Jeremy's Notebook

Escambia Eyes ECAT

June 12, 2013

ecatSince March, Escambia County Director of Human Relations Tom Turner has been interviewing mass transit employees following complaints about the system’s management company.

“Right or wrong,” he concluded in a report to county commissioners, “a large percentage of current ECAT employees are very unhappy with their situation under First Transit. The opinions are deeply seated and somewhat self-propagating.”

Employees of the Escambia County Area Transit system have become increasingly vocal about their issues with First Transit, the company that took over management duties when the employees’ union successfully pushed the county to switch from former management company Veolia last year.

“It is clear that the transition from Veolia to First Transit was neither smooth nor seamless,” Turner writes in his report.

During his interviews, the human relations director heard from ECAT employees who were concerned about insurance and pay issues, as well as about their working relationships with middle management; much of the middle management was apparently rolled over from Veolia.

This spring, ECAT Union President Mike Lowrey requested that the county take over the operation of the mass transit system. He made a pitch for that last year as well, when commissioners ended up passing a gas tax in an effort to fully fund mass transit.

In his report, Turner states that the county doesn’t currently have the staff necessary to take over operations of the mass transit system and estimates that it would cost Escambia County an additional $194,000 to assume management of ECAT. An operational analysis to determine possible savings associated with such a move has not yet been done.

The county commission will discuss Turner’s findings and the future of ECAT during its Committee of the Whole meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m., at the Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building in downtown Pensacola.

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  • JR June 14, 2013 at 8:53 am

    All Unionized work forces hate private companies and would prefer to work directly for a public agency.

    The reason being is that unionization is a counterbalance to managements’s fixation on profit above the interest of the worker. Government both does not have a profit motive, and lacks the motivation on the part of management to negotiate a deal that protects the interests of ownership (the taxpayers). I’m neither endorsing nor refuting this argument, but I’m pretty sure that’s the crux of it. And I would say that there are a number of egregious examples of overly generous public sector CBAs that indicate there may be some truth to it, albeit perhaps an oversimplification of a complicated issue.

  • MTAC Advisor June 13, 2013 at 7:48 am

    The problems with ECAT fall on both participating parties, the service provider and the riders that use the service. ECAT is a public service that has to spread limited resources over a large area and for a fundamentally expensive service. Buses are expensive to purchase and maintain. Stops must be maintained and there is never a perfect solution for routes and perfect on time performance. Riders must understand that they are part of a public service that by its very nature will have service provision flaws. ECAT tries to provide the best services possible within the budgetary and mechanical constraints inherent to a public transportation service. It is not perfect in every way and will never be perfect in the eyes of every rider, driver and union boss. It does not help that Mike Lowery uses his position to rouse the rabble of riders and drivers to intimidate public servants and private citizens that serve on the advisory committee. He uses SEIU thugs to confront the committee and does nothing to explain to riders that buses are not limousines for their personal needs. ECAT is a public service that has to use it resources to meet the needs of as many people as possible. Recent performance reviews that are conducted regularly by ECAT and First Transit bear out that service is improving. However, complaints get the loudest voice. Nobody shows up to praise ECAT’s performance when they are happy with the service. ECAT is like any public transportation systems in any part of the nation and has the flaws that come with them, regardless of whether the company is managed by a private organization or the county. If public transportation is so unbearable and the services so poor, get educated, work hard, and buy a car.

  • Dale Parker June 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    This group of whiny crybabies gripe about EVERY company that Manages ECAT. There is NO WAY I would ever believe that if they were County Employees that they would not still be griping and crying about everything.

    They are the Poster Child for ridding the earth of Unions.

  • CJ Lewis June 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    I thought that ECAT is going to be fully funded using the gas tax? Why would Escambia County be wringing its hands over $194,000? That money wouldn’t come out of the general fund, would it? Wouldn’t the ECAT management staff be paid using the monies collected from the gas tax? Further, wouldn’t it be cheaper for the county to directly operate ECAT if First Transit wasn’t skimming a profit off the top? The continued privatization of ECAT makes about as much sense as Ashton Hayward’s nonsensical talk about privatizing public safety positions. ECAT employees perform a basic county service and function every bit as important as the library. Is the Board of County Commissioners thinking about hiring a private management company to run the public library system? I doubt it. Why should ECAT employees who serve the public be treated like second class workers not given the same benefits as other county employees? It just seems like the equitable thing to do. Further, I bet that if you asked, most county voters would say that they think that ECAT employees are county employees. As a reminder, the “EC” in ECAT stands for “Escambia County.”