Buses running in Phoenix after striking drivers approve new contract

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- The union representing more than 600 bus drivers in Phoenix voted Thursday night to approve a new contract, and end a strike. 

Phoenix routes will be back to normal Friday morning.    

Union officials say 97 percent of drivers voted to approve the new deal with Veolia Transportation.

Tempe drivers will vote on their contract Friday.

"We can't wait to get back to driving people to work, to the stores, to their appointments," said Bob Bean, a union member.

Thursday morning the Phoenix City Council  approved by a vote of 6-to-2 to soften the strict on-time performance standards, in its current contract with Veolia.

Right now, if a bus is behind schedule because of reasons which include a traffic accident or construction, the transportation company has to pay what's called "liquidated damages" which has resulted in more than $2 million since November 2010.

But today's vote means the City will have to reimburse the transportation company nearly $760,0000.

 

Veolia has been fighting to change the contract for months.

On Thursday, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said city staff had already recommended the decreased penalties, so the vote was pushed up.

There were also questions on whether the city could face legal problems in its strict standards that Veolia claims are even more stringent than what's required by the Federal Transit Administration.

"We know that this was an important element in resolving this dispute so that these buses could get back on the road. Putting it all together, putting all those factors together - it's the right thing to do," Mayor Stanton said.

The city doesn't budget for Veolia's liquidated damages, and says no other city services will be impacted by the reimbursement.

Still, many council members said they felt pushed into a corner.

"I will stand in support of it but I want everyone to know I'm not doing this for Veolia and I'm not doing it for the strikers, I'm doing it for the people who are stranded and do not have transportation to get to their jobs," said Councilwoman Thelda Williams.

But Veolia representatives said the contract change was necessary.

"For us, we could not put forward our financial offer to the Union without having this resolved," said Ruth Otte.

Veolia claims its buses are already on schedule 97 percent of the time.

"Now with these revisions, the language is consistent with what the Transit Administration requires that it be fair and reasonable penalties and it's also consistent with other large cities," Otte said.