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Santa Barbara MTD May Roll Back Bus Service as Feds Withhold Funding

City Council will hear proposals from the district on Tuesday for dealing with a potential $4.6 million shortfall related to new pension-reform laws

Several bus and shuttle routes on the South Coast could be eliminated next year because the federal government is withholding a portion of funding for the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District.

MTD receives millions of dollars from the Federal Transit Administration every year, and the Department of Labor has to ensure that collective-bargaining opportunities are in place before any federal transportation grants are approved, according to MTD Assistant General Manager Jerry Estrada.

Every MTD driver, mechanic and utility worker is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union Local 186, and he said the union is concerned that new pension-reform laws could affect its bargaining rights.

After the Public Employees Pension Reform Act of 2013 was enacted in January, several California unions objected to federal transportation grants and stalled them until those concerns are addressed by the Department of Labor.

Teamsters have their own pension plan, but the PEPRA raised the retirement age and lowered California Public Employees Retirement System payouts for new government employees.

“Everyone is awaiting a ruling on whether or not the objections merit the funds continue to be withheld,” Estrada said. “We’ve been waiting all year, along with everyone else in the state.”

Much larger organizations, such as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, are in line ahead of MTD, but the first decision will have an impact on the rest, Estrada said.

The $4.6 million in funding is usually paid at the end of the year, so it’s now becoming a problem.

MTD and the local Teamsters representatives have jointly asked for the first half of 2012-13 money — before the objectionable new pension reform laws were passed — with no response yet, Estrada said.

MTD is looking at cuts starting in January since it hasn’t received any money for the fiscal year ended June 30, “and we’re assuming we’re not getting a positive response for the current year,” he said. “You can only wait so long until you do damage to your reserve position, your cash reserves.”

General Manager Sherrie Fisher will present options for cutting bus routes at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

If MTD loses this specific federal subsidy, it would cause “major reductions” in service, according to a letter written to the Board of Directors. The transit district had $29.5 million in total revenues last year.

Staff developed two options for budget cuts, but both would eliminate several lines, reduce weekend service and have less-frequent service for UCSB and SBCC.

Option A would eliminate routes with the lowest ridership, and limit weekend service to the core lines. It would eliminate routes 21 (Carpinteria Express from Santa Barbara), 22 (from the Transit Center to the Santa Barbara Mission), 27 (Isla Vista Shuttle from UCSB to Camino Real Marketplace), 36 (Seaside Shuttle around Carpinteria) and 37 (Santa Barbara’s Crosstown Shuttle). 

Option B would limit weekend service and mid-day weekday service, including lines to UCSB and SBCC. It would also eliminate routes 9 (Calle Real/Goleta Old Town Shuttle), 10 (Cathedral Oaks), 21 (Carpinteria Express), 22 (from the Transit Center to the Santa Barbara Mission), 27 (Isla Vista Shuttle from UCSB to Camino Real Marketplace), 36 (Seaside Shuttle around Carpinteria) and 37 (Santa Barbara’s Crosstown Shuttle). 

MTD is hosting a Transit Talk meeting for the public at 5:30 p.m. July 24 at the administration building, 550 Olive St. in Santa Barbara. Comments can also be submitted to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)and 805.963.3364 x555.

The MTD board will discuss the options for cutting services — if it’s necessary — at its Aug. 20 meeting.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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