New shuttle-bus contract good news for riders, drivers

In what Parking and Transportation director Seamus Wilmot hailed as a “win-win,” the campus has gotten its Bear Transit shuttle-bus program moving again with a new vendor, new buses — and 17 veteran drivers whose jobs have hung in the balance for nearly three years.

The drivers, UC Berkeley employees represented by AFSCME, will remain Berkeley employees under a just-signed agreement with Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, which is set to have interim buses in service Tuesday, Jan. 17. The San Francisco-based company’s 2012 buses, Wilmot said, will not only be newer than the ones the campus had leased from AC Transit, but will be safer and more fuel-efficient.

Bear Transit handles about 500,000 annual boardings on its daytime shuttles and some 40,000 boardings on its Night Safety shuttle. Two day shuttle lines, available free to anyone with a campus ID card, run Monday through Friday between the campus, Downtown Berkeley BART, the Space Sciences Laboratory and Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, and other local stops. (Non-campus affiliates can ride for a nominal fee.) A third line to Richmond Field Station requires a fare from all riders.

The service will be “greatly improved” under the new arrangement, Wilmot said. Among other advances, plans call for implementation of an online program to give riders real-time information about bus arrivals. The free night shuttles, which previously ran only when classes were in session, will now be available year-round.

Founded in 1989, Bauer’s IT maintains a fleet of 150 buses, and operates commuter and charter transportation services in the Bay Area and throughout California. Due to federal emissions standards, AC Transit’s older vehicles had to be taken out of service by Dec. 31. The new fleet is expected to get triple the mileage of those buses, and will run on biofuel. Bauer’s IT will provide the campus with fuel and maintenance for the 2012 models, as well as safety and customer-service training for drivers.

Drivers’ job duties, compensation and benefits will remain the same, said Wilmot, adding that the campus expects the new contract to yield over $1 million in savings over the next five years.

“We are so pleased that we were able to reach a resolution that satisfied our campus transportation needs and allowed our drivers to remain university employees,” Wilmot said. He credited Rep. Barbara Lee, Berkeley Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and state Sen. Loni Hancock for playing “a big role in helping us craft a plan that was amenable to all parties.”