Thursday, December 15, 2016

Increased Sausage Rations for Brunswick Taxi?

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We can’t help but wonder how the new Downeaster schedule is affecting the fortunes of Brunswick Taxi, owned by the Kings (and Queens?) of Brunswick.  Regular visitors to Other Side know of the cushy deal they’ve had for transporting Amtrak crews between Brunswick and Portland every day of the year.  Not to mention the little hissy fit they had, expressed in an attorney’s letter, over language used by former State Senator Stan “Big G” Gerzofsky to describe the arrangement.

Based on eyewitness evidence, they’ve been making two round trips a day since the Downeaster began coming to Brunswick.  The first one to transport the Amtrak crew that manned the train arriving just after noon back to Portland, as the train just sat here in Brunswick, puffing diesel fumes on most days, for about five hours.  Later in the day, a taxi headed back to Portland to pick up an Amtrak crew that would man the train for a return trip to Portland.  You may recall when they briefly held us hostatge a while back, leading to a visit to our offices by Brunswick Police.

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NNEPRA has steadfastly professed to know nothing of the Taxi service contract ‘because that’s an Amtrak business arrangement.’  Pardon us, but that’s blatant bureaucratic evasion, and amounts to so much Brunswick Sausage.  One way or another, NNEPRA is paying for the taxi service in the contract charges they pay for Amtrak train service, including crew costs.  If they don’t know what the taxi cost is in that total bill, it reflects a lack of due diligence in their management and oversight of the subcontracting process.

A question or two comes to mind regarding the taxi contract.  Does it pay a flat rate for annual services, whether used or not?  One thinks of “service curtailments” in recent years, one of which happened just recently.  Numerous trains were cancelled between Brunswick and points south.  Was Brunswick Taxi paid regardless of whether they made the trip or not?  They could argue that they purchased vehicle capacity and employed staff to make the two daily round trips, and those costs largely were fixed, except for fuel.

How long a time span did the original contract cover?  Was it negotiated once a year, or was it for a longer term, in order to obtain better pricing, although Amtrak has virtually no incentive reduce costs?

Did the contract anticipate schedule changes like the one just put in place?  Which brings us to the point of this post.  How is Brunswick Taxi “faring” in the new schedule environment?

The new schedule shows two Amtrak train sets arriving and overnighting in Brunswick, and as you might expect, the same two train sets beginning service with a southbound run from Brunswick the next day.  Hence the possibility of doubling the Taxi service required to transport the crews.  Two round trips at the end of the day to transport the arriving crews back to Portland, and two round trips at the start of the day to bring crews up to Brunswick to man the departing trains.

All sorts of options to this scenario are possible, we suppose.  Arrangements could be made to overnight crews in Brunswick.  Or several crews could be relocated to have Brunswick as their home base.  Or crew members could receive vehicle allowances to transport themselves between the relevant points.

Anyone familiar with business travel and relocation costs these days knows that any of these alternatives would involve significant costs that may or may not be worthwhile tradeoffs compared to Brunswick Taxi services.   No doubt crew members belong to a union, and that could substantially complicate necessary arrangements and drive costs up and up.

We haven’t asked, but we can guess that were we to inquire of NNEPRA about these details, we’d get the same shoulder shrug as before, even though it’s clear that NNEPRA will have to cover these new costs, whatever they are, just as they have to absorb the costs of the new crew damands.

Perhaps someone with an oversight role…say a member of NNEPRA’s Board…or a member of a cognizant Legislative committee could ask for details on the subject.


Once they get a definitive answer, if somehow the end result is fewer round trips for Brunswick Taxi instead of the same number as before or even more, they could ask what the compensation will be for the Kings (and Queens?) of Brunswick under the terms of the contracts that were put in place before the schedule change.

Somebody somewhere knows exactly what’s going on, even if they’re doing their damdest to make sure we don’t find out.

NNEPRA is certainly paying the costs under the old schedule, and paying the costs under the new schedule.

Which means that WE are paying those costs as the taxpayers who fund the operation of the system and fork over the required annual subsidies, including the expenses funded by Brunswick Town Government.  Whether we want to or not, we might add.

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