A proposal to privatize the blue and red bus system at Kansas City International Airport stalled Thursday, but a City Council vote is likely later this month.
The proposal would replace 58 shuttle bus drivers and eight managers at KCI with employees of Standard Parking.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday split 2-2 in a vote on whether to move the contract forward, so it stalled in committee. But later Thursday, committee chair Russ Johnson used a procedural move to place the contract on the full City Council’s docket. A vote could come as early as Sept. 27.
Aviation Director Mark VanLoh told the transportation committee Thursday that his department could save $7 million over five years by contracting with Standard Parking, which already runs the airport’s parking operation.
The department spent $4.3 million on the bus system in 2011-2012, and costs have risen this fiscal year. The first year of the contract with Standard Parking would cost $3.6 million. The total cost for a five-year contract with two one-year extensions would be $26.7 million.
VanLoh said that the current system is also prone to numerous accidents and that privatizing would allow the city to save on insurance and liability.
KCI is one of the few airports in the country that still operates buses with city employees. The drivers and their union representatives say privatizing the system would eliminate good city jobs and could hurt customer service.
“That just doesn’t sit well with me at all,” Councilman Jermaine Reed said during the committee’s discussion.
Under the private contract, drivers would not get a pension, as they do with the city, and their base wages would drop from an average of $17 per hour to $11 per hour. Standard Parking argues that tips would increase the average wage, but the city drivers are doubtful.
City Manager Troy Schulte said the city would offer alternate employment to the 58 drivers, who are protected by the union, or they could apply for jobs with Standard Parking. There would be no guarantee of a job to the eight managers.
The city originally had talked about the contract taking effect Nov. 1, but now it would not take effect until after the Christmas holidays.