Carmen Reyes exits a VIAtrans vehicle on her way to Saturday's AccessAbility Fest. Credit: Edward A. Ornelas for the San Antonio Report

After the recent approval of a new VIAtrans contract, the new VIAtrans operator is beginning its hiring process for drivers and other personnel.

VIA approved a new VIAtrans contract with Dallas-based MV Transportation on Oct. 10 for $60.2 million over four years, with VIA having the option to extend the deal to an additional four years.

VIAtrans is VIA Metropolitan Transit’s service for disabled people who are medically unable to ride a regular VIA bus. There are currently 408 paratransit operators working in San Antonio: 161 with VIA and 247 with longtime VIAtrans contractor Star Shuttle, which previously had held the contract, said VIA spokeswoman Lorraine Pulido.

Jeff Womack, chief marketing officer of MV Transportation, said his company will begin interviewing candidates Monday and conduct hiring orientations for interested candidates to learn more. MV has an “aggressive” hiring plan to fill more than 250 driver, maintenance professional, customer service agent, and dispatcher positions with San Antonians, including Star Shuttle workers, Womack said.

“We are interested in hiring as many employees with the current provider as we can who are qualified and meet MV’s requirements,” Womack said. “We value their experience and the existing relationship they have with many of their current passengers.”

Womack also boasted of past employee retention rates when taking over existing contracts.

“We do transitions all the time when we take over an operation, and historically, we retain more than 75 percent of the drivers,” Womack said. “We’re pretty comfortable that we will retain 75 percent or more of existing driving staff [from Star Shuttle].”

Star Shuttle, the San Antonio-based transportation firm that held the VIAtrans contract for 26 years, filed a formal complaint claiming that VIA failed to disclose a conflict of interest with MV. Star Shuttle CEO John Walker argued that VIA board Vice Chair Patricia Rodriguez failed to report in a timely manner her marriage to Harold Oliver, who used to work for MV as a lobbyist. In Rodriguez’s Sept. 25 conflict-of-interest form, she reported that Oliver works as a consultant for MV.

“When you submit your proposal, you’re required to submit a conflict-of-interest form listing your conflicts, if you have any,” Walker said. “That’s a requirement up front, when you submit your proposal, not something you do later, unless the conflict comes up later.”

Walker said the conflict was not disclosed in July, when the proposal process began, and that conflict-of-interest forms reporting Rodriguez’s marriage were not filed until September.

Jeff Arndt, VIA’s president and CEO, said an independent review committee found no wrongdoing. He notified Walker on Thursday of the committee’s conclusion, explaining that the group found that no state, local, or VIA regulations were violated and that Rodriguez removed herself from the bidding process appropriately.

Walker said Star Shuttle will try to absorb as many drivers into other positions at the company as possible, but about 300 employees would be affected by the company’s loss of the VIAtrans contract.

“VIAtrans is half our business,” Walker said. “This is the largest contract VIA awards. And this contract has the potential of being upward of $150 million over 8 years.”

Star Shuttle will gradually cut back its VIAtrans hours, ultimately turning over the reins at the end of December, according to Walker. MV will begin operating VIAtrans vehicles in November, Womack said.

Our goal is that [the transition] is seamless to customers,” Arndt said. “Operators may have a different uniform at some point, but the operation itself should be seamless. Star Shuttle, MV, and VIA’s highest priority is that we maintain high-quality service.”

MV Transportation will have hiring managers and recruiters Monday at the Holiday Inn at 77 Northeast Loop 410 with hiring orientations at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 7 p.m.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.