IndyGo issues fines, withholds nearly $1M for 'lousy' bus service for the disabled

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Following a WTHR investigation that exposed widespread problems with IndyGo's bus service for disabled riders, the agency has issued significant monetary penalties against the contractor that operates the service.

IndyGo has notified Transdev Services it is withholding $960,307 — its entire September invoice — for its "continuing failure to perform its contractual duties." Earlier this year, Transdev won a $55 million, 5-year contract to run the city's Open Door paratransit bus service, which serves about 4,000 disabled riders in Marion County. IndyGo told 13 Investigates that it will not make further payments to Transdev until the company fixes widespread service failures that result in delayed and missed rides for hundreds of Open Door riders every week.

"We gave them an ultimatum and this is one the last things we can do short of cancelling the contract," said IndyGo chief operating officer Roscoe Brown. "We need immediate, immediate, specific, immediate action that will turn this situation around."

Dan Scharbrough relies on IndyGo's Open Door service to get around Indianapolis. (WTHR Photo)
Dan Scharbrough relies on IndyGo's Open Door service to get around Indianapolis. (WTHR Photo)

In October, 13 Investigates highlighted the plight of Indianapolis residents who said they regularly miss work, school, doctor appointments and critical therapies such as dialysis because Open Door buses arrive chronically late for their pick-ups. Once the buses do arrive, some riders say they faced two to six hours on the bus each way to get to their destinations.

"I'm tired of being late and it's their fault I'm late," said Dan Scharbrough, a wheelchair-bound rider who relies on IndyGo Open Door service to get to work and to his physical therapy appointments. "I want to know why and I want it fixed because there's no other service available for me or anybody like me. There's no other service out there for us at all."

After WTHR's report, IndyGo pledged to work with Transdev to reduce wait times. But since then, on time rates for the paratransit bus service have dipped as low as 53% on some days — far below the 90% on time rate that is mandated in IndyGo's contract with Transdev.

"Last week, I was on hold for two and a half hours to make a reservation," said Tony Eckert, who rides the Open Door service to church and his doctor appointments. "It still hasn't been ironed out. My last two rides, they still were over an hour late. It's been going on for years."

Failures trigger action

“This is a vulnerable, at-risk population that we're serving and they deserve better service”

While riders are frustrated, so is IndyGo's board of directors. At a board meeting in late October, some of those members expressed they are losing patience with both Transdev and with IndyGo managers for not finding a quicker solution to ongoing service problems.

"How much longer are you going to give them to fix this? 70 percent (on time rate) is totally ridiculous," said board member Juan Gonzalez. "It's unacceptable. There is no reason why they're doing this ... we've got to be better than this."

One day after that meeting, IndyGo issued its ultimatum, notifying Transdev that it had two weeks to fix the chronic performance issues or risk having its full monthly payments withheld.

"We gave them one week to get the on time percentage to a certain level — I think it was 80% — and then the second week to get it to 90%, and they failed to do that," explained Brown, who referred to some of the daily on-time rates as "lousy."

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.

That failure triggered IndyGo CEO Michael Terry to send a letter to Transdev's midwest regional vice president on November 9, informing the company that IndyGo was withholding nearly one million dollars in payments.

"The message it should send to them is we mean business," Brown told WTHR. "This is a vulnerable, at-risk population that we're serving and they deserve better service than what they're receiving now."

Big fines issued

The move comes after IndyGo already issued significant fines against Transdev for "numerous performance deficiencies." Between July and September, Transdev racked up $178,650 in penalties, including $92,900 for paratransit rides that exceed two hours, $73,450 for missed trips due to late pickup, and thousands more for low on-time performance, low call answer rates, and high complaint volumes.

Transdev Performance Fines Levied by IndyGo

(July – Sept 2018)

$92,900929 rides exceeding two hours
$73,4501,469 missed trips due to late pickup
$4,000Low number of passengers transported per hour
$3,0003 months with on-time performance below 90%
$2,80028 missing/late reports
$1,5003 months with low call answer rate
$500Excess number of rides exceeding 90 minutes
$500High complaint volume
$178,650TOTAL FINES

After Transdev took over the paratransit service in April, IndyGo had hoped the new contractor would address any problems quickly as it became more familiar with operating the Open Door service in Indianapolis. While on-time rates have slowly been improving, IndyGo says its contractor "still has a long way to go." The overall on-time rate for tens of thousands of paratransit rides was 68% in September and 77% in October, according to IndyGo data obtained by 13 Investigates.

"Staffing issues seem to be the biggest problems for them," said Brown. "Having a number of drivers call off sick or not showing up for work is no excuse and it's not acceptable to us. You've got to have enough staffing so you can anticipate those situations. They need to put all the resources they can into the local operation here in Indianapolis and make the service better."

Transdev has brought in additional drivers and dispatchers from other states, and the company is currently advertising to hire more. WTHR contacted the company to request an interview, but Transdev has not returned any of WTHR's phone calls.

TransDev executives met with IndyGo last week to discuss service problems. (WTHR Photo)
TransDev executives met with IndyGo last week to discuss service problems. (WTHR Photo)

Last week, 13 Investigates watched a team of Transdev supervisors from Illinois and Michigan walk into IndyGo headquarters for a high-level meeting to discuss the fines, the suspension of monthly payments and ongoing service problems. IndyGo said the meeting was productive, and the agency hopes it will lead to an action plan to resolve the problems quickly.

"They have to figure this out right away," said Brown. "We don't take this lightly. It alarms us and disturbs us that we're struggling so much with trying to meet the expectations of our riders... On-time performance was in the contract and now we're holding them to it."