Monday, Sept. 12, 2011 | 6:40 p.m.
Veolia Transportation won a minor victory in court Monday as part of its battle to keep control of Las Vegas’ public bus system.
The Regional Transportation Commission has been divided on awarding the lucrative bus operations contract to First Transit, the lowest bidder, or Veolia, the current operator.
First Transit sued the RTC on Aug. 19 in District Court in Las Vegas, asking the judge to order the commission to award the contract to it.
But Veolia wasn’t included as a party in the suit, even though its involvement in the contract process led to the debate. Veolia asked the court to unite it with the RTC as a defendant in the case.
District Court Judge Rob Bare approved the request Monday afternoon, but warned Veolia that it wouldn’t get more time to prepare for the next hearing on the case, which is scheduled for Friday morning.
The disputed contract, worth about $83 million per year, is for three years but can be extended twice for two years each. The commission’s board has voted multiple times on the contract, but is currently tied 4-4 on whether it should be awarded to First Transit or the process should be restarted.
The board is expected to vote on the issue again next month.
Attorney Lee Roberts, representing Veolia, argued that the RTC has not finished considering the contract and could still take action. And if the court were to order the RTC to award the contract to First Transit, Veolia would lose its ability to protest the award, unless it can do so in court.
Pete Gibson, representing First Transit, said even if the commission awards the contract under a court order, Veolia would still be able to go through the normal protest process afterward.
But Bare questioned that, saying a court order to execute the contract could mean that Veolia’s remedy to protests would likely be in the courts rather than to the RTC board.
Bare said a Supreme Court decision requires him to take into consideration all parties that would be affected by the court order.
During the hearing the judge also hinted at the debate that will come Friday, asking the attorneys if he even has the jurisdiction to consider the case.
Roberts said state law says that the court can only act on final government agency actions, and because the RTC has failed to take any action on the contract, the court cannot intervene.
First Transit’s representatives did not directly answer that question in the hearing, but have previously said they consider the RTC’s first vote to award the contract to be valid action.
The board later rescinded that vote after the Nevada attorney general’s office said it failed to meet the open meeting law requirements.
First Transit also pointed out that Veolia benefits from the drawn-out debate because it has the current contract and has agreed with the RTC to continue providing bus service until the matter is resolved, at a cost of about $7 million per month.
“Whatever it takes to extend the procurement extends their advantage,” said Gibson, who later described the commission’s debate as “an incredibly extended, nonending political fight.”
Gibson also said that Veolia wanted to be involved in the lawsuit because it thought it would be more successful at fighting First Transit than the RTC’s attorney.
“Veolia really wants to be the RTC. It’s like a pinch hitter,” he said. “They really want to come in swinging, because they think they can do a more vigorous job protecting the interest and rights the RTC is already defending.”
But Roberts said Veolia has rights and opinions that are not shared by the commission and only it can defend them.
The judge agreed, saying the two companies are on “equal footing” as bidders on the contract.