Lake Transit Route Cuts from Hell

The recently proposed transit route cuts are substantially different than what was proposed at the June Transit Authority meeting. Possibly the amount of cuts are the same but a low use route was restored at the expense of additional cuts on North Shore, the City of Clearlake, Lakeport, and Middletown. Middletown may have broke even on the route exchange.

Originally, a little used Saturday route and an early run was cut in Clearlake. North Shore was to give up two mid day runs each way. But the biggest planned cut was the complete elimination of Route 2 which connects Kits Korner to Cobb and on to Twin Pines Casino. The reason for Route 2 taking the big hit was because ridership never returned after the fire. Even before the fire, when I got on the bus at Anderson Springs there was never anyone else on the bus until Cobb.

Due to permanently losing a funding source, the Transit Authority had to cut about a hundred total route hours. I indicated to the authority’s general manager, Mark Wall, that although his original proposal based on ridership was rational, cuts could be reduced by making changes in the routes themselves. Specifically, cutting the unused parts of Routes 2 and 4A while rerouting Route 4 thru its original journey. But when I saw the official list of bus runs to be cut, as part of notice for Public Hearing on August 9th, I was shocked.

Additional cuts to those proposed were demanded from Route 1 and all three Clearlake local runs. Note that a majority of the bus trips are within Clearlake. These reductions were offset by restoring 7 of the planned 8 run cuts on Route 2 that would be made if the Route 2 were axed.  This sudden change from a rational to an irrational plan would only make sense if considerable pressure were brought to bare from a County supervisor. I assume that the North Shore and Clearlake sups didn’t call up Wall to demand more transit cuts in their District.

Beyond simply giving low ridership areas a break at the expense of higher use runs, while consequently increasing the cost per passenger trip in the system, there are public safety and financing liabilities that are created by this negative reversal. Most of this collateral damage is for Clearlake’s residents while one cut threatens the eligibility for a grant that could end service for the whole county to Napa.

The flagship of bad ideas has to be cutting the Westbound 7pm Route 1 from Clearlake. This particular run is designed to connect to the last Route 3 coming in from Calistoga. These four trips a day to Napa County and back are made possible by a 350,000 dollar grant. This grant has two strings attached. The first one is there cannot be any reduction in the 4 runs to and from Napa using this grant or we lose the whole grant. The second condition is the Route 3 runs using this money have to connect with a specific Lake County route. The 6pm bus from Napa County has to connect with that 7pm Route 1. Suddenly we plan to cut it to appease someone. What’s wrong with this picture?

Public safety suggests we should not be forcing the disabled, women, and the elderly to make hazardous trips on foot if its not absolutely necessary. But three of the last minute deletions do exactly that. The new 8pm Route 11 cut in the Highlands will force passengers coming in on the 6:30 Route 4 to make their way home at night on foot across a long distance of hills, no sidewalks, and dirt roads while being menaced by psyco tweekers and packs of feral dogs. I know this about the Highlands from being a taxi driver in Clearlake.

The most vulnerable won’t even have Dail-a-Ride to fall back on. Cutting the last two local runs across the city allows Lake Transit to legally whack off two hours a night of Dial-a-Ride service, even though Route 1 and Route 4 regionals are still coming in. Cost savings: Ten hours per week. Some grumpy people will say, “ What a bunch of whiners. Take an earlier bus.” For many people this is the earlier bus. When we lost our night time reverse commute grant people who used to take the 8:30 Route 4 from Lakeport now have to take the 6:30 Route 4 or brave the howling wilderness. This new 8pm Route 11 cut means that both night inter county Route 4 runs are now decapitated. Could this  be population control by transit?

Unbelievably, it gets even stranger. After the original planned reduction of Route 12’s lightly used Saturday and 6:27am runs, the new plan calls for adding the 4, 5, and 6pm Route 12’s to the chopping block. Cutting the weekday 4pm and 5pm Route 12’s to Lower Lake means what? Think! Think! It means that moms pushing baby carriages and non dial-a-ride disabled will be struggling down Highway 53 to make their 4:30 appointments at Social Services, in the hot sun and pouring rain. Did the Republican Central Committee suggest this cut?

Do I have a solution? As a matter of fact I do. Given the fact that we have to come up with a hundred hours of cuts, I have crunched out a plan that is not only better than this train wreck but is an improvement over Mark Walls original “cuts only” proposal. Adding back the new run cuts that are egregious monstrosities and doing a once over on 7 of the County’s routes gives us about 70 hours of cuts with roughly 30 to go. These remaining cuts will have to come from cuts and “changes” to Routes 2, 4, and 4A. My cuts are from segments of Routes 2 and 4A that riders don’t use while preserving segments where people are getting on and off a bus.

Adding up the net bare bones net cuts from these three routes I come up with another 34 hours and 40 minutes, for a total of over 104 route hours of cuts. Since this is over the required 100 route hours of needed cuts I’ve come up with four hours of options.

Summarizing these changes:  4A as a stand alone route would be eliminated with pieces of the route added to the Route 4 and Route 2. Route 2 would shift, running between Cobb and Clearlake Riviera. Route 4 would detour to service Konocti Vista and Finley for non Ukiah “Express” runs. Routes 2 and 4 might want to exchange bus number routes between Clearlake and Kits Korner for the non express Route 4 runs. As a bonus, since we have a little slop, we could continue the Route 4 non expresses on Saturday to Konocti Vista and Finley for an additional 40 minutes of route hours and bump out to Cal Packing and up East Finley six days for an extra three route hours per week. Both options would reduce total route cuts to 101 hours.

The bump out of the Route 4 would not be an option for the one run each way for the Hance School detour. The 2:10 Eastbound would now be the 2pm and the Eastbound Route 4 would not turn into Route 7 until 3pm straight up. I also suggest leaving off the Mendocino College detour in Ukiah off the Saturday schedule. Most drivers skip it anyway or go off route.

As for servicing Konocti Vista and Finley, there are 3 current, non cut runs, Monday thru Friday to and from this 4A segment. There are 3 non cut Route 4’s running each way that aren’t Ukiah expresses. Some combination of Running round trip Route 4’s from Walmart to Kits Korner and Running a Route 4 to Kits, doing the shorty Route 2, and continuing on as the Route 4 to Lakeport can be worked out for the non Ukiah expresses.

So that’s the informed opinion of a member of the public. I’m requesting that the Lake Transit Board reject the hastily assembled political proposal that is clearly against the public interest. Furthermore, I suggest the Board direct Mark Wall to inform the intruding supervisor that he may represent his district but a supervisor works for the County – the whole County.

My Transit Union Goon Experience

 

Lake Transit is run by a contractor chosen by a three government “Lake Transit Authority.” That contractor then contracts with a labor union who represents the rank and file employees. On July 1 the labor contract was to expire. January 1, 2017 the contractor’s contract was to expire. The bus workers chose me to work with the negotiating committee for the labor contract.

Contractors are not like entrepreneurs. They do not have their own capital at risk. They can pack up and leave by not bidding on the next operations contract and have lost nothing. The buses, yard, equipment, and transit infrastructure are publicly owned capital. This reduces the contractor’s incentive to settle labor issues quickly. A contractor can lowball their contract bid and tell workers a raise in pay or benefits is not in their budget. Strike if you want to. We don’t care. This makes unions look ineffective.

This year is a little different. CalTrans, who has the final word on all matters transit, has put the LTA and the contractor on a strict timeline to create a new operations contract. This is due to the many contract extensions that were granted. The first speed bump date is July 11th. This is when the LTA’s draft Request For Proposals for a new operations contract must be sitting on CalTrans’ desk. To write this draft RFP all current costs must be listed, including labor. If there is a union their contract has to be put into the package but apparently is not binding on the new contractor.

I decided early on in the labor negotiations that I would only contribute my document research from CalTrans, my unique experience of going to all the LTA meetings, and quoting its general manager whenever possible. Just mentioning his name causes contractors to avert their eyes. The Union rep would keep the long formal process chugging along. Other bus workers at the table would pound on specific proposals.

After the third negotiating session it was clear nothing else was coming over from the other side of the table. Moving numbers around the columns and changing wording was not even inching us forward. Up to this point, the “progress” was the Union throwing out things from their original proposal. What was left was a few minor changes in conditions and trying to get a raise in some part of the three year contract.

The contractor was adamant that the money drivers got from the Valley Fire disaster funds was our raise for the rest of the year even though they did not pay any of it. At an earlier LTA meeting I pointed out that this infusion only covered most of the new minimum wage increase of one dollar. New drivers got an increase of 86 cents. So they were still further behind the minimum wage gain. The LTA’s manager, Mark (avert your eyes) Wall thought the difference between the minimum wage and starting driver pay should be two dollars.

So now its Tuesday morning, day 5. The Union committee decides that since the contractor wanted to wrap things up today we would oblige by giving our Best and Final Offer. Unlike three years ago when the drivers got their butts kicked, the contractor is under some pressure from the LTA to meet a deadline because the LTA is under pressure from CalTrans to move on their calendar.

So the contractor and Union committees face off across the table. The Union hasn’t budged since yesterday and says “Hey guys, how about your Best and Final offer so we can take it to our members tonight along with a strike vote.” Predictably, the contractors tensed up and asked for a brief recess. When they came back their fake smiles had vanished. Then they alternated between lecturing us as if we were naughty three year olds and accusing us of violating the National Labor Relations Act, without examples, and seemed to be on their way to charging us with crimes against humanity when we decided to break for another Union paid for lunch.

After lunch more trees had been sacrificed at the copy center. The contractor had made progress in wages that they might never pay because they would not start until after the operations contract had been awarded. Starting drivers would still start at $11.34 an hour till January First. On the First they would get $2.50, maybe. If the current contractor does not bid they won’t pay it. And a new contractor would technically have to agree to sign on to the Union agreement.

During break, the Teamster guy asked us what we thought and if the membership would vote for this contract. He thought that since the present contractor did not seem likely to put in a serious bid for themselves that this was probably the best we could get. I thought most would follow his lead but any drivers likely to quit soon, because of the mandatory six-day weeks caused by the driver shortage, probably would vote against the contract. The rest of our committee voiced concerns that the members were too tired to go out on strike. Lucky for low ball contractors, until we get too tired to drive and quit.

Sure enough, that night the members voiced their disappointment with different shortcomings of our thin work but still voted for the contractor’s meager three year contract offer which may end up back on the table with a new contractor. I wonder if the serfs felt this way – new Lord, same field to plow.

Meanwhile, the relentless march of the CalTrans procurement schedule leading to an operations contract award begins July 11 and ends with an award November 9th. The CalTrans approved RFP is released to potential bidders August 5 but I really need to see the draft that CalTrans sees July 11 so I can pitch a fit if a performance clause is not in it. An operation that is on forced six day work weeks for over a year is not fully staffed. When qualified drivers quit due to burn outs and melt downs, the money spent on training and increasing driver experience levels go down the drain.

What would such a staffing clause look like? I suggested a trigger of a three driver shortage over three months. This would be the indicator of a systemic fault. When both of these conditions exist continuously the contract should require a written explanation from the contractor of why this is an extraordinary glitch, how it is being fixed, and why they should not be fined for non performance. Mark Wall is simultaneously planning route reductions based on a grant shortfall. He doesn’t need the additional headaches from another low ball contract. I will now avert my eyes.

No More Bus Strikes

Lake County will not have another bus strike. Say it. Now everyone in a leadership position say it. “We will not have another bus strike. We will not allow take-it-or-leave-it scorched earth positions. We will address relevant issues and not put out a management contract that is tailored for the Lake Transit Authority to hide behind.”

During the last strike the the Transit Board held up their management contract and said “See we have a contract. Our hands are tied.” Of course, they are the ones who tied their own hands when they rubber stamped Mark Wall’s provisions. These provisions gave a mere management contractor the power to force a strike. Encouraging a contentious labor environment is not in the public interest. The elected members of the Lake Transit Authority should know this.

We have a short period of time to act before this dereliction of duty is repeated in the next management contract. Tell those Supervisors and Council people on the Board that we will not tolerate an attitude that says “Gee, too bad our vulnerable citizens are caught in a labor crossfire. It’s a good thing that, even though we are in charge, we can’t do a thing about it because of a contract that we never even looked at before it went out to bid.”

I’m sure the Transit Board is not using the contract as a cover for anti union bias or general contempt for Lake County’s poor and disabled. They just got a little lazy and now that they have seen the damage their lack of oversight has caused they will diligently fix the next management contract before it goes out to bid this Summer. Otherwise we will have to suck it up for another three years or longer.

Here is what must go into the next transit management contract to avoid future disasters.

First, and this should be obvious, we need a binding arbitration clause. This involves a competent third party that examines the facts without personal agendas. People with personal agendas will not like this. But this is Lake County residents’ bus system, in case anyone needs to be reminded.

Second, we need a wage and benefits structure that encourages bus driver longevity. Note that this does not mean a higher starting wage. A structure will create an incentive to develop as drivers and mentors here in Lake County. A wage structure says, we want drivers who will stay to develop the skills and acquire the experience to serve our most challenged citizens. A low, flat wage results in Lake County training drivers for other counties. Obviously, this is a waste of our taxpayer money as well.

Having a transit team saturated with new drivers is a public safety issue. Even Paratransit’s operation manager Wanda Gray admits that Lake County Transit has more bus damage than any other Paratransit unit. Unless this is an admission that she is hiring anyone with a pulse, we have to assume that this is the result of fewer than normal experienced drivers.

Finally, we need provisions in the management contract that prohibit management contractors from pursuing personal agendas. To ensure this, we need performance clauses with teeth. The performance clause in place during the strike was completely meaningless according to the transit tzar Mark Wall himself. Then why was it even in the contract? Was it a dumbed down version of an earlier contract’s performance clause?

Insist now, that the next transit management contract have binding arbitration, a wage structure, and a meaningful performance clause to serve the public interest and not personal philosophies. Lake County residents deserve it.

Bus Riders Report on the 2013 Proposal

by Dante DeAmicis

Last Summer a devastating Lake County transit bus strike turned many of our compromised residents’ lives upside down.  The heart of the conflict was Paratransit Services’ determination to keep the drivers’ wage structure flat.  This means that someone who just started driving a bus yesterday would make the same pay as someone with 15 years experience.  Tiered pay rates are common in the real world.  But one can agree with this principle without adopting the Union’s linear steps.

 In the service of this agenda, Paratransit pulled personnel from five of their units in three states, spent over $100,000 of their own money, hired driver applicants that they had rejected previously, and refused to resume full bus service after the strike officially ended to starve out old Union members.  Paratransit is not paid for routes that aren’t running so pursuing their private agenda was worth big bucks to them or some private group bankrolling them.  Their guiding principle seems to be “Lake County riders be damned.”

 The proof that Paratransit had a sinister motive would be if an independent study showed that this contract management company fabricated a huge cost figure for the Union proposal in the absence of reasonable assumptions or best practices.

 The Union proposal can be wrong but still within the realm of reason.  They say their proposal would cost less than $100,000 over Paratransit’s offer.  Paratransit says it would bust the bank at 400 grand.  Lake Transit Authority’s Mark Wall has crunched some numbers that he claims mostly supports Paratransit’s position but has not been forthcoming with specifics.  I believe his figures are public information.

 This kind of discrepancy cannot be accounted for by merely choosing different but reasonable assumptions.  However, neither Paratransit or the Teamsters union have disclosed their methodology.  In addition to myself, CPA Peter Shifman and Mike Bailey, a retired Wall Street guy, have also been denied a crack at the numbers.  Its clear that if this truth gap is going to be closed the job will have to done by the public and riders directly.  The professional elites have failed us.

 This “riders” study has clearly stated assumptions that can be tightened up with specific facts that either Paratransit Services, the Teamster Union, or the Lake Transit Authority can supply.

It is the result of published bus schedules, media reports, the previous driver contract, my limited experience as a transit employee, my extensive experience as a bus rider, and hours of piece meal interviews with longtime drivers on the fly. The end result is a stitched together Frankenstudy but I believe it is based on pretty good information without political agendas.

 CPA Peter Shifman and myself agree that the whole medical issue shouldn’t have been part of the original negotiations due to the Affordable Care Act complicating the issue this year.  We should have been able to compare the Paratransit with the Union wage and benefit numbers without the largely irrelevant medical issue but this Union blunder allowed Paratransit to concoct outrageous fabrications.

 Nevertheless, the issue was in the negotiations so I had to assume a minimal level of voluntary participation on the part of the full time employees in the Union Proposal.

 My Grand Total of the Union Proposal is $151,807.02.   I turned in this report with some boring charts to the Lake Transit Authority at their February 12th meeting.

 It would seem that the Union’s estimate of their proposal was low-balled but Paratransit’s analysis was a product of magical thinking.  How could we explain the huge difference between the Union and Paratransit’s calculations?  The only place to find an answer is in the medical assumptions.

 Rather than 7 we could assume that all the other 13 eligible employees would sign up due to the $80 per month savings to them.  Additional cost: another $12,480.  Also, all employees would have to take advantage of the new spouse coverage, even if they had to get married first. Additional cost: $146,880.

Since I’m still short $88,833 of Paratransit’s 400 thousand inspiration I’ll just assume medical insurance rate increases for 40 employees and spouses (up from 7) of $2,221 per person over 3 years.   Presto: $400,000.  Not bad, since its all done with a medical plan that’s irrelevant as I type this.

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.

Report From Driver 39

A personal account of the struggle between Lake County bus drivers and Paratransit Services.
The video includes clips from a Transit Authority meeting, a KPFZ radio show, and news coverage by Shannon Nailor.

Lake Transit Diamond Number

By Dante DeAmicis

The bus driver labor dispute has ended.  The Lake Transit contractor labor policies are still an issue.  At this point residents need to focus on cost numbers to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth.  The fact that labor is contracted out does not absolve Lake Transit in the long run of the responsibility for what is in the contract.  The mysterious number that would answer most questions I call the “diamond number.”

This number is the total cost of the Union’s pre-strike contract proposal. Paratransit took one look at the Union’s demands, stated it would cost an extra half million, then stopped talking.  The drivers had two choices and good faith negotiations wasn’t one of them.  They could take the contractor’s first, last, and best offer or they could strike.  The drivers decided they swallowed what they had to in the last contract with Paratransit, so to maintain some vestige of self respect, this time they would strike – even if it meant their jobs.

This was a judgment call as far as the drivers were concerned but for those who depend on the buses for day to day transportation it was a lifestyle issue.  It was Lake County riders who were damaged the most in a labor/management struggle which clearly involved out-of-county parties with their own agendas.  The single best way to determine who was mostly at fault is to obtain the figures and crunch our own estimate for the cost of the Union’s demands, the trigger for all that followed.  Once this number is calculated by competent disinterested parties, we can begin a public campaign to hold those responsible for harming our residents and discourage this from happening in the future.

What are the components of this diamond number that will make further debate superfluous?  So far my algorithm looks like this. Everyone agrees the big issue was the 10 step raises the Union wanted replaced. Paratransit offered no step raises.  The senior driver stated these steps averaged 44 cents an hour for each step.  This was the one solid figure I could get from a driver.  The one public number was disagreement over the cost of living increase amount.  The Union wanted 2 to 2.5 cents an hour more.  I am going to high-ball my crunch at a flat 2.5 cents an hour more.

Now we get to the hardest number to figure because of assumptions that need to be made.  Other than a few entry level drivers, everyone “bids” on fixed route/run packages based on seniority.  What we need are the number of budgeted hours in each package, the wage of each driver assigned to each package, and the “odds and ends” hours that will probably be filled by entry level drivers.  The difficulty is in guessing what bid package drivers will choose as their seniority increases.  Due to lifestyle considerations, we cannot assume everyone will choose a route with an increase in hours just because a driver is now eligible to choose it.

This leaves the medical co-payment issue.  This issue also requires an assumption.  When economists are clueless about a non trivial probability they usually assume 50 per cent so they will be better than 50 percent right. So unless a knowledgeable person has a clear reason for a different figure, I will assume that a substantial reduction in driver co-pay will result in doubling the number of full timers that will subscribe for medical coverage. I just need the change in co-pay the Union demanded and the number of full time drivers currently subscribing.

An e-mail from Lake Transit’s Mark Wall indicated that the Authority has always publicized pay rates.  Teamsters representative Ralph Miranda stated his excel spreadsheet projection was public.

I am inviting the Teamsters Union, Paratransit Services, and Lake Transit Authority to submit any figures required in the previous paragraphs to create a transparent empirical picture for the transit using residents of Lake County.