The two companies vying to manage a large portion of New Orleans’ public transit system pitted experience against innovation in presentations to local transit leaders last week.

Banking on its know-how is Transdev North America, which says its decadelong track record in New Orleans and its global parent company’s vast resources make it the best candidate to handle the city’s next transit contract starting this fall.

But promising a fresh start is MV Transportation of Dallas, which says its partnerships with a number of firms well-versed in ferry and streetcar operations will bring new perspectives to New Orleans.

A New Orleans Regional Transit Authority advisory committee agreed after five hours of discussion to give Transdev and MV two weeks to fine-tune their proposals.

The committee will meet again in May to score the proposals and make a recommendation to the RTA board. The board is expected to make a final decision that same month and award a three-year contract that could be extended if the RTA agrees.

The entire process marks a new chapter for the transit agency, as it will result in a system under which a private vendor will manage some, but not all, of the agency's operations.

The projected cost of each firm's services was not provided, as officials said revealing that information before the bid is awarded could affect negotiations on a final contract. 

Whoever wins will be charged with operating a sprawling transit network with 38 bus and streetcar routes, two ferry routes on the Mississippi River and broad plans to connect more of the region together through public transit in coming years.

The RTA's incumbent vendor, Transdev, has provided the chief executives, managers and operators for the RTA for years.

But the agency intends to supply at least five of its own top executives by Sept. 1 "to have more effective oversight of its vendor,” said Deslie Isidore, the RTA's contracting officer and executive secretary. However, the private firm will continue to manage drivers, handle maintenance, have a voice in routes and schedules, and provide customer service. 

Transdev’s top executives told an evaluation committee Wednesday that they are more than prepared for the RTA’s new direction.

“You already know us, and you know what we can do,” said Mike Setzer, president of the firm’s transit division, as he faced the five-person committee in the RTA’s Canal Street board room. “Secondly, this firm can operate based on experiences with all four modes" — buses, streetcars, ferries and paratransit service for the disabled — "under one roof. No subcontractors, no outsourcing of anything. We do it all with our own employees.”

Transdev’s parent company, a French conglomerate that operates in 20 countries on five continents, will help out in New Orleans when needed, added Yann Leriche, the chief executive of Transdev North America.

But not everyone has been a fan of Transdev's work in New Orleans. Some riders blasted the firm for being opaque in its operations and for moving sluggishly to restore bus service following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"The handling of this Canal Street improvement project has been a disaster," said Mary Howell, a Mid-City resident. "There was absolutely no consultation with the neighborhood, and that’s a big omission and a big problem."

That was a jab at plans to speed up streetcar service along Canal Street between Harrah’s Casino and Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City that have since been pushed back in the face of opposition.

Meanwhile, MV Transportation, which would outsource much of its work in New Orleans to subcontractors, cast its partnerships and newcomer status as advantages.

“MV is the face of change,” said Steve Trinkle, the company’s senior vice president. “In today’s world … it’s impossible for one company to be great at everything. That’s a path to mediocrity.”

Under an MV contract, a separate firm would provide a trip planning platform that would replace the RTA’s current GoMobile 2.0 app.

While that app only coordinates the RTA's buses and streetcars, MV partner ZED Digital would work with bike-sharing firms and ride-hailing companies like Uber or Lyft on a new, single app for multiple services, said Sumithra Jagannath, ZED's president. "This is the trend that is leading the change in the industry right now," she said.

But MV took heat for not hiring a key staffer before making its presentation and because others it has hired were absent Wednesday. "When the (operations manager) is missing, it is like you are missing butter from a cake," said Valerie Jefferson, an RTA driver and president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union.

Committee members also seemed concerned that having so many firms involved in the contract would muck things up later on. 

Trinkle said the firms would work seamlessly together. And Gary Coles, MV's strategic adviser, said MV designed its bid that way on purpose.

"I don't want to put words in your mouth, but probably there will be a time when you will independently bid bus, independently bid streetcar, and independently bid ferry," as other agencies have done, he said. 

That answer perturbed RTA Interim Executive Director Jared Munster. "With all due respect, we asked you to respond to a very purposefully written RFP — not to be psychic, and not to attempt to direct our agency," Munster snapped.

The committee consists of Munster; City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer; Joshua Cox, a senior adviser to Mayor LaToya Cantrell; Jennifer Terry, president of the transit advocacy group RIDE New Orleans; and Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Jeff Roesel.


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.