Looming bus strike would leave 57,000 riders stranded

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

MESA, Ariz. -- Tens-of-thousands of Valley Metro bus riders could be stranded by week’s end.

That's because the drivers are threatening to strike if an agreement can't be made with the company that runs the buses in the East Valley.

Wednesday is the deadline to reach a deal. If workers do strike, some 57,000 riders will be stranded each day the strike continues.

“Finding alternate transportation's not a fun thing to do,” said Brent Done, a passenger who rides the Valley Metro bus that ferries commuters between Mesa and downtown Phoenix.

“It's close to $100 in gas a week,” said Sherry Finner, talking about the savings she’s seen since she started commuting on the bus six months ago.  “And time – I’m probably saving 45 minutes a day being able to ride the bus to commute.”

For several months the bus drivers’ union and one of Valley Metro’s private bus contracting companies, First Transit, have been unable to agree on terms. The workers want more pay and benefits and First Transit has refused to get on board.

“Negotiate, rapidly, so I don't have to find another way to work,” said 10 year bus rider Polly Alcazar, as if speaking directly to the two parties currently at odds.

First Transit runs buses mainly in the East Valley.  But while the majority of their buses traverse Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert and Tempe, a strike would also affect commuter routes First Transit runs from the East Valley into Scottsdale and Phoenix.

“We feel that it's very important that the riders continue to have service, so we encourage First Transit and the [Amalgamated Transit Union]  to continue to negotiate and come up with an agreement that's fair and equitable to both sides,” said Susan Tierney, Valley Metro spokesperson.

As negotiations tick toward the 11th hour, riders are getting frustrated and hope the two sides also have them in mind.

“I think they just need to figure it out and get it done,” said Done, “It feels like they've just been dragging it out and playing chicken but we're the ones stuck in the middle of the road."

Nobody's exactly sure where the talks stand outside of those doing the negotiating. Even one bus driver who belongs to the union told 3TV he had no idea if there would be an agreement or a strike.

Valley Metro has been telling riders to get ready to find alternate transportation. Tierney also said in the event of a strike Valley Metro will not run limited service or ask workers to cross the picket lines.