Boston school officials tout new accountability measures in proposed bus contract
A proposed new five-year contract between Boston Public Schools and its bus vendor provides financial incentives for timely student drop-offs, penalties for poor performance and cost-shifting for bus maintenance and repairs.
Boston school officials hope such new conditions will convince school committee members to sign off on the new contract with vendor Transdev, despite questions about the adequacy of the bidding process in preceding months.
District transportation leaders say they have taken much of the feedback and skepticism from outside parties to heart in structuring the new contract.
The new agreement includes financial incentives for good performance and consequential penalties for failure to meet improvement goals. For example, Transdev could receive incentive payouts for monthly on-time performance greater than 95%. The district's previous contract with the company didn't include any risk for poor performance.
"It is laser focused on vendor accountability tied to student-centered outcomes to ensure that the incoming vendor has a significant financial interest in improving and maintaining strong performance," said Daniel Rosengard, BPS's director of transportation during a school committee meeting Wednesday evening.
In his presentation, Rosengard said he's confident the new accountability measures will help improve on-time bus service for the roughly 22,000 students who take yellow bus transportation to school.
The five-year $17.5 million job would begin in July 2023 with a 3% annual increase.
Transdev has been serving Boston Public Schools since 2013 and has been cited multiple times for poor performance and consistently low on-time arrival rates.
School transportation is a key component of a systemic improvement plan struck between Boston school officials and the state education department last summer to avert state takeover of the school district.
Still, BPS said it’s committing to continue using Transdev as its bus vendor, in part due to limited competition — or capacity — among other vendors to serve as many students as BPS does.
BPS' motion comes despite outcry from state and city agencies like the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General and the Boston Finance Commission. These agencies warned the district to "proceed at its own risk" with a continuing arrangement.
They also raised questions of whether the bid was deliberately drafted in a way to restrict competition.
The district was criticized over the fact that Transdev was the only official bidder in the procurement process despite three other companies expressing initial interest. According to Wednesday’s presentation, however, BPS said those other vendors felt the “contract risks were too great” and therefore pulled out of bidding.
District officials insist a new contract with its existing vendor is the best move for the city's students and the school system's ongoing work to improve transportation services.
"A five year contract provides the district with stability in our vendor and the time needed to focus on other necessary improvements," read district presentation materials.
School committee members will be voting on the contract next week.