A Cincinnati-based transportation firm has filed a federal lawsuit against the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority following a decision by the PSTA to award a trolley contract to a local provider.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, comes two months after the PSTA board of directors went against its own staff recommendation on Feb. 22 when it unanimously voted to extend its contract with local transportation provider, the Jolley Trolley, to provide transportation services in Clearwater and Dunedin.
The Jolley Trolley, a Clearwater-based nonprofit, was at risk of losing its contract with the PSTA – which accounts for approximately 75 percent of its business – when members of the PSTA financial committee unanimously recommended a Cincinnati-based firm, First Transit, following a proposal process that saw both organizations neck and neck with one another, with First Transit eking out a small numerical lead.
That lead was based in part on the Jolley Trolley’s failure to list a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise partner, an error that almost cost the nonprofit the contract. Representatives with Jolley Trolley appeared before the board and clarified that it does in fact have a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise partner in the vendor that sells the organization its fleet.
It was only after the public outcry and an overwhelming show of local support for the Jolley Trolley during a PSTA board meeting that leaders ultimately voted to extend its contract with the Jolley Trolley.
In doing so, the suit filed by First Transit against PSTA claims PSTA failed to follow it’s own procurement policies when it rejected First Transit’s bid, which according to PSTA’s own rankings came in as the highest ranked proposer.
The suit alleges the board’s decision “followed a public relations campaign,” and “despite the pretextual reasons for the decision, the record reflects that the PSTA board’s award to Jolley Trolley was based on information outside of Jolley Trolley’s proposal, Jolley Trolley’s service as PSTA’s incumbent trolley provider, and the application of local preference.”
The suit is seeking a declaration that PSTA violated both state and federal law and an injunction prohibiting PSTA from entering into a contract with any other transportation company aside from First Transit.
“Procurement is a very standard, transparent process here at PSTA,” said media liaison Ashlie Handy. “In order to preserve the integrity of that process, we maintain the highest ethical and business standards when going through the selection process for our vendors.
“Our procurement team has the responsibility of making sure that every recommendation to the board is for the highest quality products and services at the most cost competitive prices,” she continued.
Jolley Trolley Executive Director Rosemary Windsor said she feels comfortable that the five-year contract was awarded with the guidance of PSTA’s legal counsel.
“Right now, the lawsuit is between those two parties,” Windsor said. “We are not party to it at this time. We’ve really tried to remain neutral in this.”
Logan Mosby is editor of the Clearwater Beacon. She can be reached at lmosby@TBNweekly.com or by calling 727-397-5563, ext. 304.