City spends 1.8 million on transMETRO despite disputes
on October 11, 2011
The City Council decided last week to spend most of a $2 million tax settlement with Chevron on a conditional contract with transMETRO, a transportation consulting service that will help the city implement a greenhouse-gas reduction program.
Although the majority of the council appeared to enthusiastically embrace the contract, an amendment added at the meeting requires transMETRO to conduct an initial study on how to serve low-income communities, and to present its findings to the council in 120 days, before the contract is finalized.
“If this is successful, it will be a model not only for Richmond, not for the county, but the state, the nation, international,” Councilmember Jim Rogers said. “That is huge, that has major, major impacts on the global warming issue.”
The main goal of the city’s Greenprint project is to reduce greenhouse gases and encourage alternative transportation methods. A plan was first endorsed in Richmond in 2008, and under the plan the city would direct, manage and select qualified firms to implement the program. Still, the City Council did not direct staff to request proposals to hire consultant firms until this March. The City Manager’s Office received two proposals, and recommended transMETRO’s.
TransMETRO acts as prime contractor in a group of 10 companies, with the other nine sub-contractors responsible for various aspects such as bike sharing. Among them CALSTART, one of the subcontractors responsible for advanced transportation, and Jacqueline Majors & Associates, a marketing company, are Richmond-based businesses.
According to the group’s proposal, $959,021 will be spent on labor for two years, divided among the 10 companies, and another $811,510 will be spent on “procurement and demonstration,” including the installment of bike share, a transit pass program and a local hiring program.
The company group will start with two demonstration projects including bike share and carpool, mainly for city employees.
Installing the bike fleets would cost $88,010 during the fiscal year 2012-13. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said a visit to Spain left her impressed by the country’s “wonderful” bike share program, which she thought would work well in Richmond.
But Councilmember Nat Bates had a different perspective on the European experience.
“Let us be realistic,” Bates said, quoting from research that in the United States only 5 percent of people use bike lanes while millions of dollars were spent on them. He called Europe “a whole different world,” and labeled the Richmond program “a speculative project, anticipating results happening without any solid evidence that it will happen.”
The proposal also includes a residential transit pass program, in which 500 AC Transit Easy Passes, costing $65,000, will be given to “pilot candidates” —multi-family residences within one-fourth of a mile of bus stops or one-half mile of BART.
Bates and Councilmember Corky Booze both criticized the plan for what they called vagueness and lack of initial research.
Booze, who was the lone vote against the project, asked company representatives to identify congestion spots in Richmond, and how much greenhouse gases would be reduced after the implementation of the program. He was not satisfied with the answer, which focused mainly on methodology and not on specifics.
“Bring me a report to have something concrete in it,” he said. “I just hate to say we keep spending people’s money and we don’t know what we have.”
Booze said he was also concerned about whether this project would serve low-income communities. He tried a legislative maneuver to substitute the original contract with one in which the city would not decide on hiring transMETRO until after the contractor had conducted an initial research study. Councilmember Jeff Ritterman replaced Booze’s motion with one of his own – which ultimately passed — that approved the contract but gave the city an out after the 120-day study.
Other council members said they did not think the initial study was necessary. McLaughlin said she thought the program was “very exciting,” and she confirmed with City Manager Bill Lindsay that the City Manager’s Office will supervise the firms and that all the expenses are paid based on the performance of the company group and implementation of the program.
Ritterman also pointed out that the money comes from a 2010 Chevron Tax Settlement Agreement fund that can’t be used in the city’s general fund.
The $2 million is specific for the Greenprint greenhouse gas-reduction program, and is to be paid in equal installments over three fiscal years on July 15, beginning with the fiscal year starting July 1, 2010.
The city’s contract with transMETRO ends June 30, 2013 and no funding is ensured after that date.
TransMETRO will return to the City Council in 120 days with its research on serving low-income communities.
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