Describing its financial situation as bleak, AC Transit officials said that because its drivers' union failed to compromise in contract negotiations, the bus system is being forced to consider a proposal that will eliminate almost half of its weekend bus service along with other cutbacks.
The plan was scheduled to be presented to the agency's board of directors as part of an effort to recover at least $15.7 million that would have been saved if the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) had accepted the new work rules and benefits package.
The ATU successfully petitioned the court to rescind the work rules, mandate arbitration and re-institute a now-expired contract. The District is appealing the Court's decision to avoid otherwise draconian cuts to service necessitated by the Court's intervention.
"Because the ATU would not compromise in contract negotiations, they have severely impacted our ability to provide service to our customers, who are primarily working people, the young, seniors and the disabled," said Interim General Manager Mary King. "We do not want to cut this amount of weekend service, but the union has given us no choice."
The contract that the union won in court costs the District and taxpayers $300,000 a week more than the District can afford and it is not financially sustainable without severe service cuts.
Consequently, District officials are now considering an austere series of options that will result in reduced hours of operation, fewer buses in service, and less people served. These cuts include:
-eliminating almost half of its weekend service, except for lines on major corridors
-eliminating all but two All Nighter service lines
-closing the District-operated paratransit division, contracting out its services
-eliminating lines based on ridership
-reducing hours of operation for ALL lines
Those cuts will not only adversely affect riders, but will also cause reduced fare revenues, as well as more employee layoffs.
In March, the agency reduced service by 7.8 percent and had planned to cut an additional 7.2 percent of service in August to reap $21.7 million in cost savings. But to remain solvent, the agency must now reduce its spending even more.
"We are being forced to cut our service to the bone,'' King said."Cutting almost half of the service on the weekends will be devastating, particularly for seniors who depend on the bus to shop and go to worship."
Already the agency has:
Eliminated more than 70 general and administrative staff positions. In addition, a third of its executive staff has also been eliminated --including the elimination of three executive management staff-- the use of district vehicles has been curtailed and management leave benefits have been canceled. Together, that has reduced expenses by $9.2 million. But, as yet, there have been NO layoffs to or concessions from drivers or mechanics.
Raised fares. Local riders are paying more due to the 25 cents per trip fare increase and $10 increase in the price of a monthly pass. Transbay riders are paying more due to the 50 cents per trip fare increase and $16.50 increase in the price of a monthly pass. Youth, senior and disabled riders are paying more due to the 15 cents per trip local fare increase and 30 cents Transbay increase.
Cut Service. Riders also had their bus service reduced in March by 7.8% or $10.3 million worth of service hours; they are facing a second round of service cuts in October that will further reduce service by 7.2% or $11.4 million in service hours.
Reduced Spending. The Board of Directors has cut its salary by 5%, cut travel by 50%, and eliminated a special travel account for transit advocacy.
Even though significant spending reductions have been achieved with these cuts, it is still not enough to balance the budget, given that labor costs account for about 75% of the agency's operating budget. Without contributions from the ATU members, the budget gap cannot be closed.