People looking to board Pasco County’s public buses on Veterans Day are in luck.
Routes will be in operation on the holiday for the first time in nearly seven years.
Pasco County commissioners voted unanimously on Nov. 3 to authorize the Nov. 11 bus service, at a cost of about $17,000. According to a county memorandum, potential ridership could be about 3,200 trips on that day.
Many of those expected to board buses that day work in the retail sector, said Philip Pumphrey, the county’s public transportation director.
Bus drivers will operate on a Saturday schedule from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., on what Pumphrey describes as a “pilot” program. Administrative offices will be closed on Nov. 11.
Based on ridership, Pumphrey said the county would gauge the need to add more “non-major holidays,” such as Columbus Day and Good Friday, to its bus schedules.
Budget cuts during the economic downturn have kept public buses off the road on minor holidays since 2008.
But an improving financial outlook, and some back and forth between Pasco County commissioners, county staff members and the local Teamsters Union 79, put the buses back on the road.
At least they’ll be there on Nov. 11.
But, stay tuned for Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving. The commissioners would need to authorize an additional $17,000 to cover one more holiday bus service. That likely would happen only if enough bus drivers agreed to work that day.
For 2015, the county didn’t set a designated county holiday schedule that included “non-major” holidays.
Riders were alerted to that via posters displayed inside the buses, according to James Boucher, union steward for Teamsters Union 79.
He spoke to commissioners during public comment.
“This late in the year, drivers have planned vacation time, family time around those days,” Boucher said. “It would inconvenience them.”
Commissioners initially sought to approve service for both holidays, as long as enough bus drivers agreed to work.
They were disappointed at the response. Though Pumphrey anticipated bus drivers would volunteer for extra pay, he said, “I think there was some changes of the mind going on.”
On Nov. 11, bus drivers will be paid overtime or have the option of taking a floating holiday to be used at a later date in lieu of holiday pay, according to an email from Kara Deniz, press secretary for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who was responding to an inquiry from The Laker/Lutz News.
The back and forth negotiations on the holiday bus service rankled some commissioners.
While he agreed that the county could have acted sooner, Pasco Chairman Ted Schrader said the union was politicizing the matter. “It’s wrong,” he said.” It’s part of their job.”
He pointed out an appreciation award the county had just presented to dozens of county employees for their extra work during the recent flooding.
County officials said the lack of bus service on the non-major holidays has been a source for ongoing complaints over the years. Columbus day prompted numerous phone calls and emails.
“There’s no doubt for public transit, we’ve got to get back to a level of service we had,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells.
For information on routes and schedules, visit RidePCPT.com.
Published November 11, 2015