Update August 13: After this story published, a county spokesperson said MTR has not threatened to end service. The headline has been updated to reflect a correction request, but the content of the story has not changed. The county spokesperson confirmed that MTR has asked for a rate increase, but said MTR has not said what will happen if the county does not agree to a raise. Wood did speculate in a public meeting that, if the county was to reject the rate increase, the amount of which at this point is not specifically known, MTR would "pull their contract." We regret any confusion due to this discrepancy.
Columbia County Rider is again facing an uncertain future with its contracted provider.
Officials with MTR Western, which operates the busses, recently told CC Rider staff that they need an $8 to $10 an hour increase, according to CC Rider Transit Director Todd Wood.
The notice comes less than four months after MTR Western and CC Rider signed a new contract.
After CC Rider drivers employed by MTR Western voted to unionize with ATU Local 757 last fall, MTR Western announced it would terminate the contract with CC Rider.
In April, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners approved a new contract with MTR Western at a 45% cost increase. Previously, the contract between MTR Western and the county cost the county $40 per service hour. The contract approved in April runs $58 per hour.
Now, MTR Western wants an additional bump of roughly 14%, based on the $8 increase Wood said MTR is demanding.
MTR must give six months' notice that it plans to terminate the contract. The county also has to provide six months' notice to MTR to terminate the contract, according to Wood.
After MTR announced it was ending the contract last year, CC Rider put out a request for proposals from service providers. MTR was the only agency to submit a proposal.
If the county and MTR Western can't reach an agreement, CC Rider will issue another RFP.
Regarding MTR, Wood told the commissioners earlier this week that John Dreezen, the county's transit coordinator, "is going to work with them as much as he can, but regardless of the number they bring to me, I don't trust them. I feel like they've been dishonest from the get-go."
"If we tell them no, and you immediately put it up for a new RFP, then we have to immediately start courting" other potential service providers, Commissioner Henry Heimuller said.
"I'm already going to be $150,000 short this year," Wood said.
If the contract with MTR Western goes up, Wood is looking at more than $300,000 of service that would need to be cut by the beginning of 2020.
The county has so far avoided bringing drivers in-house due to high costs, including PERS, but Wood said these price increases are headed to the point where it would be cheaper to directly employ drivers.
Beyond the financial cost, Wood said MTR's abrupt switch after only a few months under the new contract is a major concern.
"What bothers me most is that based on what we can tell, they did bad numbers to begin with ... So we can't trust their accounting department at all," Wood said.
Wood said that the price increase is not caused by an increase in wages for CC Rider drivers. Under the collective bargaining agreement signed last month by MTR Western and ATU Local 757, wages for bus operators are between $15.50 and $18.25 an hour, which represents a significant increase.
"We also have become privy here recently to them (MTR) having problems with contracts that they have with ODOT," Heimuller noted this week of MTR's relationship with the state transportation department, adding to the laundry list of issues the county has with MTR.
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