Fix for IndyGo's paratransit bus service still months away

Transdev Executive Mike Setzer

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — The company hired to transport thousands of IndyGo bus passengers with disabilities says it will need several more months to fix ongoing service problems that now leave some riders waiting for hours to get to work, school and medical appointments.

Amid growing criticism from IndyGo customers and board members, company executives from Transdev attended Thursday night's IndyGo board meeting to offer reassurances.

"This is a matter of great importance to us," said Mike Setzer, president of Transdev's transit division. "What's happened here is not to our satisfaction at all, and we've assured your staff we are not satisfied, we're not accepting it, and we're not going to give up."

How we got here

IndyGo hired Transdev in April to take over operations of its Open Door paratransit bus service, which serves about 4,000 riders with disabilities in Marion County. The 5-year contract worth $55 million requires Transdev to maintain a 95 percent on-time performance rate, meaning 95 percent of passengers must be picked up within 25 minutes of their scheduled reservation time.

But an Eyewitness News investigation showed on-time rates under Transdev have dropped to dismal levels: 75 percent in April, 79 percent in May, 78 percent in June, 76 percent in July, 65 percent in August and 68 percent in September.

Following 13 Investigates' reports, IndyGo board members appealed for drastic action. Days later, IndyGo notified Transdev it was imposing nearly $180,000 in fines for failing to meet acceptable service levels outlined in its contract. IndyGo also informed Transdev it would begin withholding monthly payments if the contractor did not improve its on-time performance (OTP) rate to 90 percent in October and 95 percent in November. Transdev's OTP in October was 77 percent, so IndyGo announced it is not paying $960,000 -- the entire payment due Transdev for the month of October -- until its service improved.

In a November 8, 2018 letter, IndyGo told TransDev they would be withholding payment for poor service.
In a November 8, 2018 letter, IndyGo told TransDev they would be withholding payment for poor service.

Withholding payments

Thursday night, IndyGo said it would continue to withhold payments if monthly OTP does not reach at least 85 percent. Transdev fell just short of that threshold in November, with on-time performance reaching 83 percent -- the highest OTP level since Transdev began operating the paratransit bus service in April, but still well shy of the 95 percent OTP mandated in its contract.

Frustrated by Transdev's repeated failure to meet expectations, board member Juan Gonzalez pressed IndyGo chief operating officer Roscoe Brown for answers.

"How many months are we going to withhold payments, and at what point are we going to call off the contract?" Gonzalez asked.

"If there's a downward trend, then that's something we'd have to consider," Brown replied.

Getting results

New board member Richard Wilson asked Setzer for a timeline, wondering how long it will take Transdev to achieve the on-time rates the company committed to when it signed the Open Door contract.

"I think the spring is when we'll really see some progress and really see what's possible," said Setzer.

But when Wilson asked for clarification and whether the company will achieve its on-time goals by April, Setzer appeared to backtrack.

"If ... you mean 95 percent, no, I'm not sure that's possible, but certainly we'll be better than we are today," he said. "We will get there in the next six months, I think, but I really can't give you a precise date."

Setzer said fleet, staffing and management issues are to blame for not quickly resolving ongoing delays plaguing the paratransit bus system. He said the company was in the process of hiring a new general manager for its Indianapolis operations and had recently restructured driver assignments to be more efficient.

According to IndyGo, the changes are yielding positive results. Brown cautiously cited slowly improving numbers, with on-time performance improving to 86 percent during the first few days of December.

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