Riverside council members have agreed to allow one, and potentially up to four, more companies to offer non-emergency ambulance service in the city, which has long been served solely by American Medical Response.

Examples of non-emergency trips include moving patients from one hospital to another or transporting patients to dialysis appointments.

APPROVED: Care Ambulance was given a city franchise

PENDING: AmeriCare, Mission and Cavalry ambulance companies

NEXT STEP: Council will hold public hearings Jan. 6 on the pending applications

Riverside looks on track to allow not just one or two, but four new companies to provide non-emergency ambulance service in the city.

That would mean five options, including American Medical Response, which for years was the only company to be granted a city permit known as a franchise.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to give a four-year franchise to Orange-based Care Ambulance and to send three other companies’ applications to public hearings on Jan. 6, the last step before approval. Those companies are Carson-based AmeriCare Ambulance, and Mission Ambulance and Cavalry Ambulance, both headquartered in Corona.

The decision brings to an end what many have called a de facto monopoly for AMR, which also provides 911 ambulances through a near-exclusive contract with Riverside County. Emergency calls are governed by the county, but in every city other than Riverside, non-emergency business is an open market with multiple providers.

None of the votes was unanimous, with Councilman Chris Mac Arthur dissenting all four times and Councilman Jim Perry voting against AmeriCare. Councilman Paul Davis recused himself on Care.

Mac Arthur said he didn’t believe anyone had proven a need for more ambulance companies, and the municipal code requires that such a need be shown before granting more franchises.

He also worried that the city will lose money that AMR pays the city to get longer emergency response times. The money – about $1.5 million a year – helps fund the city’s paramedics, who are typically first to respond in an emergency.

That funding is not connected to non-emergency ambulance service, Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore pointed out, but Mac Arthur remained concerned about the agreement with AMR that spells out the response times and funding.

“Their contract’s up in June and I’m not sure that they’re going to want the same deal that they have now,” he said.

Mac Arthur said he’s never heard a complaint about AMR’s service. But several hospital officials have repeatedly told the council more companies will help with patient wait times and costs, and several council members have said their constituents support more choices.

“The public’s demanding it,” Councilman Mike Soubirous said. “We have to do what’s right for the people.”

Councilman Steve Adams asked for a report in six months on how the system is working with additional companies offering service. Moore said the city can cancel a franchise after a year for any reason.