Jan 10, 2023 - News

CATS prepares to drop routes, frequencies if bus drivers strike

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Charlotte Area Transit System has detailed contingency plans for how it will operate if bus drivers strike.

  • CATS would suspend express routes if there’s a workforce shortage and attempt to run high-ridership routes at reduced levels, the agency tweeted on Tuesday. But the number of active routes and frequencies would depend on the number of drivers who show up to their shifts, and CATS won’t have any forewarning of how many operators that will be.
  • “CATS expects this will significantly impact bus service,” the transit system stated.

Why it matters: As the local bus drivers’ union and the third-party management company remain at an impasse over contract negotiations, drivers are threatening to strike, a move that could leave the 18,000 residents who rely on CATS every day without a way to get to work, school or other needs.

Of note: If there is a strike, paratransit and rail won’t be affected because their workers are not union employees.

Catch up quick: SMART Union and RATP Dev, the management company, have been at the bargaining table over a contract for months. The union rejected agreements in two different votes, including one that included an 11% pay bump. The starting pay for a driver is currently $18.77 an hour.

  • Bus drivers have expressed concern over the absence policy and safety, as well.

[Go deeper: CATS bus drivers say they face constant harassment, and security measures fall short]

The latest: On Saturday, the union voted to strike, but it has to file paperwork and wait at least 30 days for an actual strike to take place, according to CATS.

  • Meanwhile, RATP Dev and SMART Union are continuing to negotiate.

Details: CATS’ contingency plan prioritizes routes based on ridership and proximity to essential destinations, such as health care facilities.

  • It has planned tiered operating scenarios based on the number of drivers who are working. One scenario calls for at least 43 operators to run 13 core routes for 60-minute frequencies. Another plan, requiring 148 drivers, is to operate at Sunday service levels.
  • CATS says it would share updates via its website, social media, CATS-Pass app, Rider’s Alerts, media outlets and notices at the Charlotte Transportation Center pass sale windows.

What’s next: SMART Union has to file their strike vote with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services and send paperwork to SMART International at least 30 days before a strike, CATS said.

  • FMCS’ public affairs office confirmed Tuesday it has received an F-7 notice. (Axios has reached out to SMART Union for comment.)

What they’re saying: “CATS wants the community to know that RATP Dev and SMART Union are continuing to negotiate the terms of their agreement in good faith,” CATS tweeted. “CATS remains supportive without participating in the process.”

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