In anticipation of its takeover of daily operations starting in January, the Westmoreland County Transit Authority (WCTA) reached an agreement to extend a labor contract with the union representing bus drivers and maintenance workers.

The three-month extension of the labor deal that had been set to expire at the end of the year will help the transit authority as it prepares to bring daily operations of its fixed-route bus and paratransit services in-house.

The authority board last month opted to take over operations rather than hiring a private contractor to operate its transit services in a move that officials have projected to save the authority about $2.3 million over the next three years.

WCTA officials estimated bringing the fixed-route and paratransit services in-house will cost roughly $12.2 million.

The authority last year awarded a new five-year, $39.5-million contract to National Express to operate the transportation services, but issues with canceled routes and driver shortages have led to the authority issuing the company more than $260,000 in fines and ultimately terminating the contract early.

“Both our fixed-route service contract and our shared-ride paratransit service contract call for annual rate negotiations. We have been unable to agree on new contract rates with National Express due to significant changes in economic conditions since the start of this contract. At this point, the authority and National Express agree that it is in the best interest of both parties for the authority to issue a new procurement and review responses,” WCTA Executive Director Alan Blahovec said in a statement prior to the authority opting to take over operations.

The authority in September issued a request for proposals from companies interested in taking over operations. Two private companies submitted proposals. Both proposals were rejected after coming in higher than the WCTA’s costs with National Express.

The board’s decision to take over operations means the authority will need to hire about 150 new employees, including drivers, maintenance workers, and administrative personnel before the start of 2020 to run the WCTA’s fleet of 41 buses to provide 25 weekday and Saturday bus routes, including multiple daily commuter bus routes into Pittsburgh as well as service throughout Westmoreland County, along with the authority’s shared-ride paratransit service, Go Westmoreland, which offers subsidized door-to-door rides for low-income residents. Individuals working for National Express will be able to apply for jobs with the WCTA, Blahovec said.

Extending the union contract allows the WCTA to fill the positions without the threat of a work stoppage. The authority formally began the hiring process on Friday, with employees serving as drivers and maintenance staff with National Express first in line to transfer employment to the WCTA.

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