A three-year spat between bus drivers and the transit authority could end with the bus board taking the ball and going home.
Valley Regional Transit lost a labor dispute with the bus drivers' union a year ago, and is now threatening to shut down a popular section of a southwest Boise bus line.
"We can make it a moot point, we believe, if we stop providing service to that one-mile section," said Mark Carnopis, spokesman for Valley Regional Transit.
After absorbing Canyon County and retooling its routes in 2005, Valley Regional Transit, the public transit authority for the Treasure Valley, transferred parts of the old No. 26 bus to a private, nonunion bus company based in Nampa. It's now the No. 42.
The line goes from Nampa to Boise State.
Union drivers complained that part of their old route was being subcontracted to another bus company. A federal arbitrator ruled in March 2007 that the work had been taken from the Boise-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 398 in violation of its contract with Valley Regional.
Now Valley Regional—which is a public agency run by elected officials from across the valley—is considering shutting down the disputed section of the popular route. One option is having the drivers take the No. 42 bus out of service for the one-mile section of Overland Road between Maple Grove and Five Mile roads.
"By driving by and keeping the doors closed I don't see how that's returning the work," said Karen Newman, driver and president of Local 398.
Valley Regional Transit has held a pair of public meetings on what to do with the Overland stretch. The agency is taking comments through June 29 and a committee of the Valley Regional Transit board is scheduled to make a decision on July 7.
The transit authority has considered several proposals, including altering three existing routes, to return the Overland stretch to the Boise drivers, but Carnopis said it is too complicated to mess with existing routes, and any solution would require additional funding that is not available.
"There were just too many cons in terms of looking at the three routes," Carnopis said. "You are basically robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Newman said drivers never intended to kill the popular route. About 6,000 riders have used the No. 42 bus since Oct. 1. The stretch in question services the Social Security Administration and several other federal offices and is frequently used by refugees.
Comments at the recent public meetings in Boise and Nampa were almost universally in favor of keeping the route open, with some criticism of the union thrown in.
But, after the contract dispute, Local 398 is one driver away from making the Boise bus system a full union shop.
"I'm a bus driver. I would never suggest that cutting service is a good idea," Newman said.