UC Berkeley signs contract with new shuttle bus service

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff
After more than ten years of contracting shuttle buses from AC Transit, UC Berkeley has parted ways with the transit entity in favor of new buses provided by a private company.

During negotiations, the campus considered contracting out the bus drivers’ positions, but eventually agreed to keep the existing drivers after their union and several legislators became involved.

The new five-year contract with the shuttle company — which is expected to cost the campus about $600,000 annually — will allow the campus to save as much as $1 million as a result of price negotiations and more fuel-efficient vehicles, according campus Parking and Transportation Director Seamus Wilmot. The contract requires the company to be responsible for providing maintenance and fuel for the new buses.

Although the switch to a new contract went into effect Tuesday after a three-year search, interim shuttles provided by Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation are being used until the new buses arrive in about two months.

“The buses that we were leasing were very old,” Wilmot said. “So old that they were not going to pass the new federal (emission) regulations.”

According to Wilmot, the old buses were still safe for students to ride, but not up to “mechanical standards.” Bear Transit has approximately 500,000 annual boardings on its daytime shuttles and 40,000 boardings on its Night Safety shuttle.

Shuttles will continue to run according to the existing schedule, with the addition of night service during the summer to accommodate the growing number of students enrolling in summer sessions.

Though Wilmot said the search for a new bus provider was a “very collaborative process,” Kathryn Lybarger, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — a union representing more than 20,000 employees at the university — said she sought support from legislators to prevent the campus from contracting out the bus driver positions, which would have left 17 bus drivers without jobs.

Lybarger reached out to state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, as well as U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.

“And (the legislators) did come through,” Lybarger said. “We avoided layoffs by successfully managing to get the university to not touch our workers’ jobs.”

Hancock said in a statement that she became involved in the search in order to “ensure that high quality jobs for working people are protected in our community … Many of the drivers are long-time UC Berkeley employees and I wanted to ensure that they did not become victims of the transition to a new bus system.”

According to Skinner, the campus initially contemplated switching to drivers provided by the contractor and finding new positions for the former drivers, but later reconsidered.

“I’m especially pleased that they’re going to continue to have as drivers the long-term employees that have been driving the buses for so many years,” she said.

In addition to the new buses, Wilmot said a system for tracking real-time bus arrivals is in the works and will probably be available to students by the time the new fleet of shuttles arrive. The new buses will resemble the laboratory and math sciences shuttles, which are provided by a different contractor.

Although the new buses will not arrive for several months, freshman Alex McGill said he is pleased with the change.

“They look way better,” he said. “Like a rock star.”