PINELLAS PARK — County bus officials have chosen to draw back and rebid the contract as the way to solve a dispute with a taxi company over the price of a cab ride for disabled passengers.
Details of the process have not been worked out, but PSTA staff members estimate the process should take 60 to 90 days. Clearwater Yellow Cab will continue to provide service at least until the contract is rebid. Negotiations are continuing over the cost to PSTA of that service.
"There was enough confusion … I think everyone began to realize that starting from scratch is going to give the (best) result," Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield said. Brickfield serves on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
Fort Lauderdale attorney John Camillo, who represents Clearwater Yellow Cab, could not be reached for comment.
Yellow Cab won the PSTA contract late last year, but almost immediately a dispute blew up between the two over the interpretation of the newly signed contract.
The PSTA, which pays Yellow Cab to pick up disabled passengers, says the company contracted to be paid a flat fee of about $9.05 per ride. Because the passenger pays $3.50 for each ride, the PSTA says it's only on the hook for $5.55.
But Yellow Cab says the PSTA agreed to pay the entire $9.05, and the cab company also gets the $3.50 from the passenger, or a total of $12.55 for the ride. The company says that's the only way it can make money on the deal.
The difference seems small but adds up to more than $4 million a year in taxpayer money. That's money the PSTA would like to keep, especially in these difficult financial times.
But with Yellow Cab threatening to take PSTA to court or to walk away from the contract, board members decided they had to do something now.
After discovering that both Yellow Cab and TCSI/Wheelchair Transport, which lost the bid, had interpreted the contract in the same way, they decided the fairest thing to do was to rebid the contract.
The thought of losing Yellow Cab has upset some disabled passengers, who say the service has been great.
Shiela Lewis of St. Petersburg frequently uses the service and said she can remember times in the past when calls for rides have gone unanswered or transportation has been late. That's not happening anymore, she said. Lewis and others say they fear TCSI will be able to underbid Yellow Cab now that the fares have been made public. They plan to go to this month's PSTA board meeting to plead Yellow Cab's case.
Bob Lasher, PSTA spokesman, said the board does not have to vote for the low bidder. If board members think that a higher bidder will provide better service, they can award the contract to that company.