Lake Transit Chopping Block

As everyone knows a big chunk of transit money is grants. One of these grant pools is drying up this year. This particular pool has been getting smaller every year. Now the Transit Authority has to make cuts in service.

Most of these cuts will be lightly used routes and runs. Some routes are untouchable for the time being. Our contracted general manager will look at ridership on each run, how much money we have left, and what changes have to be made in the other routes to smooth over the gap. His recommendations will be made to the Transit Board and they will vote yes because they will not want to study the details.

In past meetings the General Manager and the Operations Manager noted which runs will be looked at hard for possible cuts. These tend to be routes to the hinterlands, 2 and 4A, and runs on popular routes that are too early or late to have more than one or two passengers on board. Regardless of the number of passengers, if these runs connect to an out of County route they can’t be cut. Otherwise another pool of money will disappear entirely.

There are a couple of special cases. One is that part of the 4A that runs to the Konocti Vista Casino. In addition to gamblers, people work at the Casino and there are two large communities nearby. Years ago, before the 4A was born, this was on the popular Route 4 line. Four was later diverted to Highway 29 outside Lakeport to express itself to Clearlake. If 4A is eliminated 4 will have to reroute its service back to Konocti Vista.

The other special case is the City of Clearlake for a couple reasons. Clearlake receives over have the system’s transit runs on three local routes. All three overlap in a large triangle area in the center of the City. Clearlake’s local area includes the adjacent town of Lower Lake where the High School and Lake County Social Services are located.

Lower Lake is served as an afterthought at the tail end of Route 10. This Route is primarily designed to serve Clearlake Park, a subdivision of extremely bad and narrow roads. Instead, most people go to Lower Lake on Route 12 which loops around town at the beginning of the Route before overlapping Clearlake’s center triangle with the other two local Routes. On Saturday the High School and Social Services are closed. Probably Route 12 could be closed on Saturday as well.

Since schedules take time to design they aren’t done for minor or temporary changes. There is a rumor that all the cuts that could be made without damaging service too much will be made all at once, even though this may be a little ahead of the curve money wise.

The good news is that during periods of forced change, opportunities arise to make other changes. Change requires a period of adjustment so managers who like things to run smoothly don’t change for creative purposes. Change is usually the result of more money, less money, or a new law. The route cuts and changes may reopen cost neutral options for the overlapping local routes in Clearlake. The overlaps produce ongoing transfer and route planning confusion.

Due to three routes overlapping many passengers could misuse transfers for return trips. That is why a rigid policy exists allowing transfers at only specific locations other than the beginning of the route. It is inconvenient and seems unfair to riders. If a passenger is adamant that they got on the wrong bus to begin with, drivers will usually relent and ask another driver to honor a transfer.

The service rule for Clearlake is that any local route change must all serve current stops every hour. By measuring the time allotted between all Clearlake stops on each of the three routes and adding these segments together you get the total amount of time to serve Clearlake. Currently it takes two full routes and most of a third to do the job. It would take a single bus an hour and 20 minutes to serve all Clearlake stops. Passengers would also feel thrashed after such a long local ride.

But I have made an amazing discovery. Using the time numbers and the limiting assumption I have found a cost neutral way to hit all the Clearlake stops every hour using only one route. This would eliminate all transfer problems and most trip planning difficulties in the City. This seems impossible given the hour and 20 minute drive time to travel to all stops. Guess how it could be done. Hint: All three local routes are intersecting loops.

Paratransit Head Shots

By Dante DeAmicis

In my “911” post I reported that all the canceled bus runs after the drivers ended the strike were 100% due to sabotage by Paratransit Services.  As transit is a service not a product the services could have been running at full strength immediately. Paratransit’s private agenda would not allow this, as I pointed out in my 9-11 LTA meeting blog.  They gave no reason for their action. Apparently they didn’t feel they owed the public an explanation other than to say that the law allowed them to wait 5 days before taking back the strikers.

Of course they neglected to mention that this law implied “if they needed those days.”   With manufacturing, a business might need those days to ramp up.  Service businesses can usually resume without implementing this option.  Most people would say it is violating the intent of the law to use this legal slack when it is not needed.  Paratransit is not most people.  But they didn’t stop there. Their para reasoning was on a roll.  They reasoned that since they could hire people for 5 days they had the right to finish their training, which would take over two weeks, before taking any of the original drivers back.

At some point Paratransit’s pursuit of their secret agenda outstripped their ability to rationalize it.  While they were busy training new people hired during the 5 days after the strike, they continued to hire new drivers after the 5 days as they allowed a few former full time drivers to come back as “part time” and “temporary” drivers.  I ride the bus.  People talk.  Not to mention I work with someone who was hired as a transit driver during this post-5-day-after-the-strike period for his second job.

Paratransit would not say what this hostile agenda is but its effect was to slam the bus riders and Lake County economy for an additional two weeks.  Mark Wall, the Lake Transit Authority manager weakly defended this transparently predatory action as a justified preemptive maneuver in case the Union decided to strike again some time.  Amazing.  This ignores the fact that the ranks of transit drivers are now saturated with non union drivers or they wouldn’t have crossed the picket lines to begin with.  The Teamsters would have to be suicidal to call a strike in their weakened condition.  There is no reason to believe this old, conservative union is suicidal.  If they were they wouldn’t still be around.

So what is Paratransit’s hidden agenda?  Most residents think it is not hidden at all, that it is pure “union busting”, possibly subsidized by outside interests.  That would be an obvious conclusion . But it is not an entirely satisfying one.  First off, Paratransit Services is not an entrepreneur desperately defending their capital investment.  They are simply a management company brought in to run a public investment on a contract by contract basis.  They can’t actually loose any money so their borderline paranoid behavior is a mystery.  Why the LTA tacitly condones these bazaar actions is a bigger mystery.

Make no mistake.  After the strike officially ended on August 16th the reduced bus service was no longer a labor problem.  Lake County was in the grip of a management problem.  Labor was no longer involved.  The transit authority continues to absolve Paratransit from any responsibility for their two week attack on the most vulnerable segment of the population – transit dependent residents.

So how much damage was done?  Because Paratransit had a driver replacement plan that was explained and accepted at the August 14th LTA meeting we can come up with a very specific theoretical number for the damage inflicted on our County by a service that we paid for.  Percentages, dates, and the bus schedules are all that is necessary to arrive at this number, which I call the “head shot” number, as in “shots to the head.”

The Paratransit Plan called for 60% of the routes to be running with replacement drivers between August 16th and August 24th. That’s 6 weekdays and 2 Saturdays worth of runs.  According to the bus schedules there should 734 runs operating during this period.  If 40% weren’t running because Paratransit put their agenda first, that meant Lake County took 294 inexcusable hits.  Between August 26th and August 31st these ungrateful carpetbaggers allowed only 80% of the buses to serve our residents.  That’s 5 weekdays and one Saturday for a total of 565 scheduled runs.  If 20% of the runs were held hostage by Paratransit that means an additional 113 runs were slashed from the schedule.  The figure for both phases is 294 plus 113 for a total of 407 head shots delivered by a shadowy cabal who have shown nothing but contempt for the local taxpayers who are feeding them.  It is time for the Lake Transit Authority to get a clue as to who is buttering their bread as well.

This “head shot” number was easy to arrive at.  Another of my blog posts mentioned a “diamond number” that would reveal a greater level of corruption, incompetence, or just plain self serving meanness.  Unfortunately, this figure will require a variety of data, some of which may only be possessed by Paratransit.  Stay tuned to see whether the LTA will assist or hinder the effort to pry this publically paid for information from the Paratransit inner sanctum.

Disenfranchisement and Paratransit Services

By Driver Number 39

You don’t have to be a political pundit to know that our right to vote is under continuous attack by the forces of wealth and power. In the past the profoundly privileged relied on scaring the middle class and drumming up any class conflict except against theirs. Even the lower middle class bought the bill of goods about killing the goose that might lay a golden egg for their children.

As successive slices off the middle class have been dumped into the ranks of the working poor with fewer and fewer opportunities on the horizon for their children’s education and “American Dream” type jobs, this pitch does not sell as well.

Since the disillusioned and discouraged clearly outnumber the Top 1%, the Top 5%, and are on the way to over running and outvoting the whole top quintile, the only solution, short of a fascist coup, is to throw every legal barrier imaginable between them and the ballot box. Even outside the scramble for electoral representation the same drive to squelch the democratic process can be found, using many of the same tools of disenfranchisement.

This development was made clear locally at the NLRB hearing between Paratransit Services and the union representing the bus drivers. The main issue was an upcoming election for Paratransit employees whether to decertify the union or not. The Union was pushing for a mail in ballot and Paratransit’s attorney was arguing for an on site election. What’s the difference you say?

Paratransit has more direct access to the many replacement drivers they have recently hired. Those recent hires are still grateful to be working and have not had time to become soured by some of Paratransit’s Dickensonian behaviors, such as not wanting to give drivers time off to attend a wife’s funeral. Meanwhile, the Union has been effectively quarantined away from the replacement drivers as far as introducing them to what the Union has to offer. Although the replaced drivers are still technically Paratransit employees and can vote on Union decertification, showing up to a specific place for them during a short time period is more difficult.

The combination of a strike and lockout has left many drivers stretched thin. Some have increased their hours at second jobs. Others have job interviews out of the area that they have to be available for. More and more are taking temporary jobs to make ends meet. That is my situation.

The Paratransit attorney made the absurd argument that if striking bus drivers found it convenient to picket the bus yard and follow buses to do bus stop pickets they shouldn’t have any trouble making it to a specific location to vote. What’s so absurd about the attorney’s remark? Think about it. Hint: This was a strike followed by a lockout. Give up? Paratransit is referring to activities during the strike which were reduced to a token presence for part of the lockout then disappeared altogether. The current lockout period is when drivers have started to hurt otherwise they would not have given up the strike. Therefore, Paratransit’s reasons for opposing the mail ballot during the lockout are irrelevant.

Only the most naïve would believe that each side’s attorneys are making arguments for purely technical reasons to rack up billable hours. It’s clear that each side believes their preference will give their client at least a slight advantage or they would not be arguing the point. It was decided by the NLRB judge at the meeting that each side would be submitting their written arguments to the NLRB District Director who will make a decision next week.

Going back to my situation will take the Union’s attorney’s argument out of the realm of pure theory. As soon as Paratransit stopped talking to me in any meaningful way I filed for unemployment and began looking for my replacement job. I spent time and money to activate my guard card through Universal Protection and waited. The only post that came up was the hard to fill Calpine site. The turnover is huge due to accessibility problems that destroy cars and suck gasoline. The West side is nearly impossible to reach by bus/bike combo. In one week’s efforts to reach the East and West sides of Calpine I have had days that ran from 14 to 16 hours. I consider this a temporary job since I have no idea how I will get to work when 16% grade roads start getting snow bound. The Paratransit attorney refuses to consider this impediment to on site elections.

The movement to destroy meaningful representation in this Country progresses through a series of measures that seem reasonable on the surface. But the intent and the effect is to reduce suffrage for lower income, disabled, marginalized, and people without fixed residences.

It all starts locally with people who still have jobs with at least some representation. If companies such as Paratransit Services can implement election conditions that will trim off just a few percentage points of the “wrong” voters it could translate into total control for them and another slide backwards for more Lake County workers.

Press Democrat 4th Estate Sale

by Dante DeAmicis

The obit for the dead tree media read, “Lake County Transit Workers Call Off Strike” by Glenda Anderson, August 15, 2013. My name is Dante DeAmicis. I have been substituting for Herb Gura’s Law Show for the last two weeks. My two main topics have been the local transit strike and the lack of critical media at the local level.

The Press Democrat’s article on the end of the transit strike has provided me with an excellent example of the latter issue. A critical reporter would have asked chief operating officer Christie Scheffer, why is service not being restored on the next day? I doubt you would have gotten a meaningful answer from Paratransit Services.

A critical reporter would have then sought another knowledgeable source and learned that Paratransit’s emergency plan, approved by Lake County Transit Authority, called for resuming full service in two phases. Paratransit was short two replacement drivers from their hasty training program, requiring them to take back the two senior Union drivers to implement Phase 1.

Full service could have been resumed immediately by simply declaring the emergency plan now null and void. All slots remaining in Phase 2 to restore service could have been filled by the old drivers immediately. Instead, Paratransit was allowed to pretend that the emergency was ongoing and continue to train every replacement employee that made it through the door. This was done for reasons that had nothing to do with getting the buses running at full strength. This could have been done the next day if they simply acknowledged that the strike was over. I repeat: Every single bus route run that did not operate after August 16th was 100% due to Paratransit malfeasance.

Finally, a critical reporter would then have asked for examples of the “variety of issues” that Paratransit was working out over the 5-day legal maximum. A good redirect might be “What situations are those 5 days meant for and is Paratransit using that grace period for those reasons?” If the same question was then asked of the Union drivers, the Press Democrat’s ace reporter would have heard that Paratransit is misusing an unneeded reorganizational period to shoot as many wounded and strip as many dead as time allows.

Here’s some illuminating analogies to illustrate how ridiculous Paratransit’s unquestioned statements look to a critical person:

* If someone was qualified to give First Aid to an accident victim and a doctor arrived soon after, would the First Aid responder be justified in not letting the responding doctor take over because they have started First Aid?

 * Say a mudslide completely closed a freeway and the highway department temporarily allowed traffic to detour around the slide on a nearby creek bottom. Should the highway department allow this practice after the slide is cleared because off road yahoos prefer to tear up the waterway?

 * And lastly, pay attention to this one, what if a developer with government contracts was told a new heritage oak ordinance was taking effect in 5 days, and he used those 5 days to hire 30 day laborers in town with chain saws to cut down every big tree on properties he controlled? Should the local government give the waste maker more of the people’s money? `

Once again, I thank the Press Democrat for providing a shining example of why community radio and local activist blogs are the survivors of and successors to our late great newspapers.

Randy’s Big Score

By Dante DeAmicis

On August 14th the Lake Transit Authority met to approve Paratransit’s plan to ramp up to full service with replacement drivers. Most of the drivers showed up to offer an alternative to this out-of-state carpetbagger’s scorched Earth program.

Like the carpetbaggers of Reconstruction, Paratransit brings no capital of their own to Lake County. They are not entrepreneurs as they simply administer programs already in place, financed by grants and a quarter cent of the local sales tax. Paratransit’s cut of this gets sucked out of Lake County and pumped into the State of Washington. The drivers’, mechanics’, and office workers’ part stays local.

The drivers realized going into the meeting that the fix was in and the Board was going to defer entirely to transit head Mark Wall. I’m certain that no one else on the Board knew precisely how to interpret the Authority’s contract with Paratransit. One public speaker said it was a lousy contract. No one on the Board disagreed.

The pleas of emotional riders and drivers touting the value of experience on our war-zone roads bounced off Mark Wall’s armored contract like marshmallow bullets. The Teamsters at this point were ready to fall back on plan “B” – binding arbitration. Assuming there is still a union after the replacement blood bath, this would put the ball in a true third party court.

Why wouldn’t Paratransit jump at this option favored by our local State legislators? After all, they have done nothing but ridicule the Union’s spread sheet skills, using innovative “Randy math” to do it. But Paratransit guards their numbers as if they were diamonds, tossing out a mysterious cost figure for the peasants to bow down to. Lake County’s educated citizens don’t pray to that mountain.

I hope the Transit Authority realizes that three of their members around the Lake are up for reelection next year. Skirting responsibility by saying “the contract made me do it” isn’t going to cut it. How can Paratransit be induced to accept binding arbitration and full disclosure of their payroll figures when their contract doesn’t say they have to? The answer is not in law. It is in politics.

I have seen how things get done when a real leader wants to get something done but officially can’t push the issue. The leader may have a conversation with another Board member first to test the waters. The leader will then attempt to catch the person to convince, as if by chance, in public. The message will appear to be friendly and casual to anyone who overhears. But at the same time, the leader is talking a very different message that is conveyed with body language, eye contact, and facial expressions.

This is how I envision things working for the buses if anyone cared. The leader catches Randy in the country club steam room and sits down casually next to him. After awhile he says “I sure hope this transit thing works out soon without any fallout I have to deal with.” Nothing else said on the subject but the body language kicks into overdrive.

What message is Randy supposed to hear with his eyes from this leader? The message, effectively delivered, is “You better end this mess now or you can take all your ill gotten gains from now until the end of your contract and enjoy them in Hell. Because you will never squeeze another dime out of this poor county as long as I am on the Board.”

That’s what a real leader would do. Do we have such a creature on the Transit Authority?