SILVER SPRING — The president of Metro’s largest union says recent management decisions put riders at risk of losing their jobs due to tardiness.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 president Jackie Jeter is criticizing WMATA managers’ decision to allow contractors to run shuttle bus services while a Red Line station was closed last month because deficiencies in the shuttle service created a risk that riders might lose their jobs due to tardiness.
Metro management paid private bus operators to transport riders between Silver Spring Station and Fort Totten Station when WMATA temporarily closed Takoma Station for a capital improvement project. Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly had said the long trip times and long lines of people waiting to board at Silver Spring Station Nov. 27 were due to traffic caused by an unrelated vehicle crash that day.
However, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 president Jackie Jeter – whose union represents more than 9,000 Metro employees – attributed the shuttle delays Nov. 27 and 28 to WMATA’s decision to use private buses operated by contract bus operators rather than Metrobus drivers and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority vehicles.
“Metro needs to take responsibility for their piss-poor planning. This shutdown – which is SafeTrack, only by another name – was announced over the summer,” Jeter said. “They had time to prepare, yet here we are with private contractors who can’t get the job done in a way that gives the riding public the Metro service they deserve,” she added.
Todd Brogan, a field specialist for an affiliated international organization, Amalgamated Transit Union International, agreed with Jeter.
“The service... we would have high capacity, [and] more effective, better customer service,” Brogan said. “Because they didn’t [use WMATA resources] the service was a disaster the first 48 hours.”
Standard WMATA buses can carry more passengers than the coach-style buses, which are often chartered by private groups for long trips and resemble buses used for ticketed long-distance bus service. The articulated, or accordion-style buses WMATA uses on some routes have an even greater capacity.
Ly said Metro used the accordion-style buses along with the contractor buses to shuttle riders during the shutdown.
Brogan said Metrobus drivers are more familiar with the area of the shuttle bus route, compared with the contracted drivers, which provides for better quality service.
Jeter referred back to the added trip times the morning of Nov. 27.
“No one on the Red Line during rush hour can afford to get to work two hours late without fear of discipline,” said Jeter. “Furthermore, if a Local 689 member were to report to Metro two hours late they would probably be fired. These are the policies of a company who has complete disregard for our riders responsibility to get to work on time.”
Local 689 spokesperson David Stephen claimed Metro officials hired contractors for the temporary shuttle service as part of an ongoing effort to hire contractors to do the work of unionized Metro employees.
“ATU Local 689 sees bringing in these workers as a direct attempt to undermine their contractual obligation, and also a demonstration of the lack of consideration to riders,” Local 689 officials said Nov. 29.
Metro spokesperson Richard Jordan responded that Metrobus operators are involved in providing shuttle service during the Takoma Station shutdown on the Red Line, which continues through Dec. 10.
“Operating Red Line shuttle service – a near-replication of the capacity of our busiest rail line – requires roughly 40 buses operating continuously,” Jordan said Tuesday. “On weekdays, Metro is using private contractor support for shuttle bus service so as not to impact regular bus service for the 400,000 customers who depend on Metrobus. Metro employees are involved for certain functions, including providing shuttle service on weekends.”
Despite the use of contractors, Metrobus operators did shuttle riders using wheelchairs or scooters during the shutdown because the coach-style buses lack the necessary equipment to transport passengers with those needs.
As Brogan pointed out the dozens of people in line for shuttle service at Silver Spring Station on November 30, he wondered what other services WMATA would replace with contractors, and observed that WMATA seems to be leaning toward continuing to increase the amount of work completed by contractors instead of unionized employees. Contractors have operated Metro Access, WMATA’s paratransit service for riders with disabilities since it launched in 1994.
“My primary concern is that this seems like an experiment on riders of shuttle privatization,” Brogan said.
Last month Metro procurement officials released a request for proposal for maintaining and operating bus lines in a new Metro facility, Cinder Bed Road bus facility in Virginia.
Local 689 members are scheduled to protest the privatization of the new Cinder Bed Road bus facility onsite in Lorton, Virginia on Thursday. WMATA officials are scheduled to meet there with representatives of companies interested in the bus operation and management contract.