Transport workers union files complaint against SEPTA for hiring contractor to operate new on-demand shuttle service

SEPTA violated state law by hiring a private company to operate Owl link shuttles, a new on-demand service for late workers at warehouses and other sites in Lower Bucks County, the Transit Workers Union said in an unfair labor practice complaint.

The transport agency did not negotiate with Local 234 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents bus operators, before making the switch, as required by state labor law covering employees. in the public sector, according to the union.

“It’s a way to open the door to more contracting out of our work,” said Willie Brown, president of Local 234 of TWU, the largest union of employees in the transportation system in Canada on Wednesday. common. “We will fight with whatever we have to preserve the jobs of our members.”

Owl Link, which carries the SEPTA brand, is a pilot program with Via, a global transportation company that developed the smartphone app and the scheduling software that runs the service.

It was designed to transport workers to and from the northernmost stops on existing bus lines and distribution companies that have sprung up in Bucks County since the interchange between I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike has been completed.

SEPTA has yet to receive a copy of the complaint and cannot respond in detail, spokesman Andrew Busch said, but officials informed the union of Owl Link ahead of its launch on May 10. , such as adapted transportation for people with disabilities.

The dispute matters because transportation experts, including SEPTA’s own planners, say transit needs to add such flexible options to survive in a changing travel environment, which is expected to accelerate after COVID-19 . It also seems to reflect growing tensions between TWU and the agency before negotiating a new contract.

“Now is not the time for SEPTA to play with the union,” said Bruce Bodner, lawyer for TWU Local 234, calling the hiring of an entrepreneur “provocative action”. The union’s contract expires on October 31.

The Owl connects to three 24-hour SEPTA bus lines – 14, 56, and 66 – so passengers can access the rest of the transit system. It operates daily from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., between Horizon Boulevard, City Line Loop and Torresdale-Cottman Loop and a variety of employment centers spread across Bucks County.

The regular SEPTA bus service in the county stops at 10:00 p.m.

Travel on the shuttle service is free, but passengers are required to present a SEPTA key card. Easton Coach operates the buses on a one-year contract with the administration.

It works a lot like Uber or Lyft, but not as open. All trips on the 14-person buses are shared, with passengers dropped off and picked up at stops as close to their place of work as possible. Customers book a ride on the app at least 30 minutes in advance; they are directed to where to meet the bus and can follow its progress.

The TWU also filed a grievance accusing SEPTA of violating the terms of its collective agreement, Bodner said. This will be heard by an arbitrator, while the unfair labor practice complaint will be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

Although Owl Link is designed to fill a gap in SEPTA service, there is no reason the shuttles cannot be driven by union members, Bodner said.

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