George Gainer’s bill would strip Tri-Rail of funding, contracting authority

George Gainer copy

A new bill from state Sen. George Gainer would strip Tri-Rail of state funding unless its board rescinds a controversial $511 million contract, and it require state approval of future contracts.

The Bay County Republican’s Senate Bill 1118, introduced Tuesday, would force the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to decide between the ten-year, $511 million operations and maintenance contract it is awarding to a sole qualified bidder, or the $42 million in state funding it expects each year.

The bill also would require state approval for any future SFRTA contracts for the South Florida commuter rail system that would be paid for with state money. Tri-Rail provides commuter rail service through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority provisions are buried in what is a much broader transportation bill from Gainer that covers everything from bridge inspections to natural gas vehicle regulations.

A companion bill, House Bill 865, from Republican state Rep. Jayer Williamson of Pace, does the same thing.

The bills continue an onslaught from Tallahassee that has included deep criticism of the SFRTA contact from Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, chair of theAppropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development. Brandes has called for an investigation. Scott did not include SFRTA money in his proposed budget.

They’re all criticizing the deal because the SFRTA first threw out five other proposals, all for less money, after concluding every one of the competitors violated bidding requirements.

SFRTA officials have steadfastly defended their actions and the final contract offer to Herzog Transit Services, including during a hearing before Brandes’s committee last week. Gainer is on that committee.

They’ve argued that the agency’s procurement director, with input from the authority’s lawyers and an advisory committee, ruled that the other five proposals all were made conditional, based on language the companies had included in their bids. That meant that the authority could trust none of their bottom-line prices, and was a direct violation of explicit rules the authority had spelled out before the bidding process began.

But their arguments did not allay the concerns Brandes and the others had raised, particularly since the authority’s final choice cost $115 million more than the lowest proposal, which had been rejected before it could be fully considered.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


  • Sean Alexander

    February 23, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Who are these representatives that they are affecting the lives of so many without knowing all the facts. They’re a lot of people that depend on Tri-Rail daily to go to work. Yet they do not bother to look at whether these other companies can even perform these services. Two aren’t even performing the services up to contract requirements now.

  • Irwin Seltzer

    March 3, 2017 at 7:58 am

    If the reporting I’ve seen is accurate then SFRTA behaved ethically. This broad attack seems to be politically motivated and has absolutely nothing to do with providing quality transit service from responsible companies.

    • Daniel McGonagle Jr

      March 4, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      Amazing how many people don’t have a clue what they are talking about.
      There is a procurement process people!
      Tri-rail isn’t going to close. People will be able to ride Tri-rail to commute to work.
      How can they know all the facts when 5 companies were disqualified so their bids were not even considered? SFRTA did not behave ethically!
      As a tax payer and fare paying passenger you should be concerned how much money they are paying a company to operate the commuter service. They awarded the contract to the highest bidder and to Herzog! Herzog is not good!
      I am accusing both of you of working for Herzog. Your comments are planted to endorse your company!

      • Irwin Seltzer

        March 5, 2017 at 8:31 am

        Instead of attacking people you don’t know how about responding to what’s being reported? It might be educational to us if you can provide any new information about the bidding process. I might even reconsider my position ( since I don’t work for Herzog. Who do you work for?). Why should a bidder be able to ignore the rules of the bid and expect to be considered? It doesn’t seem fair to the companies that do follow the rules.

        “[SFRTA] argued that the agency’s procurement director, with input from the authority’s lawyers and an advisory committee, ruled that the other five proposals all were made conditional, based on language the companies had included in their bids. That meant that the authority could trust none of their bottom-line prices, and was a direct violation of explicit rules the authority had spelled out before the bidding process began

        • Daniel McGonagle Jr

          March 5, 2017 at 10:33 am

          I am a locomotive Engineer and a veteran that served in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.
          The first thing is that there should be no money to be made from public transportation. Public transportation is funded by the State’s taxpayers and federal grants. The fares amount to a fraction of the cost to run the service.
          With that said why are we paying a private, for profit, company to operate the service? The state owns the trains, the tracks, the stations, everything. These private companies do not own or provide anything. Even the employees that work for TriRail work for TriRail. What I mean is the private companies do not bring in employees to operate the service. The current employees that work for TriRail now will be the same employees working for TriRail when Herzog assumes the service and when Herzog loses the service to the next successful bidder. The state agency should run the service themselves or have Amtrak run it since they are not for profit.
          Private companies are about making money. They will let the service suffer to increase their profits.

          Next the procurement process. Before I begin think about this, all of the companies that were disqualified have been doing this for awhile and have been successful bidders either on TriRail or at the other commuter railroads around the world. To have all 5 companies disqualified for doing the same thing should raise some red flags.
          There is a process to bidding Government contracts. Companies place their bids. If the bid is incomplete or if the government agency needs more info they will request the company to provide the required documents. Then after the weeding out process is done an award is posted for the successful company. If any companies have a grievance they can appeal the decision and look for relief in the courts.
          Now the successful bidder of the contract usually under bids the contract so they will win with full intention to submit a change order at a later date for more money to make up for the difference and then some.
          That is how it works. So for 5 companies to be disqualified and the highest bidder to be awarded the contract is a huge deal. Someone got paid off.

          • Irwin Seltzer

            March 5, 2017 at 2:49 pm

            Thank you for the reply and for your service.

            I don’t know why the state would contact to a private entity for this service unless they felt it would be cheaper than doing it themselves. . I don’t know whether that is true or not but it does seem to be the mindset these days. I don’t know anything about Herzog other than that they seem to be providing these services in many other localities. Do you know something that is troubling other than they are for profit?

            Your comment about under bids to win the contract and subsequent “change orders to make up the difference and then some” bothers me. If this is the way things work, should it be? it doesn’t seem transparent or honest to me.

            And maybe I’m naive or missing something, but the rules of the bid required a cost that wouldn’t be adjusted later. If one company, Herzog, played by those rules and factored in their possible exposure, is it fair to penalize them by awarding the contract to another company that put in a lower bid without a cost guarantee?

            Yes, someone may have gotten paid off, but I’m not sure it was SFRTA.

          • Daniel McGonagle Jr

            March 5, 2017 at 4:32 pm

            Herzog will submit a change order for more money.
            Herzog operated TriRail before. Then the contract was awarded to another company for a reason. Now Herzog is back. You will see for yourself that they are no different than the other companies.
            I’m going to predict the future right now. Herzog is a partner with Brightline. They will be running the high speed trains that will be operating over TriRail tracks. I predict that brightline gets taken over by TriRail and Herzog will make out like bandits with the acquisition.
            Oh and the price of your train fare and parking fees will increase.
            You read it here first.

Comments are closed.


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