The Coalition to Restore Vineyard Transportation, a community group of riders, drivers, and the public committed to improving Vineyard Transportation Authority (VTA) service that was formed last week, has gotten the attention of the VTA administration.
In an email to The Times, VTA administrator Angie Grant said the flyer the group was sending out that makes several claims about VTA finances and administration is incorrect, and meant to cause a stir. Grant said the VTA is “heavily subsidized,” but funding partners have increased pressure for the transit authority to eliminate nonproductive service.
“At the first public meeting in July, the VTA has said service cuts would be necessary to fund wage increases, as our funding partners didn’t bring any significant additional funding to the table. Off-season ridership on some routes does not meet the ridership standards, meaning there are not enough people riding the bus,” Grant wrote. “The routes and schedules for the off-season are not final, and have not been released yet. We are still working to optimize, review existing data, and come up with route coverages that serve the maximum number of people. Riders have been reaching out, and we are trying to accommodate as many requests as possible; we encourage people to reach out with their specific needs.”
Grant also criticized the Amalgamated Transit Union, the union several VTA drivers voted to join after a years-long legal battle.
“I would have hoped that the union would have stopped the negative ad campaign against the VTA, but obviously they haven’t, and they don’t understand the consequences of these campaigns. The negative ad campaign launched by the union this summer was very successful and far-reaching — and the VTA ridership has suffered. Ridership is down significantly, over 15 percent for the first fiscal quarter — each month within the quarter saw the lowest ridership levels we have seen in five to 10 years. Increased costs and a loss of ridership means our cost per passenger increases, which also means our subsidy per passenger increases, and that is not what our funding partners want to see, nor is it a recipe for the longevity of the transit system. We are going backward, and it needs to stop.”
Despite drivers securing a vote to unionize this summer after a monthlong strike, tensions continue to run high between the union and VTA administration. Speaking to The Times by phone Friday, president of Local 1548 Charles Ryan said neither the union nor its campaign have hurt the ridership. He put the lack of ridership on VTA administration and Transit Connection Inc., the driver’s parent company.
“They’ve continued this campaign to punish the union drivers for walking the picket line, and they’re also punishing the public for walking the picket line. This is what [Grant] has done,” Ryan said. “We’re looking for Angie Grant to step down and have TCI removed.”
After reviewing money paid out to lawyers and labor relations consultants, Ryan said, the VTA has spent $428,359.52 over the past five years.
“That’s what they spent on their campaign, on lawyers, union-busting consultants … including $187,714.51 to Greg Dash this year alone,” Ryan said. Dash was an outside labor relations consultant working with TCI.
The VTA is holding its next board meeting on Nov. 8. Grant said she hopes to release the winter schedule prior to the meeting.