On KCI buses, keep the riders in mind
The Kansas City Star
When in doubt, order up a study. Unfortunately, that’s what the City Council opted to do in the matter of bidding out shuttle service at Kansas City International Airport. Well, fine: Study it, then give the contract proposed by the Aviation Department the serious consideration it deserves.
Standard Parking offered to provide red- and blue-bus bus service to parking lots at a savings of $7 million over five years under terms that promised much better customer service.
Council members should remember that the biggest single source of KCI complaints involves shuttle buses, and many of those complainers vote in city elections. Local 500, which now handles the work, isn’t the only “stakeholder” for the members to consider.
Under the Standard Parking contract, buses to the remote lots would arrive at 10-minute intervals, compared with the 12 to 15-minute times under the current arrangement. The company would be obligated to answer emailed complaints with 48 hours and report results to the city. Driver-monitoring technology would be used in worker evaluations to improve service.
Such performance standards, enforced via fines, illustrate that the goal of the contract would be providing KCI users with more reliable service. KCI is one of the few airports where shuttle service is handled in-house.
Under the contract, driver pay would drop, but with tips — which drivers can’t accept now — they’d likely be making more. They would be offered union representation by the Teamsters, health insurance and vacation, but no pension. Those not willing to apply for their old jobs could apply for one of the dozens of other positions at KCI.
Surely the status quo is unacceptable. Last year, overtime costs increased by $500,000. Some employees, as a dispatcher told the council in an August public hearing, simply “won’t come to work.” In 2011, workers missed more than 30,500 hours of scheduled work.
Then there’s the accident problem. Over the last two and one-half years, shuttle buses have been involved in at least 53 accidents, defined as incidents requiring litigation or some sort of settlement by the city. Under the Standard contract, the liability would shift to the company, under its insurance.
The council told City Auditor Gary White to compare accidents, absenteeism and overtime charges from October 2011 to February 2012 with what results from October 2012 to February 2013.
In effect, existing workers have been given a chance to improve and no doubt, they will — providing more evidence that the goal in contracting is not necessarily to outsource jobs, but to allocate work through a competitive process. The city auditor may well show that the mere threat of competition brought some measure of improvement. But the question is: What level of service will KCI users receive once the heat’s off?