One of the loudest voices against an independent county transit agency has come to an agreement with county officials that could give County Executive Ike Leggett a smoother path to approval of state enabling legislation.
Gino Renne, president of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, joined civic leaders and other county residents in January in opposing Leggett’s effort for a state law to allow the county to create an Independent Transit Authority (ITA) to oversee existing transit services such as Ride On and the planned Rapid Transit System.
At a meeting of the county’s Transit Task Force Wednesday night, Renne, County Attorney Marc Hansen and Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street announced a compromise that would maintain collective bargaining agreements for the roughly 1,000 Ride On employees now represented by MCGEO.
The arrangement would give the ITA control over Ride On’s routes, rates, frequency and other “policy-making authority,” by setting up a service agreement between the authority and the county.
The agreement didn’t address employment conditions for those who work in the yet-to-be funded Rapid Transit System.
“We kind of met in the middle, if you will,” Renne told Bethesda Beat. “I think it became clear to me that [Leggett] was determined to pursue this. After we and others shut it down the first time, he came back with it and took what I believe to be a more strategic approach.”
Leggett revived the Transit Task Force in May to come up with recommendations for how to proceed with funding and other aspects of the Rapid Transit System, also known as bus rapid transit.
The county executive has said he could submit the state enabling legislation again. Renne opposed it the first time because of concerns the ITA – which would be governed by a board separate from county government – wouldn’t offer the level of wages, benefits and job security that Ride On workers currently receive.
“There was no guarantee that an ITA would be labor-neutral or labor-friendly,” Renne said. “The position I took was because I had to assure that the uncertainty didn’t become a reality.
“I would assume [Leggett] made the political calculation that the prospects of achieving this were greater if we weren’t resisting it,” Renne said.
Renne, who is also a member of the Transit Task Force, said the group has worked out many of the operational issues of a future ITA. But the hard work of how to fund the system remains before the task force’s recommendations are due at the end of September.
A new cost estimate for the project from the county and an engineering consultant pegged the price of building the first four corridors at $1.6 billion with annual operating costs of $51.6 million.
A finance subcommittee of the task force has discussed various taxing strategies that could generate that money.
“They still have, in my opinion, a high hurdle to get over on the revenue case,” Renne said. “From my conversations with civic leaders and other community activists, it doesn’t appear to me at least that there’s much of an appetite in the community for additional taxes. That’s always a challenge.”