Budgets, Bullets, and Buses

Brother Rice Bey President, Amani United

Milwaukee       It wasn’t going to last long on a busy day, so I went with the Amani United leaders as they went downtown to testify to the county commissioners in solidarity with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) bus drivers who had supported them in their successful effort to stop the elimination or rerouting of the major bus line through the neighborhood.  It was a strange and confusing experience.

It was impossible to ignore some of the messages the commissioners were sending to the citizens.  They met in the courthouse complex abutting the jail.  Security was intense of course as is common in all courthouses now where tempers and tragedy run hot and hard.  The hearing room hardly held fifty people, which was strange for a county with almost one-million residents.  The leaders and I said in an anteroom outside the hearing where a speaker piped in the testimony and commissioner’s bodyless comments through their microphones.

It took me a bit to get a handle on the issues before the body.  I knew there were huge tensions between the union, the county, and the bus management.  The last contract came after a strike, and they were now working on an expired agreement with another strike looming.  A wagon load of issues separated the parties.  A retired driver with thirty years in before leaving a couple of years ago told me in the lobby about how much revenue the buses lost because the fare machines improperly recorded the take.  It must have been millions from his description, and it was certainly common knowledge to the drivers, so it must have been so to management as well.

Richard Diaz Amani United

But the issue at hand was security on the buses.  The sheriff’s office seemed to want deputies to ride on the buses, like the random air marshals that were on airplanes, until many were recently pulled by Trump to do border control work.  The head of the union in a fiery speech, threatening a strike again, seemed to want to allow the drivers to be armed and seemed to argue security for drivers and passengers was a key concern.  None of this was likely to increase ridership on the buses outside of our constituency of auto-less low- and moderate-income families where public transportation was a lifeline to work, grocery stores, schools, and public services.  Amani United leaders testified that buses were important and safety was an issue, but kept out of the weeds on buses having folks riding shotgun and creating another killing zone on wheels.

Was this a bargaining strategy or what?  The cost of putting a deputy on every bus route would be phenomenal!  The union must realize that this would be a budget buster and would end any hope of better wages and benefits.  If driver security and thefts of the fare-box were real issues, a bulletproof Plexiglas apparatus similar to the separation for cab drivers would be a simple, one-time fix and expense.  Live cameras and even metal screeners connected to the doors would be easier and cheaper to protect passengers, it would seem?

My small experience at the hearing certainly made me think, but I can’t say that either the commissioners or the union were doing much more than bulking up their own positions.

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Please enjoy Lonely People from Rickie Lee Jones.

Thanks to KABF.

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