Private con­tractor leaves Fairfield bus riders in the dust

Cities across the Golden State are turning to private contractors more and more to run their public transportation systems, but with not-so-great results.

Take Fairfield — the sleepy Solano County city often considered the halfway point between San Francisco and Sacramento — which turned to private contractor MV Transportation as a cheaper way to provide public transportation. The private company boasts this slogan: “We provide freedom.”

But according to a 2010 city audit, it seems like MV Transportation has a different definition of freedom. Between 2008 and 2010, the company was fined 295 times by local transit officials due to poor performance. Their poor performance refers to a plethora of issues including too many accidents (some of them preventable), consistently late or no-show buses, drivers speeding, using cellphones while driving, and not wearing their uniforms.

One rider, Albert Sanchez, told California Watch that he’d waited for the outsourced Fairfield and Suisun Transit – known as FAST – for two hours last week. And one Friday, he had to walk the four miles to his home in Suisun City because buses stop running at 8:30 p.m.

However, private contractors are still on the rise across the state.

In 2011, private contractors ran 223 million miles of bus and train service in California, signaling a decade increase of 42 percent, according to the National Transit Database. And last year, the number of privately-contracted transit riders jumped up 29 percent to 166 million.

Alameda County is currently considering ditching their public transportation agency, AC Transit, for outsourced bus routes in Fremont and Newark. Last summer, Marin County looked into switching over bus service to private contracting, only pulling the plug when the county’s public transport agency slashed its prices in order to compete.

Everyone’s looking to save a dime: Cities want to cut costs and private contractors want to maximize profit. In Fairfield, there’s also a shady relationship between MV Transportation and City Council that involves a lot of politicking and campaign donations.

Left in the dust are those like Sanchez who depend on public transportation.

The previous Fairfield Transit Manager, George Fink, told California Watch that MV Transportation should be a wake-up call to any cities considering outsourcing transit.