February 2012 Board Meeting

(I stopped doing these specific posts on the monthly BFT board meetings a while back. However, I think last night’s meeting warrants a post about it. In the future, I’ll only do these board meeting specific posts when I feel the need to.)

If I had to summarize this month’s board meeting, I would simply say this: It is going to be an interesting year for BFT.

Ever since I started regularly attending the board meetings, the attendance has always been rather sparse. For most meetings, it was only myself, another rider and DAR driver who are also regular attendee’s, and a representative from the CAC (Citizen’s Advisory Committee). At last night’s meeting, people had to listen in from outside the meeting room, as somewhere between 60-70 fixed-route and DAR drivers had shown up to the meeting.

Something that hasn’t been getting much discussion in the public face (or rather, something I really didn’t know much about) is this underlying tension between the unionized drivers and the admin/board.  From what I’ve gotten from things I’ve overheard/talks with drivers, it’s not just one issue but a multitude. When the union contracts were last renegotiated, only the mechanics got a raise of 2.5%. Other unionized employees did not see a raise. (I think there were also some non-unionized employees who saw raises.) The union seems to also be upset for the continued study that’s being put forth into the feasibility of a Hanford worker-driver bus program, something which they have been adamantly against since Richard Bloom (the West Richland board representative, now former employee at Hanford) first proposed it. When the public had to leave the meeting room for an executive session, I went outside as all the drivers did so too. Someone who I presume is the Teamster’s president (the union that represents both fixed-route and DAR drivers) was addressing all the drivers that showed up. I didn’t hear the entire conversation, but I caught bits and pieces of it. From the sound of it, there’s going to be some drivers picketing either this Sunday, or sometime soon. The one crucial thing I should mention is that in the drivers contract, there is a strict “no-strike” clause in it. However, if what I was told by one driver today is true, then there is no current contract between the drivers and BFT, and unless I’m mistaken there would be no ability to enforce a no-strike rule. All I know is that things are going to get interesting…

Beyond all this, there was other things addressed at the meeting.

Sometime in May, BFT is going to be conducting its first onboard survey of riders in 4 years. (For a timeline reference, that would have been before routes/service hours started to be cut.) Staff are still working on a final version of the survey, getting input from the Planning & Marketing Committee as well as the CAC. Kathy McMullen, BFT’s Service Development Manager, said that they want to have the survey put out sometime in May. The survey will be handed out by drivers on board buses, who will collect completed surveys and hand them in to staff.  Tri-City Taxi, the contractor for Night Service and Taxi Feeder, will also be giving these surveys to riders of those services. It was also noted that Vanpool will be conducting the survey by email and paper copies. I really hope that BFT does decide to also conduct the survey on its website, as the more results they can get, the better information they’ll have.

Also important to riders is the possibility that we’ll be seeing a fare increase this year. BFT had said that a fare increase would be considered for 2012 last year. With the prospect of record prices for gas and diesel, as well as continually increasing costs for operations, I think it’s almost a guarantee we’ll be seeing the fare increase. Public hearings, talks with the CAC and Administration & Finance Committee, and legal notices/public releases will all be conducted as part of the process. If the fare increase is adopted, it’ll result in a 20% increase for most fare media (with some exceptions). To see the whole list, you can view this photo. The bright side is that things aren’t “bad” for BFT, which can’t be said for other agencies like MBTA. When the subject becomes more relevant, I’ll have a full-on post covering it.

Over in Benton City, a proposal to move the Benton City Park-and-Ride is being considered. This was brought up a couple of months ago, but with communications now being formalized, things are starting to move forward. Currently, the Benton City P&R is located at the corner of Dale Ave and 9th St. (See the map here.) The city wants to move it two blocks east to a property at the SW corner of Dale Ave and 7th St. The main reason for this possible move is because a local pharmacy approached the city about using the property to expand their business. The reason that BFT has to be involved is because when the P&R was originally constructed, the stipulation for BFT’s financial contribution was that they got a 20-year lease on the property. Personally, I don’t see any reason for this move, but I won’t be surprised if it happens. However, there is one important factor that has to be considered. Benton City also has a P&R located at Exit 96 off I-82, which is also next to the intersection of State Highways 224/225. The intersection has become a bit of a bottleneck, and so WSDOT has been working on ways to redesign the intersection. The solution they (currently) plan to go with is a 5-branch roundabout, which require the current P&R to be relocated to a property just east of the area (See the map here.) This effort is going to require a lot of inter-agency work to come up with a solution favorable for all involved. My hope is that BFT sticks to their guns and doesn’t get the short stick in the process.

For the Vanpool program, BFT was able to get a grant from WSDOT to help pay for 14 replacement vans. The grant will cover 70% of the cost, with local match covering the rest. However, the purchase in total will be for 31 replacement vans, most of which have been in service for a long time and are overdue to be retired. The purchase sadly will not be an opportunity to expand the Vanpool fleet, which there is an obvious demand for, but it’s still a good step that does have to be taken. It was also mentioned that local non-profits will have the opportunity to purchase the vans being retired for $500.

Next week, I’m hoping to have some more info about everything going on with the union, and I’ll have another post on that.


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