Thursday, October 11, 2018

Circulator service severely disrupted - totally down on two routes

As predicted in this space, with the old Transdev contract expiring and the new contract neither in place nor the new contractor RMA of Bethesda possibly being able to ramp up new service that quickly, the inevitable happened: Charm City Circulator buses disappeared from City streets and service was entirely discontinued on the Banner and Green routes.
From today's Circulator website

It appears that the City is trying to patch things up by running loaner buses on the Purple and Orange lines. Lyft is also offering two free rides between 2 stops along the discontinued routes for two days. How many loaners are in service and who drives them remains shrouded in mystery.
No new operator will be able to take over the operation when the Veolia contract extension ends in the first half of October. A patch operation with loaner buses from various local tour bus operators without a proper coordinator seems to be the most likely outcome. It is difficult to imagine how the service can recover from such a blow. (Community Architect Sept 12, 2018)
The service disruption appeared to be unavoidable given how long it took the City to review the bids and eventually file suit against the past operator Transdev , the company who also was one of the two bidders for the new contract. Because that writing was on the wall for a month, it was entirely avoidable, though, to confront riders with the news only a few hours before the service was abandoned.
Running incognito: Charm City Circulator replacement
on Thursday on Light Street

With the vague language of a weather forecast the city oracled “there will be no services tomorrow, with possibly no service on Friday as well” (Website). Somehow City officials imagine that next week they or the selected new operator can muster 14 of the 16 necessary buses to provide full service.
Customers of the Orange and Purple route will experience significantly longer waits. DOT is advising CCC customers to expect delays during the next few days. Delays will be significant in the morning and afternoon rush hour and into the evening.
Impact to routes:
  • Orange Route: Customers may experience significantly longer waits.
  • Purple Route: Customers may experience significantly longer waits.
  • Green Route: There will be no services tomorrow, with a chance of no service on Friday.
  • Banner Route: There will be no services tomorrow, with a chance of no service on Friday.
 “We ask customers to be patient and plan alternative travel arrangements. We know this is a major inconvenience to all those who use the Charm City Circulator” (Website). 
The Next Bus arrival system which the Charm City system had pioneered in Baltimore is down, needless to say. Loaner buses are not equipped to provide this information.

Given that a new contract has not been approved and the City has to abide by strict procurement rules, it is unclear how and when this type of full service should come to pass. One would think that the lawsuit should give officials pause with new fly by the seat of your pants arrangements.
Winging it on the Purple Route: "Major delays"

By all appearances, the dispute with Veolia/Transdev about past billing (The City claims to have been overbilled because the operator charged for scheduled and not for actual service) also stems from hasty decisions that had to be made in an emergency. Back then, the issue was that the City had procured innovative electric buses which didn't hold up in hot summer months and needed replacement. Transdev seems to have felt entitled to the more generous billing method due to a quid pro quo in which the operator provided additional buses and  the City agreed to the creative billing. The City obviously sees it differently and sued. However, it appears to be undisputed that the billing of scheduled service went on for eight years and had not been contested until late last year or early this year.

In DOT Director Pourciau's statement she said on the eve of the service disruption “DOT is working diligently to return services to normal and deeply regrets the inconvenience that this disruption of service will cause to customers. We are taking immediate actions to restore full service to all routes as soon as possible.” Given that MDOT has given the City money to support the Circulator funding, the State may show a keen interest in how and when the service will shape up.

"We will see what happens", the President likes to say when he has no plan.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Previous Community Architect articles about this topic:

City sues Transdev. Circulator on course to crash and burn

City sues Transdev. Circulator on course to crash and burn

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