Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Some Las Vegas bus drivers are upset with the Regional Transportation Commission and think they can save it money, but the RTC says the union’s plan would likely increase costs.
About 20 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1637 gathered outside the RTC offices downtown Wednesday morning to protest the way the RTC manages public transit and to present their plan.
The union says it is upset it is not involved in the process of selecting a company to manage transit services for the RTC. While the commission owns the buses and maintenance yards and establishes bus routes, the buses are operated by a private company, which employs the drivers.
The RTC’s current contract with Veolia Transportation expires later this year, and the RTC has issued a request for proposals to negotiate a new contract with Veolia or another company.
The RTC has received proposals from multiple companies and will select one in coming months for approval by its board, which is made up of elected officials from Clark County and the five cities in the region.
In the meantime, the union’s contract with Veolia expired last year, leaving a gap where workers cannot receive pay raises or finish contract negotiations until the RTC picks an operator. The union has 530 members, but its contract will cover 980 workers.
This has contributed to the union’s frustration with Veolia, and the union wants to be involved in the RTC’s selection of a contractor.
“We feel that the process is not transparent,” said Treasurer Jeff Raske. “It’s fairly secretive.”
The union wants the RTC to contract with an American company instead of Veolia, which is part of a Paris-based corporation that provides transit services in 28 countries.
“We’re concerned about the taxpayers’ money being outsourced to foreign companies,” said union President Jose Mendoza.
But the RTC said the union’s request came too late.
“We’ve been in this process for months now,” said General Manager Jacob Snow in a telephone interview from Carson City, where he was meeting with the state Legislature. “They’ve known about it; for them to ask to be included in the process at this point means we would have to start completely over. We can’t really entertain what they are proposing at this time.”
Plus, the RTC is not legally allowed to work with the union on their complaints, Snow said. The union represents workers hired by Veolia, not by the commission.
Snow said he still occasionally meets with union representatives, but all he can do is listen to their complaints. Union leaders agreed that the RTC listens to them but does not act.
“We’re not allowed to get involved in labor relations with somebody else’s employees,” Snow said. “That puts us in a very difficult and tenuous situation.”
The union wants to resolve this by signing a contract with the RTC instead of the bus operator. Under the union plan, the RTC would still have a private company operate the buses, but it would have a contract directly with the workers.
This would mean workers could not be fired or disciplined by Veolia or whichever company the RTC decides to work with.
The union also says the hybrid setup would save the RTC more than $6 million a year because Veolia would make less profit on a smaller contract.
The RTC maintains that it is already the most cost-effective transit service in the nation, based on a cost-per-trip comparison of similar agencies.
Snow said the cost effectiveness is a direct result of the current setup and if the RTC were to employee the drivers and maintenance workers, it would have to pay them wages and benefits similar to other public employees.
The RTC studied the possibility of directly employing workers and found that the costs would require a 30 percent cut to transit services, Snow said.
The commission’s board is free to select a different model, Snow said, but he believes the current model is proven to be the best one available.
“The commission could always consider how they want to provide service to the public,” he said. “They’ve always chosen to follow the model that has made them the most cost effective transit provider in the county and that is the contracting model and that would be what I would recommend for them to continue doing.”
The union says it doesn’t want to be part of the benefit programs given to public employees. “We’re not looking to increase the wages or benefits in any significant amount,” Raske said.
But Snow seemed unsure of how that would be possible and said the RTC is already operating in “what we feel is the best and most efficient way to provide high-quality transit service to the public, and I think we have the numbers to back that up.”
The commission’s claim to cost efficiency is based on data from the National Transit Database, which showed the RTC provided service in 2008 at a cost of $1.90 per trip. The closest other agency was the Chicago Transit Authority, which came in at a cost of $2.29 per trip.