County board halts automated transit bid process

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Potential podcar project ‘not dead,’ members say

 

Following a vote last Thursday, the Greenville County Economic Development Corporation (GCEDC) evaluation committee, which was considering proposals for a driverless automated transit network (ATN) in the Upstate, halted the procurement process for a network developer.

Initially two companies, Skycab International based in Auckland, New Zealand, and Taxi 2000 Corporation of Fridley, Minn., responded with proposals for an up to 20-mile network that would feature driverless vehicles, sometimes called podcars.

In June, the Skycabs proposal was deemed “non-responsive” because it did not outline a detailed plan for 100 percent private financing for the ATN project. Taxi 2000 had listed two sources of potential funding and GCEDC had requested additional information on funding via letter.

Taxi 2000’s response did not line up with what was outlined in the RFP, said Fred Payne, GCEDC chairman and Greenville County Council member. “We had to find they [Taxi 2000] did not fulfill our request.”

However, the action does not kill off the project, Payne said. “We have to rewrite the RFP and provide additional information,” including a clear definition of a public-private partnership and responsibilities of each party. The RFP outlined that the ATN system would have to be self-funded, not with public dollars. Estimated cost would be between $6 million and $27 million per mile depending on capacity and terrain, according to the RFP.

GCEDC member Peter Strub said, “In the interest of GCEDC and the evaluation committee, we need to rethink the whole process and the RFP … to rewrite to what we’re intending is what we’re asking for.”

The network would not have to be the entire 20 miles, but initially could be a “phase one” that would “demonstrate the concept better,” said Payne. Potential routes could be a downtown loop connecting the Bon Secours Wellness Arena to other spots, a loop at GSP Airport or among health care campuses, he said. The smaller loops could eventually be connected and also connect to other transit systems like bus and trails. “And that’s what we envisioned,” he said. Development along the routes could be eligible for a TIF-like district that would help pay for the expense of upgrading infrastructure, said Payne.

Strub said the board must act quickly to recalibrate and issue another RFP. “We need to continue to move forward and not lose momentum,” he said. He anticipates work on a new RFP will continue over the next few weeks with a goal of issuing a new solicitation for proposals in late July or early August. The new solicitation most likely will allow companies additional time to draft a proposal and line up funders, Strub said. At a previous meeting, Payne said respondents had asked for between one month and two years to draft a proposal.

The board is also considering doing away with a notice of intent requirement that could eliminate potential respondents, said Strub. “We want to exclude any barriers that prohibit someone getting into the running,” he said. Strub said he is hopeful GCEDC will receive more than two proposals this round.

The revision will also allow GCEDC to learn from the industry what needs to be included in an RFP, he said. Many of the ATN companies are located outside the United States, and Strub said, “We feel we’re on the cutting edge of doing something in the U.S.”

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