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‘We’re hurting now’: GoRaleigh drivers aren’t happy with how expanded service was handled

GoRaleigh bus driver Terrence Dewberry, president of Local 1328 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, speaks outside Raleigh city hall on Thursday, as other drivers look on. The drivers are upset over the way the recent expansion of the GoRaleigh system was handled.
GoRaleigh bus driver Terrence Dewberry, president of Local 1328 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, speaks outside Raleigh city hall on Thursday, as other drivers look on. The drivers are upset over the way the recent expansion of the GoRaleigh system was handled. rstradling@newsobserver.com

The expansion of the GoRaleigh bus system that began this week has angered city drivers, who say they weren’t consulted about changes to their schedules that have disrupted their lives.

The drivers also think the addition of new routes was rushed and should have waited until lighting and other amenities at bus stops were in place. They aired their complaints at a press conference before a Raleigh Transit Authority meeting on Thursday afternoon, and then again during the board’s meeting.

“We came before the board last month and requested that this plan be delayed at least 30 to 60 days,” said driver Terrence Dewberry, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union that represents about 183 drivers and 50 maintenance workers. “We had some concerns about scheduling. We had concerns basically about safety. What has transpired is that those concerns have been realized.”

On Jan. 6, GoRaleigh began more frequent service on some routes and established new routes in the southeast and western parts of the city, including the first buses to PNC Arena, the N.C. Museum of Art and Southeast Raleigh High School. The changes are part of expanded bus service outlined in the Wake Transit Plan, endorsed by voters when they approved a half-cent sales tax to support mass transit in 2016.

The additional service meant overhauling the schedule for drivers. Dewberry said drivers welcome the expanded service, but he and others say the schedules developed by management gave veteran drivers weekend and split shifts and other less desirable hours.

Blair Brown told the transit authority that in 16 years behind the wheel he had earned a Monday-through-Friday schedule. Now he’s “back to where I was when I started,” driving weekends, Brown said.

“We’re hurting now,” he said. “My wife doesn’t understand why I’m working Sunday.”

Transit authority members said they were sympathetic with the drivers and voted to form a special committee to try to address their concerns.

“Our drivers are our lifeblood,” said board member Tolulope Omokaiye, who proposed forming the committee. “They have to be happy.”

But transit authority members are uncertain about how much control they have over the schedules and working conditions of GoRaleigh drivers, who don’t actually work for the city.

The union that represents the drivers has been active in Raleigh since the days of trollies. State law forbids municipalities from negotiating with unions, but federal law requires governments that take federal dollars to work with unions where they exist. GoRaleigh has gotten around the conflicting requirements by hiring a management company, Transdev, that employs the drivers and other unionized workers and negotiates the union contract.

Transit authority member Nathan Spencer said the board will press Transdev to address the worker’s concerns.

“Transdev needs to come to the table speaking to drivers,” Spencer said. “And they (the company) understand that this is a key issue that the board is paying attention to and we’re concerned about.”

But some of the drivers’ concerns are under the city’s control. Dewberry said drivers don’t think the new Route 17 on Rock Quarry Road or Route 18 on Barwell Road are safe, because of a lack of sidewalks, signs and lights at the stops.

David Eatman, the city transit administrator, said the city plans to have proper bus stops along all its routes, but acknowledged to transit authority members that “all our infrastructure is not in place” along Poole, Barwell and Rock Quarry roads.

“We don’t think that is a reason for us not to provide service to the area,” Eatman said. “We want to get it established and build ridership.”

After the authority agreed to form a committee to address the union’s concerns, Dewberry called it “a step in the right direction.”

“But we still have to hold them accountable,” he said.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 19 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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