When it comes time to find a transit service company with which to partner, it's important to first hammer out details of what exactly is needed, the timeline of when and how long the contract will run, and the budget for acquiring those services. It's also imperative that an evaluation process be in place for considering proposals and potential partners, in order to accurately appraise each proposal to not only ensure that the agency is getting the most value for its money, but to also avoid entering into partnerships and agreements with companies that may not be a good fit for helping the agency meet its goals.
Once the agency has determined the details of its needs for a particular partnership, and has outlined the goals it is trying to achieve through acquiring those specific services, the RFP and submission process can begin. Here are six tips for finding the right transit service company more efficiently:
1. Do your homework
Getting an RFP into the right hands is an art unto itself to ensure a variety of proposals are submitted to you by multiple vendors, which will give your agency plenty of qualified options to choose from. Simply posting an RFP on an agency website isn't enough, and it might take some research to get that document in front of those transit service companies that are more closely aligned with the agency's mission, so a fair amount of 'Googling' might be required. Searching with a wide variety of keywords related to the agency's need, especially when searched in conjunction with location-based keywords or other particulars of the desired service, can be a good first step.
2. Ask your network
Using word of mouth to get recommendations and referrals is second nature for many people when it comes to making personal decisions, but for some reason, using peer networks at work, especially across different companies (and even different industries) doesn't often get the same recognition. Asking your counterpart in another market or location about their current partnerships, and how they found those companies, can sometimes yield potential leads or contact info for sending out an RFP. Getting some names and numbers of potential service contractors from another non-local or non-competitive agency is often just a phone call or email away, and could help save hours of search time.
3. Post it publicly
Publishing the RFP on the agency or other local website may be standard practice, but it's only a single step. Posting the relevant information on other public forums, or in industry newsletters or websites, and linking back to the original agency and RFP document can be a way of leveraging the power of digital search. Depending on the agency's policies, taking to social media to attract the attention of transit service companies that may not otherwise be aware of the RFP might be an option, especially in crowded markets.
After the proposals have been submitted, the real work begins, as the process of evaluating and comparing them to find the best fit and the best value for the agency is a crucial next step for a successful search. The lowest cost proposal isn't always the best choice, and the best service doesn't always come from the highest cost proposals, but it's not always clear until digging into the details with each contractor.
4. Ask for a history lesson
Knowing the background of a potential transit service partner will help inform the decision-making process, and should include information about positive and negative experiences the contractor has had, the length of time in business, the amount of prior experience with the particular service being proposed, and the safety record of the contractor. While this information can be attained by asking a contractor, it can often be located by searching publicly available data.
5. Trust, but verify.
Although a contractor may not be very open about its shortcomings, its previous customers may be, so it's important to ask for references and to follow up with those other agencies about the contractor's work for or with them. Following up on those references with other people who worked with the contractor can deliver some insight into the quality of the working relationship and how the performance was, and it should be a key element of the evaluation process.
6. Who's on first?
Determining the 'chain of command' and the appropriate communications channels with new contractors can help narrow down the top contenders in a search for partners, as knowing who the point person in the organization is, and what their authority is, may make a difference. Being able to have transparent and open communication between both parties, and having a clear idea of the management structure and the relevant personnel involved, can help set accurate expectations when moving forward with a contractor.
What's the bottom line?
When looking for a transit service company to partner with, it is beneficial to be attentive to the small details of a proposal. If the contractor is delivering more perceived value to the agency at the same cost, or if the contractor is delivering the same value at a lower cost, those potential add-ons or saved costs should be closely evaluated to see if they match the specifications of the project. Careful attention should be paid to clearly defining which costs are fixed and included in the proposal, as opposed to which additional costs that may accrue from elements that are 'out of scope' or are hidden in the small print.
Finding the right transit service company for an agency's needs can be challenging, but with a clear set of defined project parameters, a fair amount of due diligence, and the right questions to ask of proposed contractors, it's possible to narrow it down to one that can deliver quality services at a budget-friendly cost.