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Union Says Don’t Blame Drivers For Late Phoenix Buses

Phoenix Bus McDowell Route 17 First Transit
Christina Estes/KJZZ
file | staff
Phoenix will identify three foundation corridors for Bus Rapid Transit.

As Phoenix transit leaders push the city’s bus service provider to improve performance, the union representing drivers is weighing in.

In a letter addressed to Phoenix’s city manager, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1433 says the company is trying to blame employees for buses running late. Instead, ATU says the company stretched an already too-thin workforce and equipment while increasing service.

Michael Cornelius, financial secretary and treasurer of ATU Local 1433, wrote: “While we continue to stand ready to assist First Transit in improving performance, we cannot allow our members to be used as the excuse for failed contractor performance.”

As KJZZ reported last week, Phoenix officials determined First Transit failed to live up to its contract, which includes 12 major routes. The city sent a letter demanding the company do better and even began withholding payments. In its response, First Transit blamed a tight labor market, high turnover and service expansions.

The expansions were part of Proposition 104, a voter-approved initiative to increase and extend a sales tax to primarily fund transportation projects. Phoenix refers to the 35-year plan as T2050 and it included extra hours and increased frequency of bus service.

A city spokesman told KJZZ they held extensive talks with First Transit and another contractor that handles other city routes. The spokesman says the expansion was done in two phases to ensure both companies could hire enough staff to operate and maintain their fleets. The other company, Transdev, has received no warning letter from the city.

In its formal written Notice to Cure, the city gave First Transit until July 16 to show “marked improvement.” Lars Jacoby, public information officer for Phoenix Public Transit, provided the following update:

"While July 16, 2017, is mentioned as a milestone date in the letter, staff from both the city and First Transit will continue to work together towards improving performance metrics through at least the next several months, and through the remainder of the contract (June 2018) . Improved performance by that date is only the beginning of what the city hopes to see on a continuously improving basis. "One piece of key data for June shows that First Transit’s on-time performance (OTP) improved from 93.34 percent in May to 94.4 percent in June, and the city hopes to see similar improvements in various other areas of contractor performance. Staff is also monitoring activities at the transit facility to ensure First Transit is following through on the many commitments and activities they have proposed in order to improve their performance."

Jacoby acknowledged receipt of the letter from ATU Local 1433, expressed appreciation for the feedback and said, “Our staff will review the letter and discuss its content with the city manager's office.”

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.