How Do Bus Drivers Feel About
Golden Gateís Financial Problems?
Is a Marin and Sonoma Sales Tax
Increase a Key to the Solution?
interview by Senior Editor Wes Starratt with Tony Withington,
president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1575 Ö the
Golden Gate Bus Drivers, and a member of the Board of Directors of
the Water Transit Authority.
BC: Tell our readers something
about yourself and your union.
I was born and brought up in
Sonoma County, and started driving a bus in 1974. I gradually became
involved in union politics, and in 1985, I was elected president of
the local and have held that position ever since. The Amalgamated
Transit Union is an international union of transit workers, with
locals all over the U.S. and Canada. Our local union has 350
members, and is the largest bargaining union with the Bridge
BC: How do you feel about the
Bridge Districtís plans to reduce service and increase fares?
Itís sad to see the system being
torn apart, especially when you look at the successful service that
has been in existence since 1972. They have set a standard of 20
passengers on the commute routes that are being cut. Well, I know of
a lot of bus services that would be happy if they could get 20
passengers on a bus route.
BC: Do you feel that the Bridge
District is justified in its claims of financial hardship?
I donít think that anybody will
argue that there isnít a financial crisis that has occurred to the
Bridge District over the last few years.
BC: Do you agree that the crisis
has been brought on by the high cost of seismically upgrading the
bridge, largely without the federal and state funding available to
the other Bay bridges?
Yes, there is that factor and also
security issues, which have put a large burden on the Bridge
District. They have had to hire a whole new group of employees as
security officers. Thatís a huge cost, and I donít believe that
the district is being reimbursed by the Federal Government. There is
also a huge increase in the cost of liability insurance for the
BC: Do you agree with the way that
the district is planning on cutting service to meet these increased
Not when they have less than half
of the basic routes in Marin County providing direct bus service to
San Francisco. All youíre going to do is force people into their
automobiles, and I donít think thatís a good idea. I think that
the district is doing what they feel they have to do in order to
balance their budget. It doesnít mean that any of us have to like
what they are doing.
BC: How do you feel about the
Districtís plan to reroute some city-bound bus routes to Larkspur
Landing in order to strengthen the ferry service?
The polling that I have seen
suggests that ferry riders are ferry riders, and bus riders are bus
riders. You canít force a change of transportation mode by
dropping people at the ferry, especially if you are going to have a
huge cost difference between the ferry and the bus. The idea of
trying to force people from one mode of transit to another probably
will not work, and that is what they are planning on doing during
the mid-day. Under one scenario, you are only going to have two
lines running to the city.
BC: How does your union feel about
this situation which will undoubtedly result in upcoming layoffs?
Itís really a stressful time for
bus drivers. Unfortunately, itís going to be the bus drivers who
will get hit the hardest. All we can do is try and ride it out. We
are in a down cycle right now, but there are a couple of issues
beyond the Bridge District that are adding to the problem.
BC: Can Marin and Sonoma counties
be of any help?
Unfortunately, neither county is a
"self-help" county, that is neither has a funding
mechanism, such as a sales tax, for transportation, although Marin
does provide some funding for local bus service, and Sonoma County
gives some its Transit Development Act funds to the Bridge District.
It is the "self-help" counties that are able to provide
the local matching funds necessary to get state and federal grants
for transportation projects. Sooner or later, the residents of Marin
and Sonoma counties are not going to have any bus service at all,
unless they vote for a transit tax.
BC: Is it imperative that Marin
and Sonoma counties pass a sales tax devoted to transportation?
Absolutely, and the sooner the
better. Our Union has been watching the Congestion Management
Agencies of both counties and their sales tax plans. Hopefully, it
will get there. I believe that people in these counties are willing
to pay for transit, but you have to put the right package of
programs together. Someday. I am hoping that we have a comprehensive
transportation program in the north Bay.
BC: How do you feel about a
further raise in the tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge?