Buses return to the roads

Twin Cities bus service was expected to resume at 1 a.m. today.

Britt Johnsen

After 45 days without buses, senior Yasin Garad is relieved they are finally back.

“Wow,” said the St. Paul resident who walks to Wilson Library every day to study. “All I have to say is ‘Wow.’ “

“It was affecting much of my life,” Garad said.

Of the 2,150 union workers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, 72 percent voted Friday to end the strike and ratify a new contract. Buses are expected to resume service at 1 a.m. today.

Peter Bell, chairman of Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, said he is happy the strike is over.

“For all concerned parties I’m glad it’s over because it’s been long and difficult,” he said.

Union President Ron Lloyd also said he is glad the strike is finished.

“I want to thank the students,” Lloyd said. “We appreciate the riders that stuck by us.”

Lloyd said the new contract could be better, but that he is pleased.

“I don’t think it’s the best document we’ve ever negotiated,” he said. “It’s the best we could do.”

Bell said he is “very pleased” with the new contract.

The new contract is $4.3 million more than the original offer, said Bob Gibbons, Metro Transit spokesman. It lowers employees’ monthly premiums for family coverage from $265 to $216 for 2004 and $259 for 2005. Premiums will continue to be zero for members who have single coverage, but medical co-pays will increase.

Pay increases of 2 percent will begin Aug. 1 and another half-percent Feb. 1, 2005. The contract also includes a signing bonus of $1,100 and a $600 bonus for part-time employees.

Met Council will spend $2.2 million on signing bonuses, Gibbons said. This money comes from the approximately $7 million Met Council saved by not running buses.

The contract expires in August 2005 and negotiations will begin in July 2005.

Lloyd said he is ready for it.

“Maybe we can do a lot better next time,” he said.

What happens next?

Lori Ann Vicich, marketing manager for Parking and Transportation Services, said U-Pass and Metropass customers will receive an e-mail regarding their refunds. Because the strike ended on a weekend, she said details were not clear. But today, Vicich said, officials are expected to work out how much and when customers will get their money back.

Students will receive a refund of 40 cents per day for each day of the strike, Vicich said.

Getting people to return to riding buses will be a challenge, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a press release. He said the “challenge now is to restore our ridership and get the light rail up and running.”

Ridership is expected to drop as much as 7 percent, which is a projected fall for the year by about $3.5 million, Bell said. He said about $500,000 will be spent on a campaign to win back riders.

Beginning today, Metro Transit will offer incentives to welcome customers back, Gibbons said. This includes discounted bus passes.

Light rail update

The opening of the Hiawatha light rail line was delayed because of the bus strike. Bell said light rail transit will open around June 17. The exact date will be set in a week and a half, he said.

Gibbons said the opening of light rail will help restore ridership.

Return of the buses

First-year student Kate Kibellus’ first reaction was an exclamatory “Yay!”

She said she no longer has to give rides to transit-dependent friends and pay for parking, which she said makes her life easier.

Other students will ride the buses right away. First-year student Sarah Ihrcke said buses make students’ experiences more interesting.

Meanwhile, some students are excited the dispute is settled.

“It’s great they got what they wanted,” first-year student Isabelle Oberholtzer said.

Mary Kay Kennedy, executive director of Advocating Change Together, a Twin Cities activism group for the disabled community, said she thinks the need for transit still needs to be voiced even though the strike has ended.

Kennedy said the group will give cake to bus drivers and riders this morning to celebrate the buses’ return.