The Daily Californian Online

AC Transit May Reduce Services to Limit Deficit

By Aaida Samad
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Category: News > Parking and Transportation

AC Transit officials are exploring solutions to tackle an additional $17.6 million budget deficit following a summer of service reductions, negotiations, public hearings and a lawsuit resulting in the invalidation of a potentially cost-saving contract.

The agency, which struggled this summer to balance its budget and bridge a $56 million gap, now faces additional unbudgeted expenses of $17.6 million - $15.7 million of which come from labor costs AC Transit officials had planned on reducing through a new contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192.

But because of the contract's invalidation by the Alameda County Superior Court in August, the agency will now move forward with more than $14 million in short-term cost reduction scenarios, according to a staff report presented at a meeting of the board of directors Wednesday. Officials hope to approve the cuts by the end of the month.

Short-term solutions on the table include eliminating all "all-nighter" lines except the 800 and 801 lines, closing the agency's paratransit unit - which primarily transports disabled passengers - and reducing weekend services, according to the report.

At the Sept. 1 meeting, community members, transit workers and bus riders spoke out against these further service cuts as a cost reduction strategy, saying that the cuts were not in the best interest of the people.

"There's really no room on (the board's) ledger for the human cost ... and the effect it has on the people who are dependent on transit," Oakland resident Karen Smulevitz said at the meeting. "People suffer when the bus service gets cut Please remember us."

At its next meeting on Sept. 22, the board hopes to decide on these measures, although given the "momentous nature" of the decision, it is possible that the vote will be pushed back a meeting, said Chris Peeples, a member of the board of directors.

But delaying the proposed short-term solutions - whose estimated annualized savings total $14.1 million to $14.6 million - will result in further deficits of approximately $1.2 million per month, according to the report.

The weekend service reduction would cut 39 lines on weekends - including the 1R, 7 and 52 lines - and would impact approximately 32,000 riders on Saturdays and 24,000 riders on Sundays.

Peeples said the short-term reductions - tentatively scheduled for implementation in December - can be applied relatively quickly because they do not require additional, "time-consuming" public hearings. He added that public hearings were held in May to cover all the short-term solutions currently on the table.

"When we went through the last set of cutbacks, we wanted to have flexibility, so we held public hearings on a greater level of solutions than we needed," he said. "We never imagined that we were going to end up having to implement all of them."

In addition to more immediate solutions, the report also addresses potential long-term reduction scenarios, including cutting additional fixed-route service, reducing weekend hours of operations on remaining lines, contracting out maintenance services, increasing fares and possibly eliminating weekend operation entirely.

These solutions will require additional study and public hearings and could be implemented in six months to a year, the report states. The first public hearing for the long-term changes is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 10.

According to Claudia Hudson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 - which represents bus drivers, maintenance personnel and other AC Transit employees - some of the cost-cutting solutions under consideration are not viable and would negatively impact both employees and bus riders.

"(The board) is looking straight at a dollar amount, not at the dollar amount that is needed to put service on the street that works for the people - they don't give a damn about the people," Hudson said. "This isn't necessarily about employee needs - it's about doing what's humanly right."

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