Groups argue for control of Sun Tran to RTA or City of Tucson

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Thousands of Sun Tran bus riders were left without transportation Monday after the employees' union went on strike. It's the result of a breakdown in negotiations between members of Teamsters Local 104 and the company that operates Sun Tran.

Now both sides have turned it into a very public dispute.

Alongside the usually busy Ronstadt Transit Center, members of the striking employees' union chanted in unison for RTA.  "We didn't want it to get to this but we had no choice," says Andy Marshall of the Teamsters Local 104.

Their chants reflect a not-so-subtle hint that they want control of Sun Tran to switch hands from the City of Tucson to the Regional Transportation Authority.

The teamsters say the city doesn't have any money to run transit for the remainder of this fiscal year, which could mean future layoffs.

That makes switching control to the RTA the popular choice.

"If you don't have the money, you have to do something to either get real money, not monopoly money, or transfer it to the RTA. It's that simple," says Marshall.

City transportation officials admit there are concerns with the revenue stream for transportation.  "But I don't necessarily believe that they're insurmountable or that they should necessarily be the cause of a work stoppage," says Tucson Transportation Director Jim Glock.

That said, the teamsters could very well get what they want at the Tucson City Council meeting.

"This can be fixed very clearly on Wednesday the 4. First item on the agenda is the transfer to the RTA," explains Marshall.

A transfer to the RTA is just what a citizens group led by the non-profit organizations Primavera and Casa Maria want to prevent.

"We feel that the bus system could be severely crippled and it would hurt both people that ride the bus, especially low income people, but it will hurt the union and the people who drive the bus Monday too," says Brian Flagg of Casa Maria.

They argue that the RTA doesn't have the money, and that rates would double in the long run.

The teamsters didn't want to hear it, and RTA officials dispute the claims.

"Our goal is to build a better bus system for the city and for the region. Not take anything away," says Dave Joesph of the RTA.

For now, many people have their transportation taken away as all sides continue to negotiate.

There's no timetable yet as to how long the strike will last. This is the first work stoppage for Sun Tran since September 2001.