formerly The Alliance for Traffic Improvement

Seeking cost effective ways to reduce traffic congestion on Oahu




BART talks are way off track

Thursday, June 30, 2005

TAKE A VITAL public service. Add lousy labor relations, a pot of money and political pressure. For BART, these ingredients produced a nightmare that avoided a strike in 2001 but has impoverished the transit system ever since.

With another work stoppage in view, BART faces a rerun. Management may cave in by steering scarce dollars to raise already-high wages. The unions may persist in pushing for money that they know isn't there. Serious problems such as health-care and pension deficits may get lip service.

Riders should be furious after this year's round of fare hikes and parking charges in suburban lots. If BART wanted to force people into cars, it couldn't come up with a better plan.

A strike will deepen this downward trend, and both sides need a reality check. The past 22 percent pay increases can't be repeated, yet the unions are asking for 17 percent. Since Sept. 11, fare-box collections and sales-tax revenues -- the two prime sources of BART income -- haven't recovered.

An added problem has arrived: deficits are widening in the employees' health-care and pension funds. Most of the $100 million deficit forecast for the next four years is from rising retiree-health-care costs; the system's short-term outlook is for less revenue, but more bills.

Neither side is talking good sense, but that's par for the cat-and-dog relations in this standoff. One insider describes it as the train builders versus the public workers, two interest groups with little in common. This gulf required politicians to sail in four years ago and order up an agreement that raised wages but did nothing to address underlying problems.

BART can't afford a stoppage and the public anger it will bring. It's time to hammer out a plan that doesn't bring on more trouble.

Page B - 8