Workers at the city’s transit system are questioning a move by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to discontinue all fixed-route bus service due to COVID-19 when other large Alabama cities have kept routes open.
In a letter to Stimpson, leaders of a local advocacy group for employees of WAVE transit openly questioned the decision made by city leaders and the system’s General Manager Damon Dash.
“At issue, how will the essential workers in Mobile get to work, how will the poor get to stores and hospitals and how will the general public maintain its independence?” the letter reads. “Apparently, the City Council and mayor’s office are OK with this asinine decision.”
The decision effectively cuts off transit service for the entire city population, according to Amalgamated Transit Union International Vice President Anthony Garland.
“There are roughly 200,000 residents that don’t have access to transit,” he said. “There’s no means of transportation to grocery stores or for essential employees to go to work.”
This is occurring while the federal government has agreed to help local municipalities continue transit service, Garland said.
“We lobbied in D.C. to make sure transit systems could use capital funds for operations,” he said.
The suspension also comes at a time when other cities, including Birmingham and Montgomery, have continued service, despite making a number of changes to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Despite citywide and statewide shelter-in-place orders, the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority has kept MAX buses running, but with limited seating capacity and other safety measures, according to the authority’s website.
Montgomery’s city buses are also running. First Transit, the manager of Mobile’s system, also manages the Capital City’s system.
When asked at a recent press conference about stopping the routes, Mayor Sandy Stimspon said his decision was based on a recommendation from First Transit. He said because the routes in Mobile are longer and there is more time between buses, the manager made the recommendation to suspend service.
In an email, a spokesperson for First Transit told Lagniappe the decision was based on a directive from Stimpson. As proof, First Transit attached both Stimpson’s stay-at-home order and the “frequently asked questions” document about the order.
WAVE employees will be paid for two weeks while not reporting to work, local union president Antonie Maiben said, but after that it’s up in the air.
“After the two weeks is up, employees have to use paid vacation, sick time or personal days,” he said.
This is the latest in a back and forth between employees of the bus service and its general manager. Maiben said he has now been fired by WAVE over his actions leading the union. Garland said there has been a total breakdown of communication between employee advocates and management.
Union leaders want to know why the drastic step of stopping service completely was taken when routes could’ve been changed or shortened.
“I can understand if they wanted to scale down service,” Garland said. “They’ve done that in other areas. It’s just inexcusable.”
Stimpson’s actions show he doesn’t care about the less fortunate, or those who are most important during this time, Garland said.
“The mayor does not represent working poor and people of color,” Garland said. “Nor does he support frontline workers.”
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