The University City Council voted 5-2 in favor of a proposal to contract out for municipal ambulance services. The five year contract, which is expected to save University City taxpayers upwards of $500,000 each year, would utilize Gateway Ambulance, a private ambulance company. Read the Post-Dispatch’s coverage here and here.
Gateway Ambulance is able to provide a potentially better service than existing ambulance services because of an innovative delivery system. Rather than keep ambulances at a fixed location such as a firehouse, Gateway plans to keep ambulances ready to go out in the community. These locations will be chosen based on a statistical analysis of where they would be most useful. If the city’s needs change and the community is better served with ambulances posted in different locations, the solution is as easy as driving the ambulances to the new posting points. You can’t move a brick-and-mortar firehouse like this.
From reports we’ve heard, Gateway Ambulance can provide a better turnout time than the fire department. “Turnout time” is the length of time between an alarm and when an ambulance starts moving. Most fire departments in St. Louis County have an average turnout time of about 90 seconds. This makes sense because staff need to transition from whatever they are doing, get ready, get to the ambulance, and get the vehicle moving.
Gateway operates out of their ambulances. If it’s hot or cold outside, the vehicle is already running. All the Gateway Ambulance drivers need to do is find out where they are going and they’re ready to go. With the private option, turnout time is virtually eliminated.
Spending less money for a better services sounds like a win-win, right? It’s the sort of outcome that we often see when contracting out for public services. Private companies have a strong incentive to provide a superior service because if consumers, in this case taxpayers, don’t like the service, they can simply go to a different company.