YCIPTA ends contract with YCAT operator
A year before expiration, the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority and the company that operates the Yuma County Area Transit buses mutually ended its contract, and the authority is now mulling over new proposals.
Currently, YCAT is being operated by First Transit of Cincinnati, Ohio, which is a part of First Group, a United Kingdom-based corporation that also operates Greyhound.
Following a recent executive session, the YCIPTA board authorized Transit Director John Andoh to work with First Transit in ending the operations and maintenance contract.
First Transit had been losing money under the current three-year contract that would have expired June 30, 2014.
“We ended the contract a year early solely to ensure, basically, that we're paying the right price to the operator,” John Andoh, transit director, explained.
YCIPTA sought bids under an emergency procurement to operate and maintain the transit system effective July 1. Proposals were due on May 31. First Transit and two other companies have submitted proposals. The board will consider the proposals at a June 19 special meeting.
In January, YCIPTA agreed to address First Transit's losses by covering half of the contractor's deficit with a $18,000 payment, with First Transit assuming internally the other 50 percent deficit.
At that time, Andoh explained that the deficit was due to the contractor not invoicing for operation of some buses and attributed the oversight to a prior manager.
He then said the issue was considered “closed” and that First Transit had been told that “there is an expectation that there should be no more fiscal issues regarding this agreement” for the remainder of the contract.
Initially, YCIPTA intended to issue a request for proposals in January 2014 instead of using the option years in the contract with First Transit.
However, the transit director said at the time that he believed the current contract “may not be profitable.”
Last year, bus drivers and mechanics voted unanimously to join the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, a decision that came as a surprise to First Transit. The workers asked the union to represent them in future negotiations with First Transit.
In February, the union threatened to shut down the YCAT buses if contract negotiations fell through. A union official said bus drivers and mechanics had already approved a strike if negotiations failed.
The first rounds of negotiations with First Transit went “nowhere,” Bob Bean, union president, said at the time.
“They're claiming poverty, which is standard in contract negotiations ... I am fully prepared to shut down the YCAT buses if we cannot get an agreeable contract,” he said.
Bean said the bus operators were asking for reasonable pay and sick time. “The YCAT operators are some of the lowest-paid professional operators in the West. They also have to work six days a week to maybe make 36 hours a week.”
First Transit bus drivers in Yuma were paid an average of $11.43 an hour, while the state average is $18.73 an hour, he noted.
“They're not even making it above poverty level,” Bean said. “We're trying to get them a contract so they can afford to live.”
First Transit spokeswoman Maureen Richmond disputed this, noting that “our operators and technicians are paid very competitive wages.”
The strike was averted after “negotiations ended amicably,” according to Richmond.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.