C-Tran puts off light rail issue until January

Agency's board must decide how to proceed after failure of Prop. 1

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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One week after voters rejected a sales tax increase to pay for light rail in Vancouver, the question of what happens next remains unclear. The C-Tran board indicated Tuesday it will tackle the issue in earnest during a retreat meeting in January.

Only a handful of audience members Tuesday addressed the topic of light rail, which would extend into Vancouver as part of the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing. Some opponents have suggested the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project should rethink its design entirely. Others have pledged to find another way to pay for light rail operations and move the CRC forward.

Updated election results show C-Tran's Proposition 1 failed by a margin of nearly 57 percent no to 43 percent yes -- a difference of close to 19,000 votes as of Tuesday. The measure would have raised the sales tax rate in C-Tran's service district by 0.1 percentage point.

Board approves union contract

The C-Tran board also approved a new two-year contract with its paratransit dispatcher employee group, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. The agreement gives paratransit dispatchers a contract covering the period between June 1, 2011 through May 31, 2013. The group's most recent contract had expired at the end of May 2011.

The agreement gives the employees a 2 percent wage increase effective Sept. 1, while maintaining regular step raises. The new scale will pay paratransit operators -- representing eight employees at C-Tran -- between $20.77 and $27.69 per hour.

The new contract also gives workers with 11 or more years of experience an extra vacation day each year, along with various other changes.

The agreement isn't the first to be resolved this year after a long negotiating process. In May, an arbitration panel ended a contentious bargaining process between C-Tran and its represented bus operators. The resulting contract also gave Local 757 operators, C-Tran's largest employee group, a 2 percent pay increase.

Represented fixed-route drivers earn anywhere from $18.08 to $23.79 per hour, or about $37,600 to $49,500 annually based on a 40-hour work week.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.