ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County commissioners are looking at options to run Berrien Bus now that management company Transportation Management Inc. is terminating its contract, effective June 30.
“Nobody saw this one coming,” Administrator Bill Wolf said during the meeting, which was held virtually Thursday due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the county was notified of TMI’s decision last week, giving the county just six weeks to put together a temporary plan to keep the buses running, not only for Berrien Bus, but for Buchanan Dial-A-Ride, which contracts with the county to provide bus services.
The temporary plan calls for county staff to take over management of bus services until a longer-term solution is found.
“This is not a service plan that we’re proposing,” Wolf said. “This is a survival plan until ... we can put a service plan together.”
County commissioners said they need time to look into the situation.
Staff was directed to discuss options before next week’s meeting with Commissioners Jim Curran, Teri Freehling and Bob Harrison, who are members of the Berrien County Transportation Advisory Committee.
County Transportation & Planning Coordinator Evan Smith said TMI employs 17 full-time and two part-time workers to run Berrien Bus and Buchanan Dial-A-Ride. That includes 12 drivers, a mechanic, two dispatchers, an operations manager and an assistant manager, along with a part-time maintenance assistant and part-time vehicle washer.
But he said the bus service is operating at about 25 percent capacity due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order suspending all flex route service and nonessential demand response service, as of March 18, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Smith said staff is proposing to hire about half of the TMI workers, with county staff temporarily absorbing the administrative duties.
In addition, Smith reported on the financial health of Berrien Bus during the pandemic.
He said the drop in revenue from fares and contracts will be at least partially made up by the federal reimbursement doubling from 18 percent to 36 percent of budgeted expenses, due to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27.
“This is a huge shot in the arm,” he said.
Plus, he said a drop in contracts and fares means a drop in expenses.