The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) has announced that it will be cutting 22 percent of its bus service and laying off more than 100 workers by December, due in part to unsuccessful attempts to reach concession agreements with unionized employees.
The union employees — represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU); the United Auto Workers (UAW); the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and the Teamsters — have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2010.
Despite the record drops in southeast Michigan’s property values and the resulting loss in tax revenues, SMART and its unions — which represent over 800 employees at SMART — could not bridge a compromise after months of negotiating.
“The negotiations have stalled,” said SMART Manager of Marketing and Communications Beth Gibbons. “Who knows what will happen down the road, but we had to make the hard choice now. You can’t spend money you don’t have.”
SMART’s non-unionized employees have already taken wage reductions and other benefit concessions. Without the union participation in wage and benefit concessions, SMART is now forced to cut bus services by 22 percent and as part of the proposed service cuts, 123 employees will be laid off.
“We believe this will certainly hold us over with the anticipation that an agreement will be reached,” Gibbons said. “It is a tragedy for those affected, especially those impacted when layoffs occur in December.”
Of Oakland County’s 61 communities, 21 participate in SMART services, with West Bloomfield and Walled Lake being the only two in the lakes area.
Only one route in the lakes area is proposed to be eliminated — the Orchard Lake Road route that runs from 8 Mile Road north to Lone Pine Road in West Bloomfield.
Throughout the long recession, SMART has facilitated a number of measures to stay afloat. SMART management instituted $11 million in budget adjustments over the past three years, including a fare increase. However, revenue continues to drop due to lower millage collections and reduced state and federal funding. At the same time, fuel and health care costs have increased, according to a SMART press release.
SMART is supported by local property taxes, farebox proceeds, and state and federal funding. The biggest loss in revenue has resulted from the drop in property values — a 24 percent decrease since 2009, with an 11 percent decrease in millage revenue this year alone.
To add to the financial crunch, SMART will receive less state and federal funding because of the cuts in service made by the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT). While all other Michigan transit agencies are funded independently of each other using uniform formulas, the state’s Public Act 204 treats SMART and DDOT as one entity for funding purposes. This means any cuts made by DDOT reduce state and federal funding available to SMART. This year DDOT has implemented two rounds of service cuts — one in June and one in September — thereby causing more revenue loss to SMART.
Public hearings have been scheduled for the first week of November; the proposed service changes are expected to begin in December. Proposed cuts in service include either route modifications or the elimination of entire routes on weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
SMART is southeast Michigan’s only regional transit system, serving Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. SMART provides 40,000 daily rides and serves 1 million seniors and people with disabilities annually.