Oaklandís Waterfront Takes Center Stage at PortFest 2003
Oleta Adams to Star at PortFest 2003
Grammy-Winning Oakland Interfaith Choir on PortFest 2003
Bay Crossings Journal
Bay Crossings Poetry
Freeway Service Patrol Logs 1 Million Assists
Wine Festival by the Bay
How Do Bus Drivers Feel About Golden Gateís Financial Problems?
Paving the Way for Buses Ė The Great GM Streetcar Conspiracy
Port of Call: Cayenne, French Guyana
Opening of Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Changing of the Guard at San Franciscoís Last Shipyard
The Port Of Oakland Needs Your Help!
Taste of Oakland
East Bay French-American School To Host Annual "La Place Du Marche"
What the AC Transit Bus Driver Knows
The Iraq war reader
Judge Orders Carnival Cruise Line to Stop Illegal Dumping
On the Oakland Waterfront, Seafarers Club Breaks New Ground
Year of the Salmon!
WTA: For Whom the Bridge Tolls
New Ferry Building Sunday Garden Market Opening May 4th
San Francisco Bay
Vermeer Chocolate Martini
Oakland Arts Focus
Music Calendar - May 2003
In appreciation: David Clark
Water Transit Authority  WTA

How Do Bus Drivers Feel About Golden Gateís Financial Problems?

Is a Marin and Sonoma Sales Tax Increase a Key to the Solution?

An 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 District.

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 bridge.

BC: Do you agree with the way that the district is planning on cutting service to meet these increased costs?

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?

Instead, letís look at reducing the Fast Track discount. The Congestion Management Agency has estimated that for every dime you take off of the Fast Track discount, the Bridge District would raise $1 million, so I think that they should be looking at reducing the Fast Track discounts.

The district is definitely going forward with these cuts. You will see the counties objecting to a number of the proposed cuts, but come September, with the proposed changes, there is going to be a whole new system. It is not going to be what we recognize today. Our members are a little shocked, but are prepared for it. Are we happy? No! Would we like to see something else happen? Absolutely!

As a director of the Water Transit Agency, I say that this is the time that we should be expanding transportation services, not eliminating them. If we have the problems that we have discussed with existing systems, it is even more difficult to build and expand a system such as that proposed by WTA. We are talking about the future Ö 20 or 30 years down the road; so, we need to think of where we are going to be. We canít be pessimistic because of todayís financial problems. If you are going to be visionary, you have to say that "this too shall pass" and in the long run weíre going to build a Class A ferry system and a Class A bus system that weíll all be proud off Ö if we can just get through the present economic crunch.