Abby Vans selected for $6.8M transit contract

Lake Hallie-based Tender Care does not plan to go gently as the Eau Claire City Council is poised to award a $6.8 million contract Tuesday to a competing paratransit service.

The company filed a 15-page appeal Monday with the city about the bid process that ultimately selected Neillsville-based Abby Vans, which last served the Eau Claire area’s need in 2007 for public transportation patrons unable to use city buses.

“The situation is not unlike what happened five years ago,” interim city manager Brian Amundson said.

A five-member evaluation committee graded the two companies similarly on 21 measures related to quality, customer service, company finances and reliability.

“It was fairly close in terms of the evaluation ratings,” Amundson said.

Price became the deciding factor, and Abby Vans bid about $500,000 lower than Tender Care over the life of the contract that will end in 2017, though there are optional one-year extensions.

In Tender Care’s appeal, it argued some of the selection criteria were too subjective, that its inflationary estimates were more realistic than Abby’s and their competitor got positive points for bidding on a separate county contract.

Tender Care general manager Robert Sieben said he saw the deciding factor as Abby’s use of a 1 percent inflation factor while his company used what it considered a more realistic 3 percent based on its projections.

“That’s where they came up with the major difference,” he said.

Sieben also contended that Tender Care included more pricing innovations – including discounts for multiple passengers and allowing volunteer drivers to serve some rural trips – that could have saved money.

Tender Care does business with area nursing homes and Medicaid patients, but Eau Claire’s paratransit service comprises a large part of the company’s revenue.

“It’s a huge contract,” Sieben said. “It will reduce the size of our firm in half.”

Sieben estimated that 30 or more employees, drivers and office staff would be laid off with the loss of the contract.

Regaining the Eau Claire contract means Abby Vans expects to hire 25 to 30 employees, Jones said, potentially including former Tender Care employees still interested in driving for paratransit.

Tender Care won the city-county paratransit contract in 2007 after offering a better price than Abby Vans, which had been under contract since 2002.

“We were obviously very disappointed five years ago when we didn’t get that contract renewed,” said Mark Jones, president of Abby Vans.

Abby is the larger of the two companies with 145 employees working throughout the state. The Neillsville company even has a contract to serve a third of Madison’s paratransit population.

The new five-year contract begins in April and is worth about $1 million in the first year, but rises to $1.4 million in the final year. The total value of it is about $6.8 million.

Both Abby Vans and Tender Care do a good job and have loyal clients who support them and need paratransit services, mostly for work and medical reasons, Amundson said.

Dowd can be reached at 715-833-9204, 800-236-7077 or andrew.dowd@ecpc.com.

n The Eau Claire City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday and 4 p.m. Tuesday in the council chamber at City Hall, 203 S. Farwell St.

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