Negotiations to resume today on bus contract
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Representatives of striking city bus drivers and their employer have agreed to return to the bargaining table this morning as the islandwide bus strike enters its ninth day.
It will be the first contract talks in nearly a week. The last session, on Aug. 28, began with the promise of a possible breakthrough but ended in acrimony between managers of O'ahu Transit Services and leaders of the Hawai'i Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996.
The two sides will meet at 10 a.m. today at the Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall meeting rooms.
"Both sides have wanted to get back together and we have just needed to find a time and place," said OTS spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus last night.
Teamsters officials could not be reached for comment last night. The union represents nearly 1,400 bus employees. The city bus system normally provides 240,000 rides daily.
The key sticking points in the negotiations appear to be over wage increases and contract provisions covering layoffs. The company said it has withdrawn all proposals to reduce benefits, but that it is unable to give wage increases.
The union is now seeking no raises in the first year, but 50 cents an hour in the second and third years of the three-year contract.
Also yesterday, the City Council unveiled a reworked bus fare proposal that lowers single-ride fares but increases the cost of monthly and annual passes and eliminates the use of transfers.
The fare increases are intended to raise an additional $6.8 million a year, which would allow the bus company to scuttle a plan to cut 100,000 service hours a year. The union had objected to the service cuts, saying it could lead to layoffs of up to 40 union employees.
Under the new fare proposal, single-ride fares would be lowered from $1.75 to $1 for adults and as low as 25 cents for children under 6.
But the plan would increase the adult monthly pass from $30 to $40, eliminate the $360 adult annual pass (in effect raising the cost to $480), eliminate the use of transfers and increase the price of passes for disabled and elderly people from $25 for a two-year pass to $60 a year.
The four-day visitor pass would remain unchanged at $20.
The city administration would be required to establish a bus fare program for low-income residents.
Harold Silva, a retired postal worker in Waialua, said reducing the single-fare rate to $1 is a good idea.
"I think that will get more people to ride the bus," he said.
And he liked the idea of eliminating transfers.
"People are abusing them," he said. "Some people are stopping to do their shopping and then get back on the bus for the same fare."
However, Silva didn't think most senior citizens could afford even the $5 monthly pass. "I'm thinking about all those people who are hurting," he said. "I'd go for it if they jacked it up some, but 60 dollars for a year is too much."
Alicia Maluafiti, associate state director for AARP Hawai'i, said the proposed fare increase for seniors was unreasonable.
"Five dollars a month might not sound like a lot to you and me, but to people on a fixed income, it's dramatic," she said. "That's a 500 percent increase over the current pass," which costs $25 for two years, she said.
The other changes were encouraging, she said.
"It sounds like they are not going to put the greatest burden on those with fixed burdens, and that's appropriate," she said.
City Council members yesterday said they still have many concerns about the bill and could try to change it further. The new plan will be heard during a joint meeting of the Council Budget and Transportation committees at 9 a.m. Monday. A final vote is scheduled for Sept. 24.
Council budget chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said she was worried about how the new draft would affect the elderly and youths, in particular. Nonetheless, she said, she endorsed releasing the latest draft.
"Let's put it out there for discussion," Kobayashi said. "The hard part for me is the senior fare, the annual goes up to $60. I also worry about the student youth fare. That's $20 a month. And if you have four children, that's like $80 a month."
Kobayashi said lowering the daily fare could induce sporadic riders back to riding TheBus.
But Councilwoman Barbara Marshall said the exact opposite will happen with the lowered daily fare.
"I'm very reluctant, based on my constituents' concerns, to decrease the cash fare, which is seen as favoring tourists at the expense of working people who use TheBus every day and who very frequently, most often, use the Express bus," Marshall said.
She added, "I am not in favor of anything that increases the seniors' costs by 500 percent."
Marshall said she's skeptical that the new proposal will be able to bring in enough revenues to cover the shortfall. "I am very uncomfortable at this point with all the estimates we're making," she said. "I think we're guessing and I don't know how educated those guesses are."
Council Chairman Gary Okino said he generally favors the changes made in the new draft. "I think we need to hear it and I think we can probably get enough votes to pass it."
Councilman Charles Djou said that he supported the revisions to Bill 53, although he would prefer lower prices for monthly passes, even if that means a higher cashbox fare.
The monthly pass gives riders an incentive to get on the bus and keep their cars off the road, something they might not do at a higher price, Djou said.
Councilman Mike Gabbard said, "It does look like something we can work with." He said the important thing is restoring the $6.8 million so that there is no reduction in service and no layoffs.
Gabbard and Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz said they are not sure transfers should be eliminated. Dela Cruz, who represents the North Shore, said many of his constituents need to transfer to get to where they are going. "We need to implement a fair and reasonable system for transfers," he said.
Mayor Jeremy Harris, through a spokesman, said he will leave it up to the council to decide the final specifics of the bill.
Advertiser staff writer Mike Leidemann contributed to this report. Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com or 525-8070.