Courtesy vans yanked from Metro Detroit freeways over contract dispute

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News
Courtesy van with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The courtesy vehicles that assist motorists on Metro Detroit's freeways have been yanked from service by their contractor over a contract dispute with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The vehicles were pulled from the roads at midnight, said Nicholas Bachand, general counsel for Emergency Road Response, the Detroit-based contractor that oversees the roadside van service.

"MDOT decided to cut short our contract," Bachand said Monday. "The company had a contract for 36 months, and MDOT canceled early."

The dispute comes amid the state's plans to change vendors in January. Michigan transportation officials want to align the time frame of the metro region contract with its contract for the nearby university region, which services Livingston and Washtenaw counties. That contract expires Jan. 10, according to MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson.

"The contracts were put out for bid earlier this year as MDOT saw the opportunity to align the timeline for the contracts," Cranson said.

Bachand said Emergency Road Response was told of the state's plans in early May and that its metro region contract would be canceled in January 2019. It was supposed to run through the end of September 2019.

Cranson said Monday would have marked the beginning of the third year of a three-year contract for the metro region with Emergency Road Response.

"The new vendor begins the service Jan. 11, 2019, and we expected the current vendor would continue the service in metro until then," he said.

IncidentClear, which has road patrol contracts in Massachusetts, Colorado and West Virginia, was awarded 39-month contracts for the metro and university regions beginning in 2019 by the State Administrative Board last week. It had the best technical scores and lowest prices, besting Emergency Road Response, according to MDOT. Emergency Road Response protested its score with MDOT, Bachand said.

Emergency Road Response is run by Joan Fiore, the ex-wife of Gasper Fiore, a towing titan who was sentenced in August to 21 months in federal prison for his role in a wide-ranging public corruption scandal. 

Cranson said Emergency Road Response was notified its contract would be terminated for convenience, "which is allowed in the contract language."

Bachand said MDOT asked for a price to continue service. 

"They wanted the company to continue doing service for a shorter period of time," he said.

Bachand said the company "gave them a number but have not yet heard back."

"We would be more than happy to work with them, but like anything else, we must come to an agreement," he said. 

Cranson advises motorists in need of roadside assistance to contact private-industry providers until service can be restored.

"We hope this can be resolved and service can be resumed, but for now, we will use the cameras to monitor the freeways in MDOT’s metro region and make law enforcement aware of breakdowns when we see them," he said.