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Tran Spec plays role in bids to deaf schools

After eight years of busing students in Salt Lake County for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, Tran Spec Contract Busing Inc. didn't bid for another contract.

Even so, the Minnesota company plays a pivotal role in the proposed operations of two contractors who have bid to succeed Tran Spec on the job. Both companies have sought the contract with the understanding they would lease Tran Spec's buses.Tran Spec, headquartered in Hanley Falls, Minn., also held the contract to serve the Salt Lake City School District. This spring, the city school board voted to terminate the contract ahead of schedule and operate busing in-house.

The Salt Lake District logged hundreds of service complaints about the contract carrier. School board members balked when Tran Spec officials asked for an additional $160,000 to provide service for the remainder of the school year and voted to cancel the contract.

The Schools for the Deaf and Blind contract is a completely different job than the Salt Lake City School District job. Except for scattered complaints about student travel time, Superintendent Lee Robinson said he has been reasonably satisfied with Tran Spec's work with students who attend the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

When state purchasing officials opened competitive bids earlier this week, Wasatch Transportation Inc. was the apparent low bidder for the Deaf and Blind School's Salt Lake routes. It bid $147 per day per route. The Utah company already handles the schools' routes in Weber and Utah counties.

Newly organized Quality Busing Inc., headed by former Tran Spec manager Ted Leland, bid $195.24 per day per route.

The apparent high bidder, Laidlaw Transit Inc., submitted a bid of $211.48 per route per day or $946,395 a year. The Superior, Colo., contractor vowed to provide a new fleet of buses for the service, to be based in Salt Lake City. Unlike the other bidders, Laidlaw's bid included all fuel costs, which inflated the bid.

Laidlaw operates bus service in Ogden School District but recently lost a contract in the Logan school when the school district decided to hire Cache Schools to bus the students.

The contract to serve the Schools for the Deaf and Blind is highly complex, requiring multiple stops and transporting students to services offered at numerous schools throughout the school day, including the schools' main campus in Ogden.

Because of the cost of the busing, the service has come under considerable scrutiny from the Utah Legislature, which on one occasion ordered an in-depth study of its costs.

"It is the most complex transportation system I've ever seen. It's not uncommon for nine students on the same route to go to six different schools. There isn't anything like that in a school district," said Wasatch Transportation's Heber Fuller.

Fuller said it's anyone guess who will be granted the contract. Fuller said he could not bid for the job without leasing Tran Spec's buses because it would take at least six months to order enough appropriately equipped buses to fulfill the contract.

State school officials are reviewing the bids and will make a recommendation to state purchasing of-ficials within a few days.

Tran Spec officials could not be reached for comment.