County officials say they’ll review an alternate cost study done by drivers; savings to Stage budget at issue in ongoing debate over schedule and service changes
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Local bus drivers for the Summit Stage once again aired their grievances about a schedule change, telling the county commissioners this week that the switch from a four-day to a five-day work week is not justified by the cost-savings identified by an outside transit consultant.
The Stage has been pinched by the general decline in sales tax revenues the past year. In response, the transit board cut back on service for the second summer in a row. At the same time, director John Jones ordered a transit study to look for additional savings. He said the results showed that the move to a five-day work week would cut annual costs by more than $160,000.
Drivers with Stage did an alternate analysis of the numbers. They claim the schedule shift will actually cost the county more money than it saves. Those numbers were at issue during a transit board meeting two weeks ago, when board members said they would look at the information to try and get a better picture of the situation. Transit board members said it’s unlikely they would switch the schedule back for this summer, but indicated they would try and restore the four-day work week when the Stage goes back to a winter schedule.
County officials said they hope to analyze the numbers provided by the drivers by the end of this week.
“They have some legitimate concerns,” said assistant county manager Scott Vargo. “But we think we’ve been really reasonable. It’s difficult for the drivers to know that … We’re going to try and review the cost analysis done by the drivers before the end of this week,” he said. “We owe it to them to explain why or how we’ve arrived at these numbers.”
Vargo said that, while the county plans a thorough review of the cost study done by the drivers, staff is fairly confident that the schedule change based on the outside consultant report will result in a legitimate cost-savings to the county.
At the same time, the drivers’ union is engaged in wage negotiations with the county. Some drivers have also expressed concerns about the cutback to hourly service for part of the day under the summer schedule, set to take effect next week.
Bill Acuff, who is negotiating on behalf of the drivers, said the county all but promised taxpayers to provide 30-minute service when the last sales tax hike for Stage funding was passed by voters. He pointed to language in the approving resolution, but county officials dispute that there is any legal obligation to run buses every half hour.
“I gave the staff a lemon because this left such a sour taste in the mouths of the drivers,” Acuff said, adding that about 10 drivers showed up at the county commissioner meeting. He is asking the county to revert back to a four-day work week with 30-minute service in order to save the jobs of drivers about to laid off.
“Why should we contribute to unemployment if we don’t have to?” he concluded.