Riders welcome bus strike’s end

by Britt Johnsen

Senior Jana Klein is ecstatic about the bus strike being closer to an end.

After 41 days without buses, she said she has driven to the University from her Uptown residence. She parks in St. Paul to get discounted parking with her U-Pass.

“I’m lucky enough to have a car but I hate driving here,” she said. “I’ll be excited.”

Officials announced on Tuesday morning they reached a tentative contract agreement. Buses could roll as early as Saturday if union membership and Metropolitan Council members agree to the settlement.

Before the buses can return to the roads, the union and Met Council must approve the agreement, the details of which have been kept secret.

Both groups will vote as early as Wednesday, officials said.

Before making contract details public, the Met Council and the union said they want to explain the settlement’s terms to their members.

Negotiations between Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, which represents 2,150 Metro Transit workers, and Met Council, which oversees Metro Transit, began 2 p.m. Monday. At 11 p.m., Gov. Tim Pawlenty came to the bargaining table. Officials said negotiations ended at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“The governor rolled up his sleeves, brought out a pen and calculator and dove into the minutia,” Met Council Chairman Peter Bell said.

Union president Ron Lloyd expressed gratitude for Pawlenty’s presence.

“It helped; that’s why we asked him to get involved,” he said.

Once the strike officially ends, the University will issue refunds to approximately 14,000 U-Pass and 1,500 Metropass customers.

Lori Ann Vicich, marketing manager for Parking and Transportation Services, said refunds will not be available until the settlement is official.

But, she said, as soon as the University knows, it will send an e-mail to students and staff about when and how they will be refunded.

“They’re predicting Saturday, but we can’t do anything yet,” Vicich said.

Met Council and the union began negotiating in May. The main disagreement has regarded health-care issues for current employees and retirees.

“This has been a long, hard and difficult time,” Pawlenty said. “There’s an old saying: ‘When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.’ We’ve had a couple of elephants fighting, and a number of blades of grass suffering.”

Pawlenty praised both parties.

“The differences we have aren’t personal, they are business challenges,” he said.

Pawlenty said talks were productive Wednesday, which was the groups’ second meeting since March 4. He said he does not think his presence was necessary for an end to the strike.

Rather, he said, time constraints and the $5 million in savings from the strike brought Met Council closer to a deal. He said if this would have happened at day 22, the strike might not have ended with his involvement.

Lloyd said pickets will be up until votes are counted and the settlement is official.

When buses do roll again, Bell said ridership will have

decreased. He said that after the 1995 strike, transit use decreased by 3.5 percent over a year.

Bell said this strike might cause ridership to drop as much as 7 percent this year. That would cost Metro Transit about $1.4 million, he said.

Because of the costs, Bell said, Met Council might spend about $500,000 on a campaign trying to win riders back.

Met Council officials said they offered free and discounted rides after the 21-day strike in 1995. Lloyd said there were tougher issues this time versus 1995.

“Unfortunately, I believe (the strike) has hurt transit,” he said. “It will take time to heal wounds.”

Senior Abby Gingrich said she will be glad when the strike is over. She said she either gives rides or lends her car to three of her eight roommates, who live in Dinkytown.

She said she will be relieved when it is over “so people can be more independent and not rely on other people.”