County throws CATS under the bus for transition problems
By S. Wayne Carter Jr. and Times Staff Writer
Feb 21, 2015 | 9:36 AM
Carroll government is blaming CATS, the county's former public transportation provider, for shortfalls in services this past week, as Butler Mobility took over services in the county.
Owings Mills-based Butler was awarded a $1.4 million contract in December to take over transportation services in Carroll from Carroll Area Transit Systems in 2015, ending more than 40 years of the nonprofit being used for those services. The new service, called Carroll Transit System operated by Butler Mobility, on Tuesday took over demand-response, shared-ride, door-to-door services and five deviated-fixed routes previously operated by CATS.
"The county and Butler fully expected [CATS] to act in a professional way and cooperate with the transition just as they would have expected cooperation if they were on the other side of the transition. Unfortunately, we were disappointed," according to a news release the county issued at 5:15 p.m. Friday.
The county owned a majority of the buses CATS used, and other than a new logo, the same buses are in service for Butler.
Certain maintenance requirements under the CATS contract had not been performed on several vehicles in disrepair, resulting in Butler's inability to use several buses when it began service Tuesday, according to the county. The transition was "further hampered," according to the news release, when vehicles were returned "filthy" inside and out, and without fuel, causing delays.
County-owned offices, which CATS vacated, were also left without expected communication systems, phones and Internet service, according to the release, forcing the county to make last-minute alternative arrangements to ensure Butler could communicate with their clients when they opened Tuesday.
"These last-minute arrangements were not a perfect solution and led to the phone system troubles and customer frustration experienced as service opened on Tuesday and Wednesday," according to the release.
Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said there were several meetings between the time the county awarded the transportation services contract to Butler and last weekend's transition to make sure certain logistics weren't loss in the shuffle.
"There were buses that had not been maintained, not just recently but over a long period of time, even some buses that appeared to have been in accidents that had not been reported to the county," Howard said. "It was not what we expected.
"Through all of this, we had hoped for a smooth transition, and there ended up being a lot of fighting," Howard said. "At the end of the day, what was most important was the service to our citizens, and it wasn't how it should've been."
Howard said it was disappointing because of his past affiliation with CATS. Howard served as the nonprofit's executive director from 2007 until he was elected to the board of commissioners in 2010.
"It could have been handled much better, and it created a fair amount of disruption," he said.
When reached on her cellphone Friday evening, CATS' current executive director, Louise Tinkler, said she had been sick all week and hadn't seen the release.
After being read the release, she said the county and Butler took over the buses Friday night, Feb. 13, and had the long holiday weekend to prepare for operating on Tuesday.
"CATS didn't take any equipment that didn't belong to CATS," she said. "The county had custodians ready to clean the office and the inside of the buses [on Feb. 13]. If things were lacking Tuesday, they had Saturday, Sunday and Monday to get them ready."