By Tim McNicholas

CHICAGO (CBS) —Cook County is now telling a transit company to change its rules after CBS 2 exposed tens of thousands of dollars in pay withheld from its drivers.

The company, First Transit, gets millions in local taxpayer funds to get vulnerable people to the doctor for chemo, dialysis and other needs.

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CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reports Cook County said it too is investigating complaints too, from other companies contracted by First Transit, like Windy City Limousine and Bus. First Transit hired Windy City in 2016 to take Medicaid recipients to drug addiction treatment centers.

The company was happy to do it at first. But in the transit business, roadblocks are not your friends; literally, figuratively or financially.

“They put roadblocks in your way of getting paid,” said Windy City Limousine and Bus CEO George Jacobs. He was contracted by First Transit from 2016 to 2019 to take people to methadone clinics.

“There was a variety of things that we didn’t get paid for,” Jacobs said. “Because they didn’t like the paperwork or they changed the rules.”

He said those disputes ultimately led to more than $120,000 worth of unpaid rides for his company. Jacobs said First Transit didn’t stick to its word in business dealings and because they were owed so much money, they parted ways in 2019.

As for the passengers?

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“These poor people were calling us saying ‘where’s my ride? Where’s my ride?’ And we got to become close to them and we were devastated to have to tell say to them you have to go somewhere else,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs met with CBS 2 after seeing the story on our First Transit vendors who are also owed thousands of dollars. Others have reached out us since that story aired with similar tales of conflicting billing instructions and fickle fax machines at First Transit.

Some were even told if the rides happened more than a month ago, they’d never be paid, even though the state suggests allowing six months. Small providers said with high operating costs, even a slight delay can be devastating.

Even Windy City said it’s a big hit.

“They took advantage of a large guy, so imagine what they’re doing to the smaller people,” wondered Jacobs. “You got to be able to live with yourself. Business is one thing.”

As for that one month rule, Cook County told First Transit to give vendors at least three months to submit their claims. First Transit won’t answer from CBS 2, but one vendor CBS 2 featured in the first story said she finally got her money Wednesday, more than $20,000.

First Transit released the following statement late Wednesday:

“At First Transit, we care deeply about our partnerships with our transportation providers. It is important that all trips are properly verified and documented in order to be paid. Systems and procedures are in place to protect all parties. Proper and rigorous processes are required and necessary to ensure transparency for all parties involved. We continue to work with any partner to advise them on the appropriate steps for payment.”

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Tim McNicholas