Board votes to end talks with Tucson - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Board votes to end talks with Tucson

RTA says no chance to pursue regional transit system under circumstances

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Posted: Thursday, August 5, 2010 11:00 pm

The Regional Transportation Authority Board on Friday, Aug. 6 voted unanimously to discontinue talks with the City of Tucson over control of the Sun Tran bus system.

"There's culpability everywhere on all sides of the issue," Marana Mayor Ed Honea said during Friday's meeting. "Maybe a different negotiation could work."

The mayors of Marana, Oro Valley, Sahuarita, Tucson, the chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors and representatives from the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui nations and an Arizona state transportation board representative make up the board. Mayor Bob Walkup of Tucson was not present for the vote. The city of Tucson is involved in negotiations with a union representing Sun Tran workers, who have been on strike this week.

Throughout Friday's meeting, members referred numerous times to ending the talks with Tucson as a way to allow recent tensions between Tucson and the RTA to diminish before moving ahead.

"I would hope cooler heads could prevail," said ADOT representative Steve Christy, who attended the meeting by telephone. "I'm hoping something can be salvaged."

Philosophically, all members appear in favor of a regional transit service. The issue that has held up the talks lies in how to fund such a system.

"None of us are giving up on regional transit," Honea said. "We have to identify somewhere down the line a funding source."

That has been a major barrier for the board to overcome, Honea said, because no one wants to propose a new tax to spread the obligation evenly throughout the region.

The feud between Tucson and the RTA has intensified recently because city officials have said Tucson's obligation to fund Sun Tran stands at $600,000 annually. That's considerably less than the $32 million annual obligation RTA officials say the city has to provide.

"The legislature anticipated that, with the public's approval of the one-half cent county-wide sales tax for transportation purposes, individual jurisdictions would be incentivized to cut-back their spending for such purposes and allow RTA funds to supplant their financial commitment," RTA officials wrote in response to Tucson's claim. "Under the city's interpretation of the statutes, a bait and switch will occur."

Tucson City Councilwoman Karen Uhlich, who attended the meeting, said afterward the city remains committed to public transit.

"Since 2005, I have zeroed in on the transit issue," Uhlich said. "If we didn't care about transit, we would have handed over the keys."

The RTA board and the City of Tucson have been involved in on-again, off-again discussions about a possible transfer of operations since late 2009. Those talks stalled in December, when the board could not find common ground over how to pay for an RTA-run bus system.

More recently, renewed discussions were affected by the standoff between Sun Tran's union workers and Tucson over pay demands and a two-year employment guarantee. That deadlock has resulted in a strike that has lasted through this week, leaving the bus system operating at minimum levels.

Teamsters Local 104 Union officials representing the Sun Tran employees have said they support a transfer to the RTA, primarily because they don't think Tucson has the money to meet union demands.

A news release issued by Sun Tran almost immediately following the RTA meeting said talks with the union would resume Friday night in an effort to put an end to the work stoppage.

Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath said after the meeting that RTA was pulled into the labor discussion, prompting the board to cut off talks.

"That's the direction we were heading," Hiremath said.

Honea said ending the discussion about a transfer of transit to the RTA was the best solution in the short term while the union and Tucson are at an impasse.

"I think the best for all of is to get out of the way and let Tucson and the union work it out," Honea said.

The mayor said he estimates it could be six months or more before the RTA resumes talks with Tucson for control of Sun Tran.

"Regional transit," Honea said, "is something we're going to deal with somewhere down the road."d by the standoff between Sun Tran's union workers and Tucson over pay demands and a two-year employment guarantee. That deadlock has resulted in a strike that has lasted through this week, leaving the bus system operating at minimum levels.

Teamsters Local 104 Union officials representing the Sun Tran employees have said they support a transfer to the RTA, primarily because they don't think Tucson has the money to meet union demands.

A news release issued by Sun Tran almost immediately following the RTA meeting said talks with the union would resume Friday night in an effort to put an end to the work stoppage.

Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath said after the meeting that RTA was pulled into the labor discussion, prompting the board to cut off talks.

"That's the direction we were heading," Hiremath said.

Honea said ending the discussion about a transfer of transit to the RTA was the best solution in the short term while the union and Tucson are at an impasse.

"I think the best for all of is to get out of the way and let Tucson and the union work it out," Honea said.

The mayor said he estimates it could be six months or more before the RTA resumes talks with Tucson for control of Sun Tran.

"Regional transit," Honea said, "is something we're going to deal with somewhere down the road."

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