UPDATED: LIFT service affected by transit strike

UPDATE: KOIN reports that a tentative deal has been reached. Terms of the deal have not been released pending ratification.

Original message content after the jump.


Now things get interesting.

While we’ve been focused on the labor dispute between TriMet operators and ATU757, another dispute has been brewing: between ATU 757 and First Transit, the outsourcing firm that TriMet uses to provide lift service.

And now ATU757 is striking First Transit, and LIFT service is being impacted. TriMet’s statement is here, a statement by ATU 757 president Jonathan Hunt is (courtesy of Al) here. Until the dispute is resolved, only “life-sustaining trips” will be provided.

A few obvious questions:

  • ATU 757 has long been arguing that TriMet should take LIFT back in-house, rather than outsourcing its operations. Apparently, by outsourcing LIFT operators, they are no longer covered by the state’s law treating transit workers as essential, and thus requiring binding arbitration instead of strikes/lockouts to resolve labor disputes. (And conversely, were they to be brought back in-house, they would be covered under the law).
  • Provision of paratransit is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Does the ADA make exemptions for labor disputes, or could TriMet find itself in legal trouble for not providing the service, regardless of the reason?
  • How involved TriMet is in the negotiations (which are ostensibly between First Transit and the union, not TriMet and the union) is another question.
  • Paratransit is, of course, a big money-loser for TriMet (and other transit agencies), and is an unfunded mandate. Unless legal or political pressure is brought to bear, I could imagine that TriMet might be in no hurry to settle this dispute at all. (Speaking from a public policy perspective, and regardless of this dispute, I think it would be beneficial if paratransit services had their own funding source(s) apart from ordinary transit. A question to consider–why shouldn’t paratransit services be paid for by states, cities, and/or counties directly, if not by Uncle Sam, rather than by transit agencies?)
7 Comments

7 Responses to UPDATED: LIFT service affected by transit strike

  1. zefwagner
    May 9, 2012 at 11:40 am Link

    Paratransit should be paid for with dedicated social service funding (which is also depressingly scarce, I know) rather than through transit funding. The missions are essentially different.

  2. Andrew
    May 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm Link

    Honestly, probably the most cost-efficient way to provide this service would just be to provide taxi vouchers to Lift-eligible customers. Customers win because taxis can come whenever and Trimet wins by being able to save lots of money on these trips.

    It would also mean mandating a certain number of cabs have disabled capability, but if New York City can find a way to make that happen, I’m sure Portland can too.

  3. Jason McHuff
    May 9, 2012 at 10:29 pm Link

    LIFT does use cabs for some trips, and I believe at least in Portland some of the medallions are specifically for accessible vehicles.

    The issue is that cab drivers may not get compensated too well and may not be able to provide the special attention that LIFT riders can need (after all, there’s a good reason why they’re using the service).

    Also, to some extent TriMet can combine rides to handle multiple people on one trip. And it does make some sense to have the mass transit agency run the paratransit as there can be economies of scale, plus an ability and incentive to get people to use regular transit when possible.

    Lastly, regarding costs part of the issue is that our land use/development is not friendly to disabled persons, and forces some with moderate abilities to use paratransit.

  4. al m
    May 9, 2012 at 11:50 pm Link

    People seem to forget that many of the LIFT riders need special attention and special equipment to haul them as Jason says.

    It looks to me Like Mr Hunt played a chess move and put Mcfarlane into check, Mcfarlane got himself out of that position and the game is now back on.

    Anyway there is a ton of material on this over at
    MY BLOG

  5. dwainedibbly
    May 15, 2012 at 4:41 am Link

    Until this strike happened, I didn’t realize that LIFT service was contracted out. I wonder if TriMet could save money by cutting out the middleman and providing the service directly. Or, as has been suggested, go the opposite direction & use vouchers for cabs or medical transport services. Trimet certainly needs to be looking at alternatives.

  6. Chris I
    May 15, 2012 at 7:33 am Link

    Trimet should not have to fund this service. This should be a voucher service for the elderly disabled to use cabs or Trimet, and it should be paid for with a gas tax increase. Cars and our current built environment are the main reason that many of these people cannot get around on their own. Cars should pay for it.

    If you have the right infrastructure, you don’t have to provide services like this.
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2322/2245491851_6aca83f385.jpg

  7. Cora Potter
    May 15, 2012 at 8:48 am Link

    Chris,

    Believe me – I have more than a few customers who would never be safe doing what you see in that photo – let alone covering over a mile traveling in that fashion.

    From what I can tell, the gentleman in the photo would likely not qualify for LIFT except in conditional cases where there is no sidewalk. He can reasonably reach a transit stop and reasonably board a regular transit vehicle.

    The folks that use LIFT qualify because they have a cognitive or physical barrier such that no reasonable person would expect them to be able to access transit stops and/or be able to board and ride a regular transit vehicle.

    Vouchers are useful in many cases, but unless you have a really extensive taxi system with a bounty of drivers that are trained and able to provide the passenger assistance needed for LIFT eligible trips, the taxi system will not be able to handle the demand in an appropriate manner.

    We (not LIFT) utilize taxis for some of our service and we have a difficult time finding taxi contractors that are willing and able to meet our requirements for driver qualifications.

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