MANATEE -- An Illinois company has submitted an unsolicited proposal to Manatee and Sarasota counties to provide transit operations as a single entity.
Transdev Services Inc. submitted the proposal to create Sarasota Manatee Regional Transit and assume the operation of Manatee County Area Transit and Sarasota County Area Transit. The proposal is "for a public-private operating partnership for the management, operation and maintenance for public transit in Sarasota and Manatee counties," according to the proposal.
The proposal would still have to go through a formal bidding process.
"We think we can provide a more regional approach to public transit," said Matt Wood, vice president with Transdev. "We think we can provide a more responsive service at a lower cost."
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The proposal, submitted under new state procurement laws for public-private partnerships, would reduce operating costs by an estimated $2.5 million annually. Savings would come from eliminating redundant positions, unifying marketing plans and allowing each county to realize operational efficiencies, according to the proposal.
Each county's operation would remain under the "policy and budgetary control of their respective county commissions, but the systems would be operated as a unified business unit," the proposal states.
If successful, this would be the first of its kind in Florida, Wood said. Transdev runs similar operations in New Orleans and Long Island, N.Y.
About two years ago, both county commissions showed support for considering privatization.
"Both of us thought it was a good idea," Manatee County Chairwoman Betsy Benac said of seeking proposals for a joint operation. "We are very interested in looking to see what someone brings to the table and possible savings for future expansion of service."
Benac said the county has to go through a process for unsolicited proposals and is waiting for more information on the proposal.
"It hasn't come on our radar screen," Benac said.
Transdev initially submitted the proposal Nov. 24, and resubmitted it to both counties in an email dated April 8.
Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker hasn't had a chance to evaluate the proposal, according to county spokesman Nick Azzara.
According to Azzara, "per county policy, entities that submit unsolicited proposals for public-private partnerships must include a submission fee of $5,000. Until that fee has been paid, the county administrator will only give a proposal an informal review."
Sarasota County spokesman Jason Bartolone acknowledged receipt of the proposal but said it was too early to comment.
"We are focused on the possible privatization of our paratransit," Bartolone said. "We haven't really gotten direction from commissioners to merging with MCAT. It is not a priority for us at this time."
A 2013 survey Sarasota County conducted of SCAT riders showed about 57 percent were not in favor of the proposal, Bartolone added.
Since both systems operate along the U.S. 41 corridor, it is time to look at the possibility again, Wood said.
"We thought it was time again to take a look and bring to light the coordinating opportunity," Wood said. "We are presenting the idea once again and feel there is a great benefit to looking at this model."
Wood said they are hopeful the idea will gain traction.
"It is a benefit to passengers, to the county and the cost savings can be reinvested in the system or could be used for matching funds for other county infrastructure projects," he said.
Neil Spirtas, senior vice president for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said both chambers support a regional public-private partnership and consideration of possible bids.
"It is something they should take a look at," Spirtas said.
Due to interest from stakeholders, Wood said opportunity remains for a single operator.
"This would put Sarasota and Manatee at the cutting edge of transit, not just in the state of Florida but in the industry," he said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.