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Metro privatizes new bus contract

August 3, 2018

Metro announced Thursday it’s outsourcing its new bus facility to reduce costs, angering its largest labor union, which accused the transit agency of union-busting.

Metro awarded its $89 million contract to operate the new bus facility on Cinder Bed Road in Lorton, Virginia, to the private transportation company Transdev and rejected a bid from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689.

ATU International President Larry Hanley told The Washington Times Thursday afternoon that Metro had “no reason” to privatize the contract unless the transit agency wanted lower wages for the new employees.

“It’s to bust Local 689, there’s no question about that,” Mr. Hanley said.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel declined to respond to the union’s comments.

″[The contract] has been something we’ve been talking about for more than a year now,” Mr. Stessel told The Times, referring to the Metro Board’s 2017 action plan to reduce operating costs by outsourcing more labor.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld echoed the sentiment, saying in a statement that contracting with Transdev “is a step toward keeping Metro affordable for riders, while helping to meet the legal mandate to hold subsidy growth for operating trains and buses for taxpayers at 3 percent.”

Balancing budgets has long been a struggle for Metro. Operational costs have risen, while revenues have fallen with ridership year after year.

Metro has promised to cap costs in exchange for $500 million in annual, dedicated funding from the District, Virginia, and Maryland this spring.

Now the transit agency is looking to tighten its purse strings across the board, including selling its downtown headquarters to save $130 million. Metro also funded a $2.2 million study in July on bettering its bus business model the system hardest hit by falling ridership.

In a press release, the agency said the $89 million contract with Transdev could save Metro $15 million over the contract’s five-year life span. Currently, Transdev provides about half of the drivers for MetroAccess. The French-based company also services city contracts in 19 other countries, as well as Boston, Phoenix and other U.S. cities.

ATU union members in Boston and Phoenix have threatened strikes over labor disagreements with Transdev in recent years.

“In no uncertain terms, the members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 want Metro to be a safe, affordable and reliable transit system,” said local union spokesman David Stephen. “And we know that privatization won’t make that happen and we reach that conclusion based on the facts.”

Local 689 represents about 8,000 of Metro’s 12,000 employees, most of whom are bus or train workers.

Mr. Hanley with ATU International went further, telling The Times that Transdev is a “bottom-feeder company whose only purpose is to make a profit from the agony of their workers.”

Transdev replied: “Some 95 percent of our employees in the U.S. are represented by unions, and we have productive working relationships with the vast majority of our unions in over 200 cities and counties across the country,” and that it is “looking forward” to expanding its work with Metro.

The decision to award the Cinder Bed Road contract to a private contractor comes two months after Metro privatized the DC Circulator bus contract over the objections of the union and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who heads the Transportation Committee.

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