The city of San Diego’s ambulance services will remain in private hands, interim mayor Todd Gloria said Tuesday.

Gloria told City Council members he plans to put the ambulance contract out to bid immediately, with an eye toward starting a new five-year term with a private provider in January 2015.

Three private companies, including existing provider Rural/Metro, American Medical Services and Falck, all have expressed interest in running San Diego’s ambulances. We’ve estimated the contract could be worth $55 million annually.

Gloria’s decision shuts out the city’s Fire-Rescue Department because the department cannot bid on a proposal it helped write. The city has been working on this ambulance contract for almost two years, and would have had to start from scratch to give the department a chance. Fellow Democratic Council members Marti Emerald, Myrtle Cole and David Alvarez all had expressed interest in a city-run ambulance service.

But Gloria said there were too many financial uncertainties with a Fire-Rescue proposal to justify starting over. He didn’t want to make the city buy ambulances or have the day-to-day budget responsible for potential losses. He was also concerned that state law could prohibit the city from charging high enough ambulance fees to make up for the percentage of patients that don’t pay their bills.

Rural/Metro is currently meeting its contractual response time obligation of arriving within 12 minutes of a high-priority emergency nine times out of 10. But those figures exclude especially busy periods.

Gloria said the new contract will eliminate that response time exemption and increase monitoring of response times across different neighborhoods.

A City Council committee will discuss the issue Wednesday afternoon. Gloria said he hoped the Fire-Rescue Department could prepare a bid for the ambulance contract the next time it expired.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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