Archive for Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Commissioners seek bus contract paying living wage to drivers

December 19, 2007

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It is the city's rule.

Companies that receive a public tax break - a tax abatement - must pay their employees a "living wage" of at least $10.73 per hour, plus health benefits.

But when it comes to how the city pays its own employees or the employees of city contractors, the living wage requirement doesn't apply. City Commissioner Boog Highberger said he wants to change that for at least one group of city contractors: bus drivers.

Highberger is objecting to a clause in a proposed set of regulations that would govern the new operating contract for the city's public transportation system. Under the current proposal, contractors who want to bid on running the T in 2009 and beyond would be allowed to pay bus drivers as little as $9.75 an hour - or nearly a $1 less than the living wage.

"It is a fairly stressful job, and it is something we ask our companies who get tax abatements to do," Highberger said of the living wage requirement.

There was some support on the commission for adding language to the next contract that would require drivers be paid a living wage.

"It is difficult to provide that of others when we don't demand it of our service providers," Mayor Sue Hack said.

But the issue may not be so simple. That's because for the first time, the city is working directly with Kansas University to find a contractor to run both the city and KU bus systems. If the city required a living wage to be paid for city bus drivers, it likely would mean that a living wage would have to be paid to university bus drivers as well.

Danny Kaiser, assistant director of parking and transit for KU, said that definitely was a goal for the university, but he was not sure it was financially feasible to be accomplished immediately.

Commissioners directed staff members to have more in-depth discussions with KU about the living wage issue and seek a compromise that would allow the provision to be included in the next contract.

The living wage issue was just one part of the public transit discussion at Tuesday evening's City Commission meeting. Ultimately, commissioners unanimously agreed to start the process to find a contractor.

Commissioners also followed a staff recommendation that future bidders should be required to provide three pricing options to the city: one that would keep service levels at the status quo, another that would reduce service levels by 30 percent and a third option that would reduce service levels by 50 percent.

Commissioners said tight budget times require them to look at plans that would involve cutbacks in the T service.

Commissioners, however, only opened the door to future T cutbacks. They did not make any decisions on Tuesday. Instead, commissioners will wait to receive the bids and likely will make a decision by mid-2008.

Comments

Bud Stagg 7 years, 7 months ago

Boog, bad timing. At a time when you are looking at cutting the T, you ask for a pay increase? duh.

blackwalnut 7 years, 7 months ago

The developer-owned commissioners are trying to kill the bus, every way they can.

Boog is trying to save it. If drivers get a living wage, it won't be so easy to pass the T-bus off onto a contractor who will expect to make a profit.

Public transportation is a SERVICE. It is not designed to make a profit and there is no room in the system for a profit. Even breaking even is a dream even the biggest cities fail to achieve. It's a service that keeps people employed, keeps people going around to spend money at businesses, keeps the elderly mobile, improves life for everyone and not only the ones who ride the bus.

This commission is going to destroy everything that makes Lawrence a decent place to live.

Mike George 7 years, 7 months ago

Obviously, Boog doesn't understand what a stressful job is, but considering that he is an attorney and creates stress rather than experiencing it...... Maybe more commissioners will decide to agree with him without considering that they are nailing the coffin shut. DsoonerDbetter.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 7 months ago

I have said over and over, the T was a rotten idea from square one. Public transportation should be available to those who truly have a need, the handicapped, the disabled, and others that would qualify for public assistance, but a general freebe qivaway of public monies to those who just do not want to provide their own means of support and transportation in today's mobile society is wrong. The taxpayers get stuck with the indifferent, indolent and unmotivated along with the truly needy and this is wrong. There should be services such as the T_Lift that transport specific persons on specific appointments, but the scattergun, run the empty busses on a schedule regardless of the losses and expense is just plain foolish and crazy.

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