AC TRANSIT VS. OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: MUCH ADO ABOUT WRONG THINGS

For those not familiar with this fight, it started when Oakland Schools realized last January that it had a major budget shortfall . Only five months earlier, O.U.S.D. issued a press release touting its financial strength.

After first refusing to pay AC Transit almost $2 Million past due under its agreement to pay AC Transit $2.25 Million per year for dedicated school bus service, Oakland Schools decided to cancel the agreement; but it is still expecting that the same service will happen next year.

In response, AC Transit told Oakland Schools that it would cut dedicated  service to Skyline High School, Montara Middle School, and Community Day Schools, which together due to their remote location, account for about 2/3rds of the $4.5 Million cost of the special service to all Oakland Schools.

Understandably, the parents at those 3 schools are quite upset, so on May 4 at 6pm, AC will hold a community meeting at a place to be determined where they and their children will strongly encourage AC to continue the service; and at its later meeting on May 10, the AC Board of Directors will decide what to do. If you consider that the annual payment from Oakland Schools for the service is minuscule in a $400 Million annual operating budget, it appears almost comical. What is not comical however is that the whole thing is the consequence of what happens when two agencies, each having lost control of their operational expenses, come into conflict.

The cause for the Schools’ spending problem is better known by the public; but AC’s spending problem is largely unknown. With respect to this situation, AC’s spending problem is evident in something East Bay people see for hours every mid-day,  buses with very few people in them. That observation is the most revealing aspect of the fact that for the last 20 years, AC’s contract with its drivers allows AC to hire only full-time drivers.

You see, all the drivers needed to take kids to and from school have to be paid for the rest of the day; and those driver’s extended work needs are on top of those same needs of the extra drivers AC uses to take adult passengers to and from work, especially as needed for AC’s Transbay service. The costs for the special school service given above are just the costs for the time spent serving the schools. If the consequential cost of too much service in the mid-day were added, it could be 50% higher.

When AC could hire part time drivers, it was considered the premier transit agency in the Bay Area. Today, there is even more demand for well-paying part time jobs, and our full-time job openings go wanting. Word is out that full-time driving on many of AC’s lines is too stressful. Daily driver absenteeism is over 20%. The union’s regressive insistence for inapplicable bygone job profiles is against the best interest of it’s own drivers and the Bay Area’s available work force; but that’s predictable. The quandary is management’s reluctance to challenge it.

I was not on the Board when the contract changed, so I cannot definitively say why it did, but I have my suspicions. AC’s Board of Directors is one of only three or four in the United States (BART is another) that is publicly elected; and I can attest that the drivers’ union by far takes the largest financial contribution and phoning-power interest in the election of AC’s board members. It is now to the point that the Board dares not even direct management to raise the issue in contract negotiations. Nor are AC’s service planners being allowed to study what better service would come from it. It’s plain old political money and power at work.

So here is what I am going to say to the parents and students who come to the meeting on May 4th and to my fellow Board members on May 10. I know how important it is for families to be able to rely on the transit service they have been using, at least until they can make other arrangements. For that reason AC Transit should continue the service through the 2017-18 school year. But let me be absolutely clear, dedicated school service must end after that year, at least for those 3 schools, and probably for all schools in AC’s service area. AC lacks both buses and drivers, and in the Spring of 2018, the new Transbay Transit Center will be fully operational. At that point, the pent up demand, due to BART’s lack of capacity, for additional transbay service will be overwhelmingly more lucrative for AC Transit to perform. Given our driver’s contract, to do otherwise would be to follow O.U.S.D. into financial chaos. 

Transbay Terminal News

PISA, ANYONE? No doubt you have probably heard of our 58 story sinking and leaning tower next door. One of the things I want is for the TJPA be absolutely transparent about what it knew, when it knew it, and who it told about the problem. Already it has taken a big step toward that as you might tell from our press releases to date: http://transbaycenter.org/news-information/press-room/press-releases

At the next TJPA board meeting though, I intend to propose that the TJPA take a further step by making available on its website every single document that it delivers or discovers through the litigation or in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The TJPA is a public agency, so what it knows or discovers, the public should be able to easily discover. The process of discovery, and fights over discovery, is what drags litigation out. I’ m hoping that by making everything known early, the litigation might end sooner. Fortunately for the TJPA, between its contractual indemnification rights and its own liability insurance, whatever happens it is well protected.

It may be though that if most of the liability cannot be pinned on others, some group of investors are looking at hundreds of millions of dollars in financial exposure, with much of that uninsured. For them, if bankruptcy is foreseeable, the litigation costs are minor in comparison to those loses, so ala-Trump they may choose to litigate for a long time before conceding.

Welcome

I am running for election to a 5th term as AC Transit Director for Ward 2 (Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, Piedmont). If re-elected, most of my posts will be devoted to apprising readers of important issues before and decisions by AC Transit and the Transbay Joint Powers Agency, on which I now serve as chair.

From the outset, I want to include how those issues and decisions fit into local, state, and national politics. Eventually, I would like to broaden the discussion into local, California, and national politics in general.

We have to come to grips with the dysfunctionality that has seized national politics, and consider its possible consequences. Other than with respect to judicial appointments, I am not sure that even a Senate takeover by Democrats will much alleviate the seizure. For transportation development, the seizure will be transformative at best and catastrophic at worst; and I fear that other areas of public policy will fare the same.

For the next few weeks though, my mode of transit will be that of floating down the South Fork of the Flathead River through Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. In late August, I plan to start posting. If you are interested in the conversation, please sign up for the ride.

Greg Harper