Talks to resume
over bus contract

The federal mediator
sets up negotiations
to begin this morning

Negotiators on both sides of the Oahu bus strike plan to return to the bargaining table this morning for the first time since talks broke down Thursday night.

Officials for the union representing bus drivers, Teamsters Local 996, and the company that runs TheBus for the city, Oahu Transit Services, are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. in conference rooms at the Neal Blaisdell exhibition hall.

Yesterday, union and management officials were hesitant to say whether taking a break over the holiday weekend would hurt or help negotiations.

"It all depends on the company being reasonable," said Teamsters business representative T.K. Hannemann. "We felt like we're being more than reasonable."

Hannemann said it was federal mediator Carol Catanzariti who pushed for the meeting. OTS officials also said Catanzariti left a message for their negotiators on Labor Day saying the union was interested in talking again.

"I don't know if she prompted them," said OTS Chief Negotiator Perry Confalone. "Our invitation has always been to resume, and we're glad they're coming back."

On Thursday, OTS and the Teamsters rejected each other's contract proposals. According to Teamsters President Mel Kahele, the union's proposal included no wage increases for the first year and a 50 cents-an-hour wage increase for the second and third years.

Confalone said the union rejected the company's proposal of no wage increases for the first two years of the contract with a provision to reopen talks about a possible wage increase during the third year.

TheBus handles an estimated 240,000 trips a day. The strike, which began at 12:04 a.m. Aug. 26, left the city and state scrambling for ways to lessen the blow to traffic and the island's economy. Oahu bus riders have been forced to drive, walk, ride bikes or find other modes of transportation.

The strike has also hurt Handi-Van service to disabled residents. The service is running at about 60 percent capacity. Handi-Van drivers are union members and work for OTS, but are not striking because they are covered by a separate contract. The company has curtailed Handi-Van service, in part because the vans are serviced at the Middle Street bus barn behind picket lines.

Strikers continue picketing yesterday at Middle Street and the Manana Yard bus facility in Pearl City.

Hannemann said many of the union's negotiators are also strike captains and that Teamsters were scrambling yesterday to make sure picketing shifts were covered when they went back into negotiations.

"We've been notifying them by phone ... trying to get everyone on the same page," he said. "It's all set up."

Last week, both sides were optimistic a settlement could be reached after Mayor Jeremy Harris and the City Council assured the union that plans for bus service cutbacks and driver layoffs would be dropped. The city is now looking to raise bus fares and use the added revenue to fill a $6.8 million shortfall.

After the city's assurance, OTS officials told the union last Wednesday that it would offer a "status quo" deal with no changes from the previous contract. OTS President and General Manager James Cowen sent a letter to the union stating that if the City Council passes legislation to raise bus fares before Sept. 24, "there will be no service reductions and no layoffs. No workers will have any of their current benefits reduced."

But union officials said the company's no-layoff clause was good only until June 2004, and OTS officials said the union was still pushing for wage increases in the second and third year of the contract.

When both sides left the bargaining table a little after 11 p.m. Thursday, OTS said the union turned down an offer to meet again the next day. Yesterday, Confalone was hopeful that a daytime meeting meant a new outlook on the situation.

"Maybe people's minds are fresher in the morning," he said. "We can get some real business going."


Plan raises costs
of all bus passes

The proposal gets rid
of free transfers and
changes per-ride fares

Adults would pay 75 cents less per ride to catch TheBus and youths would continue to pay the same fare, under a bus fare proposal announced by the City Council yesterday.

But free transfers would be eliminated, adult monthly passes would rise by $10, express bus riders would see large increases, and senior citizens and the disabled would see the cost of their passes jump fivefold.

The Council's Transportation and Budget committees take up the proposal at 9 a.m. Monday.

Council Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia said the goal of the proposal is to restore bus service that was cut in June and to prevent further planned cuts to service and layoffs.

"We cannot lose sight of the fact that so many people depend on the bus for their basic transportation," Garcia said in a statement. "But we must also keep in mind that even with these increases, bus service in this city is heavily subsidized by property taxpayers and motorists."

The Council also released a chart showing how the proposed bus fares are "on par" with fares being charged in comparable U.S. cities on the West Coast, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas and San Diego.

Council members said the additional revenue would tackle service and layoff issues raised by Local 996 of the Teamsters Union, which represents 1,400 employees of Oahu Transit Services, which runs the bus system for the city.

But Council members say there would be no extra money to meet pay raise and pension plan demands by the union, which went on strike last week.

The proposal, which would generate $6.8 million to restore service cuts and avoid layoffs, includes the following terms:

>> Adults will pay $1 at the box instead of the current $1.75. Youth fares of 75 cents will remain unchanged.

>> Monthly passes for adults will go up to $40; for youths, to $20 from $13.50.

>> Seniors and the disabled will be able to buy a monthly pass at $5 and an annual pass at $60. Currently, they purchase a pass every two years for $25. Single fares for seniors and the disabled will drop to 50 cents.

>> Transfers would be eliminated after allegations that the transfer system was being abused.

>> Express bus riders could buy a monthly pass for $80 for adults, $60 for youths and $40 for seniors or the disabled. The passes can be used on express and regular buses. Express riders would also have the option of paying a per-ride cost of between 50 cents and $2 along with buying a regular monthly pass.

City Council policy says fares pay for at least 27 percent but no more than 33 percent of TheBus operations. The $6.8 million in revenue generated by the fare increases would bring that number up to the 33 percent ceiling.

Bus fares last went up July 1, when single adult fares rose by 25 cents and the adult monthly pass increased to $30.

Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said that whatever restructuring is done to the fare system, the additional revenue must be used to restore bus service.

"And we are very mindful of the fact that many of our most bus-dependent riders really cannot afford the increases in bus fares," Kobayashi said.

Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz said some of the fare increases are "hard to swallow." He said he wants the Council to take up a circuit-breaker plan now to help the needy instead of waiting until after the bill is passed.

Dela Cruz said people in his rural district sometimes transfer several times to get to doctor's appointments and other destinations in town.

Some Council members have voiced concern about the effect the rise in fares will have on seniors, who make up 25 percent of the 240,000 trips made daily.


Proposed fare changes

The newest proposed bus fares for TheBus system would:

>> Drop adult single-ride fares to $1 from $1.75.
>> Increase adult monthly pass to $40 from $30.
>> Create an adult monthly express bus pass, setting the fee at $80, up from $30 under the current pass price.

>> Continue the youth single-ride fare (ages 5-17) at 75 cents.
>> Increase the youth monthly pass to $20 from $13.50.
>> Create a youth monthly express bus pass at $60, up from $13.50 under the current pass price.

>> Lower the single-ride fare for senior citizens (age 65 and over) and disabled people to 50 cents from 75 cents. But a senior citizen would need a $10 identification card issued every two years.
>> Create a monthly bus pass for senior citizens and disabled people at $5, or $120 every two years. Senior citizens and disabled people currently pay $25 for a pass every two years.

>> Eliminate free transfers, making a person pay a single fare for each leg of the trip.
>> Retain the stadium express fare at $3 each way.

>> Eliminate the child monthly bus pass, which costs $12.50.
>> Reduce the child single-ride fare (up to age 4) to 25 cents from 50 cents. The ride would be free if the child is accompanied by an adult.


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