Santa Barbara residents spoke loud and clear Wednesday night: Metropolitan Transit District bus route cuts must be avoided at all costs.
Some of MTD’s annual federal funding is being withheld while the Department of Labor looks into allegations that the new pension reform laws infringe on the rights of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union Local 186 to collectively bargain. Many other California cities are facing the same issues with their transportation grants, with $1.2 billion held up in total, according to MTD assistant general manager Jerry Estrada.
Every driver, mechanic and utility worker at MTD is a member of Local 186.
MTD is fighting for the $2.3 million owed from last year, before the pension reform was enacted, and hopes to get a favorable ruling for the current year’s funding of $4.8 million. If the money isn’t received soon, MTD expects to cut services 30 percent by January. That’s 60,000 out of about 200,000 service hours, Estrada said.
To see both proposed options for cuts — which would eliminate almost all weekend services and midday weekday service — click here to go to MTD’s website or scroll down.
Board president Dave Davis said the district’s intent is to enhance services, not make such a huge cut, but everything depends on the federal funding. He said Wednesday night’s turnout gave the board an idea of the cross-section of riders who use the buses as their primary form of transportation.
The board announced Wednesday that there will be three more public meetings on the proposed cuts. The meetings will be held at 6 p.m. July 29 in the Council Chambers at Carpinteria City Hall, 5775 Carpinteria Ave.; at 3 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Santa Barbara Central Library’s Faulkner Gallery, 40 E. Anapamu St.; and at 2 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave. Click here for more information.
On Wednesday, dozens of people came out to protest the cuts and to urge MTD, local legislators and the community at large to fight for the money to get released.
Santa Barbara resident Hathor Hammett encouraged everyone to talk to representatives and the Department of Labor’s Ann Comer.
“Let’s just flood these guys,” she said.
Undergraduate and graduate students at UCSB depend on the buses to get to classes and weekend tutoring, jobs or lab experiments, according to UCSB doctoral candidate Esther Trujillo. She said graduate students make up 3 percent, or 3,200, of MTD’s ridership, and many of them use the 24x route (an express bus to campus) to get to Isla Vista from downtown Santa Barbara. She suggested that some of the routes be combined to keep service going to campus on the weekends.
Kristian Whittaker, an advocate with UCSB’s student government, noted that a portion of student fees go toward MTD, and that there are many non-traditional students who attend classes and work outside of normal weekday hours.
Olivia Uribe, speaking for the Latino Democrats, asked the MTD board to consider using reserve funds or reallocating capital project funds instead of cutting services, while waiting for the Department of Labor to make a decision.
Someone else suggested that the board cut all routes to be less frequent, but not eliminate entire days of service.
Frequent MTD rider Frank Hernandez said he was concerned that the proposed cuts would lead to even more crowded buses, with people packed into aisles.
“When you ride the subway in New York, you worry about getting knifed,” Hernandez said. “When you ride the bus in Santa Barbara, you worry about somebody falling on you.”
The buses are the only source of transportation for many of the people who spoke out, including seniors, workers without cars, college students and the disabled.
According to some commenters, residents in the area of St. Vincent’s Gardens and Villa Caridad on Calle Real oftentimes don’t have cars, since there isn’t enough parking for everyone to have one. Many senior residents use the buses daily, and use them on the weekend for errands and getting to church, said Christine Mill, a member of the St. Vincent’s residence council.
“We are very concerned about our residents,” she said.
Several people expressed concern about cutting mid-day and weekend service to the bus lines that serve the hospitals, clinics and other medical office areas. Not only is Cottage Health System one of the major employers in town, one commenter noted, but health care is available seven days a week, so there are patients and employees who need to get there even on Saturdays and Sundays.
Then there are the workers who need early-morning service and weekend service.
Zoila Cabrera, speaking through a translator, said she and a lot of other cooks would be impacted since they are already working at restaurants by 7 every morning.
“It’s the same with hotels,” she said. “We clock in at 6:30 a.m. out back where you all don’t really see us.”
Keeping the bus service is essential for working families and their children who go to school, she said.
The next three meetings will be held before the proposals go to the MTD board Aug. 20 for a decision, assuming the money doesn’t materialize.