LATHROP — A transportation labor dispute that’s not even supported by the rank-and-file members of the unions that started the fight could end up drastically impacting public transit operations in San Joaquin County.
And that means that the very people that benefit the most from widespread access to the San Joaquin Regional Transit District and city-to-city connectivity — the handicapped, the elderly and the impoverished as well as residents that just don’t have drivers licenses or cars — will be forced to either make other arrangements or adapt to coming changes.
According to SJRTD Planning Manager Nathaniel Atherstone’s presentation to the Lathrop City Council Monday night, the unions that represent the transit district’s employees — the Amalgamated Transit Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union — have elected to protest federal transit funding scheduled to flow to California.
That means that just under $6 million worth of funding — or 20 percent of the SJRTD’s operating budget - is now on hold.
The unions are taking issue with changes to California’s public employee pensions after the state legislature and the Governor’s office passed and signed off on legislation that in September of last year. The changes went into effect on Jan. 1.
While Atherstone said that he couldn’t answer why the unions were pressing this issue knowing that it would directly lead to its members getting laid off as agencies scramble to pass emergency budgets, he did say that local chapters have expressed their displeasure with the national offices of their respective representatives.
Dozens of transit district employees could be laid off if the funding doesn’t come through.
And with the funding tied up in a bureaucratic game of tug-o-war, daily riders of the system, Service Development Manager Nate Knodt said, would begin to notice the changes when it came to the arterial lines and the “core” routes that run through Stockton.
Current plans are to eliminate weekend and holiday services — including the popular Dial-A-Ride service - as well as low-performing bus routes. Fixed route service would stop after 6:30 p.m., and Metro Express frequency would be reduced.
One member of the council, however, was less than impressed with the presentation — which was made last week in Manteca — and essentially accused the SJRTD staff of sensationalizing the issue.
Councilman Paul Akinjo said that since Lathrop wasn’t really going to be adversely affected (Knodt told the body that the route that runs from Tracy through Lathrop and on to Stockton is a popular one and would remain during the week) he didn’t see the need for the presentation.
But in Knodt’s eyes, the issue goes far deeper than whether a Lathrop resident can simply climb on to a bus. At least four interior Stockton routes are receiving major reductions, and three others will cease to exist if the money isn’t completely freed up. Lathrop residents, Knodt told Akinjo, still take those interior buses when they arrive in Stockton, and not having them will affect their ability to get around.
Lathrop’s City Manager Steve Salvatore told Akinjo that every time there’s an interruption in the transit service through Lathrop, the city gets calls - proving that there are people that rely solely on the service for their transit needs.
“We might be one of the ‘least impacted’ but if somebody can’t get somewhere then it becomes a big deal for us because we have no idea how to transport them,” Salvatore said. “We need to step up and tell the Federal government not to take our money — we need it.”
The biggest gauge on whether the funding will be made available will make themselves visible shortly —the Los Angeles Municipal Transit District is one of the largest in the United States and is facing a similar situation.
Those wishing to comment will have until the end of the month to submit their take to the Stockton-based organization. For additional information, or to learn how to submit your comment, visit www.sanjoaquinrtd.com.