Contract extension helps Westmoreland County gear up to take over bus service next year |

Contract extension helps Westmoreland County gear up to take over bus service next year

Rich Cholodofsky

The Westmoreland County Transit Authority and the union that represents bus drivers and maintenance workers this week agreed to a three-month extension of a labor contract to allow the agency to complete the hiring of about 150 employees needed for the takeover of commuter bus and paratransit services starting Jan. 2.

Authority board members last month approved the dramatic change in agency operations that for decades required private vendors to operate the transit services. The move to in-house control means a major increase in the authority’s employee roster will be needed over the next six weeks.

“We’re getting through it,” authority Executive Director Alan Blahovec said.

The authority on Friday formally started the process to hire new drivers and maintenance staff. Employees who serve in those positions with National Express Transit, the Ohio-based private company that currently operates the authority’s buses and paratransit routes, will be first in line to transfer employment to the county agency, Blahovec said.

Extension of the union contract, which was set to expire at the end of December, will enable the authority to fill the jobs without the threat of a work stoppage.

“Our membership approved this. We’re willing to work with the transit authority to come to a good agreement everyone can live with,” said David Merrill, president and business agent for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1735.

National Express was awarded a five-year $39.5 million contract last year to operate the authority’s bus service and paratransit programs, but that deal was terminated early amid ongoing issues that resulted in driver shortages and canceled bus routes.

Authority officials said the agency can operate the services itself for less money and estimated it will save about $2.3 million over the next three years by operating its own services.

Since early November, the authority hired a human resources director and a safety and training manager and expects to add a second staff accountant to its payroll in the coming weeks. Blahovec said the authority will purchase seven vehicles for route supervisors and maintenance staff and expects to have deals in place for insurance and other support staff in place ahead of the January takeover.

Officials said there are no immediate plans to increase fares or alter bus routes and paratransit services.

“There probably won’t be any changes until this transition is complete,” operators manager Meghan Yuhouse said.

The authority has a fleet of 41 buses for its 25 weekday and Saturday routes, including daily commuter runs to Pittsburgh and local service throughout the county.

The shared-ride Go Westmoreland paratransit service operates door-to-door, subsidized rides with the authority’s fleet of 50 vehicles for low-income and disabled residents as part of the county’s social service programs.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A passenger waits for a bus at the Westmoreland Transit Center in downtown Greensburg.
Categories: Local | Westmoreland
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.