Community group irks VTA administration

Tensions still high between VTA, union.

15
The VTA is facing two lawsuits. — Gabrielle Mannino

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.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Must be nice to type up a letter from the comfort of your office knowing your job is secure. Yet we have been asking for the schedule for over a month so we can let the drivers know who is going to be laid off. Less then a month away from major cuts and lots of drivers and riders losing their jobs. Take your time we will wait.

  2. $187K to Greg Dash. Insane. What a waste, and how many routes would this fund? The VTA board and Angela Grant need to be replaced. They’ve lost credibility and play Islanders for fools. Usage is down because of Uber and Lyft. Grant is blind if she can’t see this. Instead she blames the union effort. What? Modernize VTA leadership.

  3. Where was the VTA advisor board when Angela Grant decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on union busting lawyers and consultants and scab drivers (including their transportation to and from the island, summer housing, meals and salaries). Not to mention that the scab drivers were paid more money than the regular VTA drivers. To what end? And who are these “funding partners”? The VTA is subsidized by taxpayer money. it’s mission is to provide transportation service to island residents. What happens to the people who rely on the VTA to get to and from work, students, the elderly, the disabled? Was Ms. Grant thinking about them when she decided to spend all that money to try and bust the union?

  4. Very good question, Jackie, about those unnamed “funding partners” — and why are they calling the shots? Last I looked, the six island towns also contributed to the VTA budget. Not only do we voters help pay the bills, many of us depend on bus service to get around, regularly or occasionally.

    I’m part of the growing coalition to “restore the routes and reform the VTA.” When the breakdown in negotiations between the drivers and TCI/VTA hit the papers last spring, I was clueless about VTA operations and governance. After talking to several drivers and attending two meetings of the VTA Advisory Board last summer, I realized that the union’s struggle for recognition was only part of the problem. Despite the valiant efforts of a few of its members, the VTA Advisory Board was, to put it politely, dysfunctional. With negotiations breaking down and a strike looming, it didn’t even meet between April and July, when public pressure helped force the issue. Board members are appointed by the various boards of selectmen. Their job is to provide oversight of the VTA administration on behalf of the towns — which are also “funding partners.” They clearly hadn’t been doing so, giving Ms. Grant and her staff free rein to do as they pleased. It pleased them to hire an anti-union consultant and then to hire and house “replacement drivers” when the strike began.

    Ms. Grant has been able to “have it her way” for a long time. I suspect she’s miffed that finally others are paying attention, asking questions about how decisions are made, wanting to know where the funds come from and where they go. And no, Ms. Grant, it’s not just the union and the unionized drivers. It’s regular and occasional riders and members of the general public, like me, who are demanding transparency and accountability from the VTA administration and stronger oversight by the VTA Advisory Board. If you’re not willing or able to work with a more engaged public, then maybe it’s time to make way for more effective leadership.

    • I am a West Tisbury resident and very sad to see my #2 route go away. In my research, I was not able to find any line item for the VTA in our budget from the 2019 annual town report. Can you describe where you located these supposed town subsidies?

  5. Many so called “developing countries” I have been in have what are called “route taxis ” Essentially vans that run a route. Since they are smaller, they are more numerous and one comes by every 5 minutes or so. There is no need to run a full sized bus on every route , especially during the off season. The west chop loop and the park and ride in particular do not need full sized buses. On the park and ride loop , vans could take union st to spring street , then spring st into town and likely cut the time sitting in traffic in half.

      • your help. good point. Yes , you are correct, especially about the low labor rate, but they also pay the equivalent 6 or 7 us dollars for a gallon of gas.
        But let me get back to my point. Keep the schedule, — just run a van at half the cost most of the year. The west chop loop and park and ride route could be slightly altered so only one vehicle and driver would be needed to cover both routes. Staying off state road and avoiding 5 corners with a van that the bus can’t do is reason enough to have at least one van.

Previous articleTisbury awaits report on sunken boat
Next articleDessert and dancing at the Barn Raisers Ball