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Phoenix-area transit users affected by strike

by D.S. Woodfill, Luci Scott, Laurie Merrill and Kristena Hansen

The Republic |

Authorities Sunday urged tens of thousands of bus riders in Phoenix to seek another way to work Monday morning as a strike by drivers brought bus service to a crawl over the weekend.

Tempe told its riders to also be prepared to find another way to work or school.

Phoenix officials said Sunday they had demanded more bus operators and buses from Veolia Transportation Services as the strike entered its second day, leaving many passengers stranded.

According to Valley Metro, 50 of the 101 bus routes system-wide reported reduced service or no service at all. Union members voted to strike against Veolia after a 22-month contract impasse over wages and benefits.

In Phoenix, 17 of the 27 routes Veolia operates were operating Sunday, and they had longer-than-usual wait times, said Matthew Heil, spokesman for the Transit Department. The other 10 routes had no service at all.

In Tempe, nine of the 14 routes normally operated by the company on Sunday had service.

Officials from both cities said they didn’t know how long the strike would last.

Veolia said Sunday that a federal mediator had been in touch with the union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, and that both sides have agreed to meet Tuesday at 1 p.m. Union officials did not return calls for comment.

Some buses in Phoenix and Tempe are provided by other contractors and are not affected by the strike. Light-rail service also is not affected.

Marie Chapple, a Phoenix transit spokeswoman, said the city pays the company up to $6 million a month on a per-mile basis.

“The (fewer) miles they run, the less they get paid,” she said. “So, it’s a monetary loss to them.”

When and how often Phoenix and Tempe residents can ride a bus during this morning’s commute will depend on how many bus drivers show up for work.

In all, about 950 drivers went on strike over the weekend – nearly 310 Tempe bus drivers and more than 640 in Phoenix.

More than 8,300 riders typically ride a bus Sunday in Tempe, which skyrockets to about 31,000 riders a weekday.

Phoenix officials said Veoila has about 90,000 boardings on an average weekday. The number is about 55,000 on weekend days.

Veolia spokeswoman Valerie Michael apologized to commuters for the disruptions.

“We know this is painful. … We’re doing everything we can to get service safely restored,” she said.

Michael said the union has not made clear to the company what the sticking point is.

“When we started negotiations, we had 56 articles on the table, and all but six have been resolved for some time,” she said.

Carla Johnson, a bus driver for five years, said the company offered only a half-cent hourly pay increase. Meanwhile, the company is proposing to increase out-of-pocket insurance costs by 29 percent, she said.

She said she’s already paying about $80 in out-of-pocket costs to cover her and her family.

Angel Martinez, a bus driver for over four years, said his out-of-pocket expenses to cover himself, his wife and four kids was about $300.

Having to pay more would be a serious hardship, he said.

Joe Parker, a driver for 10 years, said driving buses in the Valley is a high-risk job and that strikers are only asking to be compensated fairly.

Parker and other strikers said drivers are routinely accosted and some are even physically assaulted.

In the past two weeks, she said, announcements have been made on buses letting riders know of the possibility of a strike.

“A strike is chaotic, and we’re trying to manage the chaos as best we can by giving passengers the information we know,” Chapple said.

Posted by on Mar 12 2012. Filed under Latest News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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