They stay there until we’re safe,” she said.

But customers like Ms. Batchelor could be forced to use another service if grant money runs out for NDMJ, said Renee Stevens, a dispatcher with NDMJ.

Tyler’s contract with NDMJ for paratransit services ended on Dec. 31 and allowed two one-year extensions, Assistant City Manager Susan Guthrie said via email. However, she said, the city was told by federal partners that the contract needed to be rebid, and while NDMJ was a bidder, it was “not the apparent low bid.”

She said the city council tabled the item, and eventually decided to go with Tyler Transit.

“With the item tabled by city council, we decided to conduct an extensive internal analysis on paratransit performance by pulling the service in-house and make it a Lean Six Sigma project,” she wrote. “A preliminary cost estimate indicated Tyler Transit could provide a more cost effective service for our public, comparable or lower than the apparent low bidder, but we needed to verify those estimates as well as take into account other factors, such as responsiveness, quality of service, etc.”

She said the Lean Six Sigma project ends about the beginning of May, and city staff will then make a recommendation on whether to keep the service in-house.

In the meantime, Tyler Transit is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and there are grant programs expanding on the ADA requirements, and NDMJ has success in securing grant money, she said.

But, there are NDMJ customers who don’t want to use Tyler Transit, and grant money that allows the company to provide paratransit services will eventually run out, Ms. Stevens said.

Therefore, she said, NDMJ wants the contract back with the city of Tyler so customers can stay with the company.

Tyler resident Brittany Landers, 26, said she likes using the cab company because she can receive same day service and can go as many places as she wants.

“It’s a really good experience. The service is good. The drivers are nice and courteous,” she said.

Christopher Brown, 31, of Tyler, said he loves riding the cab company because the cab is always on time, and Tyler resident Rick Smith, 62, of Tyler, said he appreciates the local service from the cab company, and “they do know what people need.”

There are customers who favor NDMJ over Tyler Transit.

However, Ms. Guthrie said via email that she believes the Tyler Transit customer base has been consistent.

“In many instances we serve the same customer base (as NDMJ), but with different programs,” she wrote. “So, the customer has more choices and remains in the ‘driver’s seat’ in terms of which services best meet their needs.”

And based on surveys and customer comments, Tyler Transit customers have overwhelmingly supported the services, Ms. Guthrie said.

“We have received some letters of concern, but they were from customers who have never used our service, or have not in a very long time,” she said. “Rather, they use the services that continue to be offered by NDMJ.”

Ms. Guthrie said the Federal Transit Administration and Texas Department of Transportation have specific competitive bidding guidelines, and if bidding occurs in the future, the city would again follow state and federal rules. Additionally, she said, the majority of the funding is through the federal government, and the city is barred from favoring local businesses over non-local businesses.