VTA: ‘100 percent’ service by July 4

As strike continues, drivers offer free rides in private vehicles.

Roland Goulart holds a sign on the picket line during the VTA strike at the Vineyard Haven terminal. Goulart has been offering people rides in his own car. - Lexi Pline

Updated July 2

As commuters and visitors exited the Island Home ferry Tuesday, a group of about 10 Vineyard Transit Authority bus drivers wanted to make sure those disembarking knew why they were holding signs.

“Drivers on strike. Drivers on strike,” they chanted.

That made several people on the gangway pause. “What’s going on? Is there a bus?”

The VTA full-time drivers walked off the job Friday morning in a strike that continues heading into the busy Fourth of July weekend. The VTA is filling in with seasonal drivers and managers of the authority.

In a press release Monday, Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) administrator Angela Grant dispelled several reports circulating about the VTA. She called the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) a “powerful off-Island union with an agenda that has shown little regard for our community and the riders of our transit system” and said they have spread “misinformation.”

The bus service will operate 85 percent of scheduled service during the day, according to Grant, with reduced service later at night on some routes, Grant wrote. The VTA expects scheduled service to be back to 100 percent on July 4. 

According to Grant, all operators are correctly licensed and credentialed and not all vehicles require a commercial driver’s license (CDL). In addition to multiple inspections during the year, drivers inspect their buses each morning before operating them.

Grant also said the ATU’s counter offer would be financially unsustainable and would require the VTA to implement a “devastating service cut” of 50 to 60 percent of the existing services.

“A wage increase was in the future budget planning before the off-Island union was brought in and legally froze the wage scale,” Grant said in the release.

“The VTA remains committed to delivering safe and professional transit service and will continue to provide as much transit service as possible to our neighbors and riders. The VTA has a responsibility to balance the budget and the interests of all our partners that make our system a success,” the release reads.

Bruce Hamilton, international vice president of the ATU, told The Times the union was scheduled to meet with federal mediator Joe Kelleher Monday afternoon — despite the driver’s parent company Transit Connection Inc. ending communication with the union.

“TCI is refusing to meet with us,” Hamilton said.

While the strike continues, passengers who depend on the bus system weigh whether to take the bus or find an alternate mode of transportation. 

Wayne Kellum is a Mattapoisett resident who visits the Island several times in the summer and uses the bus system to get around. Ahead of his visit to the Island last week, Kellum heard about the impending strike and was worried for the drivers whom he had gotten to know over the years.

“I’d like to see this thing resolved,” Kellum said. “It breaks my heart to see them walking around with signs.”

In an effort to help people get where they want to go, Roland Goulart, one of the bus drivers on strike, has been transporting Kellum and other people around the Island free of charge. He said since Friday he has driven 250 miles and transported 28 people to different Island locations, some as far as Aquinnah.

“I don’t mind doing it. I don’t care what it costs, it’s my car, it’s my fuel, I’m just offering people a ride…it’s something I’ll continue to do,” Goulart said. “I feel for them. They’re caught between the strike and not wanting to cross the line.”