Route 12, 4pm

On September 6th the Lake Transit Board finalized substantial cuts in bus service to Lake County residents. Some cuts were on runs that few people use. However, at least two routes that were cut either jeopardize public safety or eliminate service to Social Services for the entire afternoon for most County residents.

Were all of these cuts necessary in hard times? My answer based on some experience and a lot of number crunching is “no”. Specifically, I redesigned three routes in my own report so the necessary savings could be made while compromising the fewest number of people. This report was sent to all elected representatives on the Board but was not mentioned in the analysis of public comment.

During the September meeting the Lake Transit General Manager, Mark Wall, glossed over a couple problems by combining them with issues that were resolved. This confusion was around cutting the 4pm Route 12 to Social Services. Although it was not brought up by the General Manager, the last appointment at social services is at 4:30pm. After conferring with disabled riders and IHSS workers I confirmed there is almost no allowance for being late. You would have to make another appointment.

My report mentioned that late appointments could “leave” by Route 10 if Social Services did not mind people waiting outside for an extra half hour after all the employees left. I assume this is what Wall was referring to when he said Social Services did not see a problem. He did not elaborate. The problem of arriving will remain.

In spite of scheduled connection glitches cited in my report, Wall deferred to Wanda Gray, the Operations Manager, who said people could take Route 10 to Social Services in the afternoon. This only works for Clearlake residents. Route 10 cannot connect with late regionals. My report showed clearly that it is impossible for riders in Middletown, Cobb, and Kelseyville to get to Social Services for an afternoon appointment. Northshore and Lakeport will have to take the Route 1 that leaves one hour earlier and spend more time waiting at  Social Services.

Here is how the drill works. All you (or a Board member) need to check this scenario is a bus schedule. Currently, late afternoon Social Services appointments is served by the 2:10pm Lakeport Route 4 and the 2:30 Sutter Hospital Route 1. The 2:10 will arrive at Walmart at 3:10 after the 3pm Route 10 has left. Wait for the next bus? The 4pm Route 10 will get you to Social Services at 4:38, too late for the last appointment of the day. The 2:30 Route 1 also gets you to Social Services, via Route 10, at 4:38. But at least there is an earlier 1:30 Route 1 where someone can connect with the  last planned Route 12 at 3pm. This is barely doable for functional people.

People in Kelseyville, Middletown, or Cobb do not even have this option since there is no possible way to leave in the afternoon and make an afternoon appointment. Kelseyville would have to take the 11am Route 4. Middletown would have to take the 10:21am Route 3. And Cobb would have to take the 10:53am Route 2 to transfer to the Route 4, leaving Kelseyville at 11:27.

Many people want to dismiss the issue by just saying people can ask for a morning appointment instead of the first available time. Yes they can….and wait longer for an appointment. Though several cuts are unnecessary, cutting the 4pm Route 12 almost seems intended to cause the maximum amount of suffering for the most people while saving the least amount of money.

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.

Who Will Drive My Bus?

As you know, we live in a market economy. Any attempt to buy something by paying less than the market price for a good or service results in a shortage or just plain no-takers. The alternative to making a better offer is to go to a slightly different market where your price may be accepted.

The obvious choice is to consider lowering quality, which tends to reduce price. In the case of transit drivers this may not be feasible to do on paper due to government regulations. Changing the paper is always a possibility but that takes a lot of work and creativity.

I have been proposing several recruiting strategies that appeal to niche markets. These will take a lot of effort and any one strategy won’t be very productive. The likely result of not changing our bus driver hiring practices will be canceled routes due to staff shortage.

The regular meetings of the Lake Transit Authority is a good first stop to make recruiting suggestions. In recent meetings I have suggested implementing a two year internship program that would enhance drivers employability for other jobs. The over 55  market is already well represented in driver ranks but we need to outreach to those who have given up in an otherwise disinterested market for older workers.

As the situation gets more desperate I have recommended raiding Napa for bus drivers with materials showing that the lower pay in Lake County would be offset by cheaper housing prices. Tighter definitions of background checks would allow expungement assistance by an auxiliary group. Many crimes would still be beyond expungement.

In a more innovative vein, we could hire a flex person with the guarantee of full time status after one year of reliable service. We could also take a big gulp of reality and acknowledge that many people need two part time jobs to survive but its hard to coordinate work schedules. The offer of a negotiated, fixed schedule would pull in a couple drivers who already have a part time job. And yes, flexibility needs would limit the number of fixed schedule drivers possible.

Another barrier to hiring two-job people is scheduling for only a few hours nearly every day. We have lost several quality people due to this practice. This reduces the chances of going to another job on those days. It would be more attractive to driver applicants to offer full day scheduling to accommodate work at other jobs on other days.

These measures require ongoing staff time and thinking outside the employment box. But another obvious step to recruiting does not. There needs to be a more effective job listing in CalJobs, the interlinked goto job board maintained by EDD. However the Paratransit notice for drivers is not optimized for keywords like “driver” or “bus” or “bus driver.” A short list of Clearlake “driver” jobs does not include our bus driver position. Job openings at the Lake County site only pop up in a complete dump of all job openings within 10 miles of the bus yard. Most people will not wade through pages of irrelevant listings.

The text of this elusive job notice could be rewritten also. Remember, qualified applicants are not lined up outside the door. If the pay offered is not top tier you need to sell the job to applicant buyers. There seems to be resistance to making effective pitches to potential drivers. Maybe someone who understands how the market system works needs to take over the driver recruiting job.

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.

Going Like 60

by Dante DeAmicis

I’m turning 60 tomorrow. I guess I can’t be called too young to know what I’m talking about anymore.  Of course, I’ve noticed that many people can live to a thousand and they will still be too young to know what they are talking about.  Knowledge and wisdom is progress forward minus backsliding.  Even with the support structure of organizations and intellectual models it seems that humanity keeps getting dumber and dumber.  Its all so sad.  I’ve had to leave behind so many fellow travelers, babbling nonsense on the side of life’s highway.  Ideological baggage was shed piece by piece so there would be space to pocket gems picked up along the way.  Sometimes its just a grain of gold I caught in the light of day.

But the journey is not over yet, not by a long shot.  In fact, the path forward is studded with manifested truths, large and small, just waiting for me to stumble over them.  Such as, just recently it occurred to me that what we call the holiday season is really an obstacle course.  It is not really a specific period at all.  Thanksgiving appears to be a warm up event for the real holiday frenzy.  It doesn’t seem to have a coherent point by itself.  Right after this weak excuse for a four day weekend not much happens except isolated zombie shopping with no special regard for the time of year or our fellow man.

Gradually, as the Winter solstice approaches, people start taking various numbers of vacation days to begin an extended circuit of family whistle stops around the country.  Coverage at businesses and hospitals gets thinner and thinner even though we are still only “approaching” the holidays.  The calendar becomes a free-for-all on Christmas Eve, defined as the whole day before Christmas.  Some are off some aren’t.  Most get off early.  Christmas is holiday ground zero, ignoring the pagans’ claim that the original Bacchanalia started on the Solstice.  Once again, some get a day-after rest period, some don’t.  And again, some lucky employees are off and some small businesses are closed until after New Years.

Bottom line, there is no clear holiday shut down and ramp up section on the calendar.  Its more of a series of skirmishes of varying participation.  What is the reason for this?  Obviously capitalism is to blame.  The 10 day pagan Saturnalia was to be reduced under Christian management to a day off in the middle, a day off at the end, and maybe an hour off early the night before.  We weren’t supposed to mention the Solstice unless we wanted a lump of coal in our stocking.

The problem is that rather than either one big week and a half party or a sweat shop two days off, we get an indeterminate period of poor functioning.  The solution: bring back the Solstice.  That’s around December 21st for the astronomically challenged.  This way we get a clean holiday shut down and a building of the festive mood, then a mellowing til January 1st.  People who have to work would get double time during this official holiday season.

…..On a more political note, Lake County is a job destroyer.  There is no money here except from State and Federal checks.  A few pot farms and vineyards are arguing over who is in second place but neither produce many jobs.  This year I had two low paid jobs shot out from under me by government policies.

Clearlake put in a taxi regulatory scheme that was proven to be boiler plated from a large city.  But there is no big city taxi money here so drivers and owners would be working for less money under a morass of regulations that the City itself does not understand.  After I complained the City Administer said the regulations were required by the Motor Vehicle Code, the PUC, and their cooperative insurance carrier.  These sources were easy to check and easier to disprove.  Did anyone care that the administrator was proven to be a liar and had a class war agenda?  No, it passed the council unanimously.

My next job was driving the transit bus during a period of tense labor negotiations.  The managing political authority wrote up a contract with a private managing company that basically let them do whatever they wanted labor-wise.  Then the Board threw up their hands and said “The contract won’t let us interfere.”  When these out of county goons forced a strike they had already lined up a flood of union busters from five of their bus companies in three states.

The end result was the elimination of wage structures that had existed for years.  Every driver was to make starting wage…forever. Well, that’s not quite true.  After a driver is licensed, trained, and minimally experienced they can get a decent driving job elsewhere, ultimately leaving no one except beginning drivers behind.  Many striking drivers and non striking but problematic drivers such as myself were not called back.  Check out my video on this sorry story “Report From Driver 39.”

Most of the jobs I’ve been applying for are “temporary/part-time/on call/minimum wage.  The managers dug in here are psychopaths who were exiled from decent places that don’t promote hostile work places.  That’s Lake County and that’s the way the small minded goobers who run things want it.  Taking the bus to Napa or Ukiah is looking better and better.

Now about my birthday bicycle trip.  I’ve been researching the old surveyed railroad route from Napa to Lake County.  It never happened but it was an exciting attempt that occupies a place in history.  The idea is to plan a bicycle event that roughly follows where the tracks would have been laid.  Who knows what this line would have been called. But I’m declaring this train themed bike tour the “Konocti Kannonball Run.”  Kind of catchy, don’t you think?  My birthday ride will be a partial recreation with video and photos.  I’ll take a lot of notes.

The high points after leaving Highway 29 in Middletown are Pope Valley, Butts Canyon, Chiles Valley, then dropping down into Napa Valley through Saga and Conn Canyons. Going into the city of Napa by the original identified roads, the trip will officially end at the old trestle site on Napa Creek. The trestle is long gone but there is a new foot and bicycle bridge in its place. This is in the new old town tourist district. After basking in glory, its a pizza and a bus back to Lake County. Look for the photos.

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.