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Columbia, SC (WLTX) – The Midlands public transportation service is restarting its search for ancompany to operate its bus service.

COMET Board members have been talking for months about which company should operate its buses.

Ultimately, that company would be given a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to operate the buses and its business operations. Those talks were given the reset button when board members voted to start the process over.

It has some people wondering what happened to the contract talks.

The COMET Board was supposed to choose between one of three companies. Those companies are First Transit, Keolis and Veolia Transportation, the latter of which has been operating the buses for more than 10 years.

Friday morning, board members voted 10-1 to start those talks over by sending out a new proposal request to companies.

Any company that thinks it can do the job is eligible.

"We made a decision that refining our (request) and giving the same operators even the chance to resubmit, as well as allowing new operators to submit with a more refined (request), would be in the best interest of our community," said board Chair Brian DeQuincy Newman, who is also a Columbia City Councilman.

Newman said he couldn't discuss specific reasons why talks stalled.

"Often times when people speak about these things they think we are taking a step backward and the reality is the months of negotiations that we've gone through have made us better informed," said DeQuincy Newman.

Bob Liming, who served on the CMRTA board before its name changed to the COMET, said he wasn't convinced.

"Why didn't they know what they were doing in Jan.? This is June," Liming said.

Of the fact that the COMET board would be again asking for proposals, Liming called it a decision to "spend more of tax payers money that should go to increased bus service and meeting the needs of consumers."

Limind said "(the board) will spend that money again on lawyer's fees," a decision he called "pretty deplorable."

DeQuincy Newman said the COMET board hoped to have a new company signed by Sept.

The contract with the current operator will need to be extended. Board members hope to handle that at the next regular board meeting.

Board members say the contract they are looking to fill will run anywhere from five to 10 years.

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