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VITRAN EYEING LAYOFFS, REDUCED SERVICE

Approximately 50 Vitran employees may soon receive pink slips as the Department of Public Works attempts to dig the transportation system out of its $8 million-plus hole.
At a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing Wednesday night, Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson described the department’s plans to reduce Vitran’s overall operating cost by 50 percent.
On St. Croix, that means 25 people will be laid off, Thompson said. In the St. Thomas-St. John district, reduced bus service means there will be need for fewer than the 36 drivers there. Thompson said a "minimum of 13" bus drivers will be kept, while 14 mechanics and utility and administrative workers will be let go.
"Personally, this isn’t a happy moment for me," Thompson said. "Unfortunately it’s a necessary moment." He said the layoffs and cuts are needed because fare revenues cannot cover salaries, benefits, parts, fuel and other operating costs. The V.I. government funding of $1.8 million per district is inadequate, he said.
In 1997, the Schneider administration increased Vitran’s operating costs by equalizing the salaries of St. Croix Vitran personnel with those of the St. Thomas staff with no new funding source identified. Other unfunded mandates included additional routes on St. John and compliance with a federal law requiring transportation services for the handicapped under the Americans with Disability Act.
"The combination. . . increased the operating costs of Vitran to more than $5 million per year territory-wide," Thompson said. "The available funding, $3.6 million subsidy, and fare-box revenue was and remains inadequate to provide the current level of service and requires that the Vitran system be reduced in its scope of service and cost."
Representing St. Croix Vitran workers at the hearing was Ralph Mandrew, president of the V.I. Workers Union. Luis "Tito" Morales, president of the V.I. Steelworkers, spoke for the St. Thomas-St. John personnel. Both men urged senators to push for legislation that would create a V.I. Transit Authority.
Morales also called for the privatization of bus service, a move that has been attempted with some success several times over the last 30-plus years. He said non-unionized management staff should be cut, not the rank and file.
"Those that oversee the public transportation system are the ones that need to go home," Morales said, "not the drivers or mechanics."
On St. Croix, the cutbacks in personnel mean the number of buses in service would be reduced from seven to five, the daily hours of operation would drop from 16 to 14, and the wait between buses would increase, Thompson said.
On St. Thomas, the number of buses on the road would drop from eight to five, and hours of operation would be cut back two hours, becoming 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The routes served would remain the same, but the level of service would be reduced — and become intermittent on some runs, Thompson said.
St. John would see its four-bus fleet reduced to two, with two drivers eliminated. The Cruz Bay and Salt Pond routes would continue but with less-frequent service. And, Thompson said, instead of meeting every hourly ferry arrival, buses would meet every other one.
On all the islands, Sunday and some holiday service would be eliminated.

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Approximately 50 Vitran employees may soon receive pink slips as the Department of Public Works attempts to dig the transportation system out of its $8 million-plus hole.
At a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing Wednesday night, Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson described the department’s plans to reduce Vitran’s overall operating cost by 50 percent.
On St. Croix, that means 25 people will be laid off, Thompson said. In the St. Thomas-St. John district, reduced bus service means there will be need for fewer than the 36 drivers there. Thompson said a "minimum of 13" bus drivers will be kept, while 14 mechanics and utility and administrative workers will be let go.
"Personally, this isn’t a happy moment for me," Thompson said. "Unfortunately it’s a necessary moment." He said the layoffs and cuts are needed because fare revenues cannot cover salaries, benefits, parts, fuel and other operating costs. The V.I. government funding of $1.8 million per district is inadequate, he said.
In 1997, the Schneider administration increased Vitran’s operating costs by equalizing the salaries of St. Croix Vitran personnel with those of the St. Thomas staff with no new funding source identified. Other unfunded mandates included additional routes on St. John and compliance with a federal law requiring transportation services for the handicapped under the Americans with Disability Act.
"The combination. . . increased the operating costs of Vitran to more than $5 million per year territory-wide," Thompson said. "The available funding, $3.6 million subsidy, and fare-box revenue was and remains inadequate to provide the current level of service and requires that the Vitran system be reduced in its scope of service and cost."
Representing St. Croix Vitran workers at the hearing was Ralph Mandrew, president of the V.I. Workers Union. Luis "Tito" Morales, president of the V.I. Steelworkers, spoke for the St. Thomas-St. John personnel. Both men urged senators to push for legislation that would create a V.I. Transit Authority.
Morales also called for the privatization of bus service, a move that has been attempted with some success several times over the last 30-plus years. He said non-unionized management staff should be cut, not the rank and file.
"Those that oversee the public transportation system are the ones that need to go home," Morales said, "not the drivers or mechanics."
On St. Croix, the cutbacks in personnel mean the number of buses in service would be reduced from seven to five, the daily hours of operation would drop from 16 to 14, and the wait between buses would increase, Thompson said.
On St. Thomas, the number of buses on the road would drop from eight to five, and hours of operation would be cut back two hours, becoming 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The routes served would remain the same, but the level of service would be reduced -- and become intermittent on some runs, Thompson said.
St. John would see its four-bus fleet reduced to two, with two drivers eliminated. The Cruz Bay and Salt Pond routes would continue but with less-frequent service. And, Thompson said, instead of meeting every hourly ferry arrival, buses would meet every other one.
On all the islands, Sunday and some holiday service would be eliminated.