Of course, the transit riders of Guelph were not a happy bunch last week when news came down that again this summer there will be service cuts and a fare increase, but they weren't the only ones. Indeed, the people driving those buses aren't happy either, and neither are their union reps.
I talked to Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1189 President Gary Daters on the phone today about an investigation started by his union as to how the City decided to target, once again, the local transit service for cuts, and why they're doing it in a year where spending seems to be going up. And more than that, how can the City propose another service cut just a day after the union ratified an agreement that promised no more service cuts?
“We negotiated a contract under the understanding that there would be no service cuts this year," explained Daters. "We ratified the vote on January 30th and the next day we were informed that there would be service cuts. We questioned that, and we were told even last year that it would only be a one time deal.”
As well, according to Daters, his union is looking into the possibility that a motion to make the 30-minute summer schedule permanent, regardless of budgeting issues, is being brought before council.
Adding to the union's cynicism of the City's intentions is the fact that Daters and other members in union leadership didn't find out about the proposed cuts and fare hike until the day after the new three-year union contract was ratified, the same day that City Council got its first look at the proposed 2011 budget. Daters was called for a meeting with transit's general manager January 31st, but was unable to attend. Daters read about the budget's impact on transit the next morning in the newspaper.
“Our goal is to keep 20-minute service in the summer time so that the public won’t be inconvenienced and also there won’t be any layoffs on our part," Daters added. "Last year it was a tough summer, people were missing their transfers and there was a strain on the drivers that were here.”
Originally, the 2010 budget called for 30 transit workers to be laid off for June and July and an additional five workers laid off in August when service was cancelled on Sundays. The reality though was that only 20-22 workers ended up being laid off and while Daters hasn't seen or heard about any hard numbers in terms of layoffs for this year, if 20-minute service is suspended for three months they will be inevitable.
“I’ve talked to many who were laid off last year already and they’ve said that this time, if there’s another layoff [then they won't come back] because they can’t afford to work nine months of the year,” he said. Five workers didn't return after last summer's layoffs, and according to Daters it costs $10,000 per driver to train new people to pilot the city's fleet.
“So not only did they have reduced service during the summertime, but in the fall they didn’t have enough people so they ended up having to cut runs everyday,” Daters adds.
While not being talked about as much, Daters isn't pleased that statutory holiday service has continued to be put on the back-burner. “That’s a big issue as well," he said. "I don’t know what kind of feedback City Hall got, but I know it had a lot of people upset and that’s something that we don’t mind doing.”
In the hope to build support for transit and to hopefully overturn the decision to cut service and increase fares, the ATU Local is asking for public support. Additionally, the ATU is putting together a presentation for the February 22nd council meeting and Daters says that he's been in communication with other local groups making presentations to City Council during their deliberations. Daters is asking transit users to make their displeasure heard with their councillor.
(Scroll down to see the ATU's press release.)
“This will be the second year in the row where they’ve raised fares and cut service," says Daters. "I was just talking to the a Director of the Council of Canadians and he doesn’t know of any other transit company that is cutting back, or cutting service. And that’s the question he asked me, 'Why is Guelph doing it?' And that’s a question that needs to be asked of the Mayor and Council members.”