Union Members Speak Out About Proposed Cuts to Ben Franklin Transit

Ben Franklin Transit


NWPB’s Dori Luzzo Gilmour reports on reaction to planned cuts to the public transit system that serves the Tri-Cities / Runtime – 1:58


The Board of Commissioners for Ben Franklin Transit, which serves the Tri-Cities area, is considering cutting millions from the transit system’s budget. Union members who work for the system say the proposal is based on misinformation and a lack of understanding of the people who use the system. 

BFT drivers and mechanics are worried about the people they drive and their families. Caleb Suttle is the non-voting member of the BFT board and a coach operator. Suttle says that the proposed cuts would mean a loss of sixty or seventy jobs. Earlier this month, Suttle told the board that some routes need bigger buses and are always filled.  Suttle says three quarters of the routes are busy all day long.
“There are certain parts of the day that yes, there are hardly anybody riding out in East Pasco, and unfortunately that one commissioner is seeing that bus, but the majority of our routes are filled, “ he said.

Suttle says riders are tracked by coach operators through a Ranger System. A true measure of ridership is available for the commissioners and is publicly accessible. Suttle welcomes the commissioners to come ride the bus.

“I wish people that make decisions on our board, I wish they would actually ride the bus, at least once. They would know exactly what it is like to carry ten bags of groceries, or have to make it to a doctor’s appointment on time when it is snowing. These are some of the decisions that they take for granted, because they can drive their car.”

Wayne Welle is a Mechanic Level Two. The commissioners often site a large reserve that the transit is holding. Welle explains that they need to have a reserve to replace the aging coaches as well as train mechanics on working on newer vehicles. They will need to build the infrastructure for alternative fuel vehicles soon. The need the reserve to qualify for Federal Grants to modernize the fleet.\
“We still have to match, a certain percentage of those grants and of that funding, in order to purchase that coach,” Welle said. “That’s why we have those high reserves. Because it is a one shot thing, if they are going to match forty percent, we have to have that sixty percent, right now.”

Welle said the Tri-Cities is growing at a rapid rate with large commercial businesses opening in the next two years. Welle and Suttle both expressed concern that the BFT board is not looking to the future with talks of cuts and not using the expertise of transit employees.

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