CAA adding drivers, rides

LISBON – CARTS is up to about 110-120 trips per day and transporting 50-60 people as the strike among Columbiana County’s public transit workers enters its second week.

Quinten Melius, transportation director for CARTS, said their fleet of vans and mini-buses averaged about 500 total trips per day before the strike began May 22, “so we’re way down, but we hope to increase that even further next week, if this continues.”

The 41 CARTS drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and office staff are on strike with their employer, the Community Action Agency, over wages. The CAA is offering a $1 per hour pay raise over three years, while the union is holding out for $1.50.

Using five CARTS drivers who have crossed the picket line and returned to work and two others who had yet to join the union, Melius said they are currently running seven vehicles and hope to increase that number to 10-12 next week using replacement drivers.

He said the CAA has received about 20 applications for the replacement driver positions to date, some of whom have been hired and begun undergoing training. The hope is they will be able to begin next week.

CARTS has gradually been increasing operations as more drivers returned to work, Melius said, with the first priority given to those needing dialysis treatments and then expanding it to others with doctor’s appointments. He said they were also transported a worker to and from their job for the first time since the strike and hope to be in a position to do more of that next week.

“We’re beginning to settle into the new routine and we’re going to add drivers slowly. I don’t want to hire just anyone. I want to hire people we’re comfortable with,” Melius said.

The drivers are paid $8.90, which is the current starting wage under the existing contract. “There’s a lot of individuals in this economy who are looking for work, and we’ve had some good applicants,” he said.

CARTS and the CAA are both funded with federal and state dollars.