David Vartanoff depends on the bus to take him to jobs as an electrician at homes in the Bay Area, often on evenings and weekends. If service cuts proposed by AC Transit are approved Wednesday, the Oakland resident said, "That option will be gone. I can walk or I can stay home."
A cost-saving proposal to cut weekend service in half and eliminate all but two of the agency's overnight bus lines is on the agenda as the bus agency struggles with a financial crisis. Options include eliminating 39 of 56 weekend bus routes, saving $12.5 million; cutting four of the six overnight lines, saving $1 million; and outsourcing paratransit buses for seniors and the disabled, saving $600,000 to $1.1 million.
The transit district, engaged in acrimonious contract negotiations with its largest labor union, had planned to cut service by about 7 percent in August. AC Transit put off those reductions after a judge prohibited the agency from imposing working conditions, designed to save $15.7 million, on its drivers and mechanics, and ordered the agency to let an arbitrator settle the contract dispute. The agency now says it needs to make much deeper cuts.
The district has projected a budget deficit of $56 million by June. Its overall budget is $323 million. The agency is seeking to cover the deficit via cuts in labor costs and other avenues. AC Transit raised fares more than 25 cents extra per trip this year and made service cuts in March, but it has not yet closed the deficit.
The service reductions would be effective in December.
"AC Transit is taking a hard-line position too quickly regarding the additional service cuts," said Claudia Hudson, chief negotiator for Amalgamated Transit Local 192, the union for 1,750 AC Transit bus drivers, mechanics and other workers. "I don't think AC Transit is in a situation where they have to make a drastic move to cut night and weekend service."
AC Transit's top executive saw the situation differently.
"AC Transit must act to stop the hemorrhaging now," said Mary King, AC Transit's interim general manager. "We are applying tourniquets wherever possible in order to remain solvent and sustain some level of service during undeniably difficult budget times for all public transit agencies. Once we have stabilized the agency we will look for ways to restore service when funding is available."
The proposal would eliminate four of the agency's six all-nighter lines, which operate from 1 a.m.-5 a.m. daily. It would also eliminate the weekend F bus run from San Francisco to Berkeley and almost completely eliminate AC Transit service to Union City. "If you live along one of (the) major trunk lines, you are OK," Vartanoff said. "But if you or your church or doctor's office or kids or parents aren't along those routes, you are out of luck."
Contact Janis Mara at 925-952-2671. Follow her at Twitter.com/jmara.