Bus driver union says service shutdown in Clatsop County doesn’t add up
PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – A union that represents bus drivers in Clatsop County says the Sunset Empire Transportation District abrupt shutdown of service last week doesn’t add up.
Shirley Block is the president of ATU 757. Her union represents public transportation workers across the Pacific Northwest, including those at SETD. She said many of her members are anxious about when they will get back to work and serve their community.
“To shut down transit completely, it’s unheard of,” Block said.
ATU 757 helped secure a $500,000 loan from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to get some paratransit routes up and running on May 8th. Block said it’s still unclear when fixed bus service routes will return. But after conversations with SETD Interim Executive Director, Paul Lewicki, one route that travels Highway 101 could start running on a limited schedule next week. But that still is up in the air. Block said the union was able to guarantee medical coverage for their members through at least the end of this month. But after that, it’s unclear what will happen.
“I’m hoping the first fiscal year in July, money comes in and they can get them back together,” Block said. “The whole fear is they’ll [members] go to another place, get another job, and it’s hard for them to come back when the trust level is gone.”
It’s still unclear how the transportation district blew through its more than $6 million budget before the end of the fiscal year. Block said she was confused about why the then-executive director, Jeff Hazen, was wanting to spend more money. This included expanding bus routes and hiring new drivers. Just weeks before the SETD board of commissioners became aware of the financial crisis.
“My mind just started spiraling,” Block said. “It was going round and round because I couldn’t believe it. All of the spending he was forecasting and now to be broke?”
Karyn Criswell with ODOT’s Public Transportation Administration did confirm with FOX 12 earlier this week, preliminary scans of financial documents show numbers weren’t adding up. She said some bank statements did not match financial reports to ODOT and the board of commissioners. Block said there is no way she could run ATU 757 that way.
“Our checks require two signatures on them,” Block said. “We get audited all the time. We have a budget committee that always comes in and we budget for everything. I would assume Sunset was doing the same thing.”
Block hopes the audit planned for SETD can find some money that can get people paid and put busses back on the road. While also showing what went wrong.
“We want Sunset to function and we want Astoria to thrive with their transportation system,” Block said.
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