The Regional Transportation Authority board has approved a set of contracts with the City of Tucson to fund extended bus services through the current fiscal year, only at lower levels than it had in the past.
The 8-1 vote on Thursday, Aug. 12, passed over the objections of board member and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup.
The approved contracts ensure RTA support for expanded weekday, evening and other ancillary Sun Tran bus services outside of core areas. But the diminished financial support from the board leaves questions about possible impacts to Sun Tran service levels and whether the move would trigger a round of layoffs.
The board pledged to contribute $4.3 million for the current fiscal year to meet its obligation as spelled out in the RTA vote from 2006.
That’s $3.7 million less than the $8 million Tucson officials wanted. City officials maintain the funding levels should remain the same as previous years.
RTA spokesman David Joseph said that city officials based their funding request on a flawed formula.
Over the past year, the RTA scrutinized the amounts paid to Tucson. As a result, RTA officials determined that it was paying the city too much to operate the extended services.
“That’s definitely the stance,” Joseph said. “As good stewards of the tax fund, it’s our obligation to make it right.”
The RTA contends that in the past it paid Tucson under a formula that considered the expanded services as a percentage of the entire Sun Tran operating budget, what has been called a “fully loaded” cost of service. Those costs, according to RTA analysis, incorporate existing personnel expenses, facility maintenance costs and other standing overhead costs.
The $8 million Tucson requested from the RTA translates to roughly $76 per operating hour.
The RTA commitment of $4.3 million includes wages for those employees who operate the extended services and parts and maintenance for vehicles. That equates to about $49 per operating hour.
During the Aug. 12 meeting, Walkup said he thought that with more negotiation an agreement could be reached the two parties would favor.
“We don’t want to make any money on this deal, we do not want to lose any money on this deal,” Walkup said.
The conversation cooled, however, when Walkup asked that city transportation officials be allowed to make a presentation to show the rationale for the $8 million request. Board Chairwoman Lynne Skelton, mayor of the Town of Sahuarita, denied the request.
“I have reservations,” Skelton said. “We’re here as trustees, and it’s their side versus our side.”
Skelton said Tucson officials should provide RTA staff members with the details of their presentation and continue to work at the administrative level to find a solution to financial disparity.
Fellow board member and Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath agreed, saying the board should avoid politicizing the issue.
“I don’t want this to escalate to a he-said-she-said kind of thing, and that’s where I think this is heading,” Hiremath said.
Joseph said the RTA would commit to talks with Tucson and noted that the $4.3 million figure represents a baseline.
“We’ll find ways to work together and make this work for everybody,” Joseph said.
“We commit to sit down with the RTA,” Walkup told the board following the vote.
The vote last week left Teamsters Union Local 104 director Andy Marshall with lingering concerns.
Marshall said he doesn’t believe that Tucson has the money to meet its obligation under the agreement.
“The money is not there,” Marshall said.
He said city leaders would soon have to consider Sun Tran service reductions and layoffs if the $3.7 million funding gap isn’t bridged. Those reductions could top a 30 percent service drop and up to 100 layoffs, Marshall said.
“There’s a lot of people’s lives at stake,” he said.
What the reduced funding means to the extended bus service remains unclear.