The Miami Metro’s contract with Laidlaw Transit has been in effect for over a year now, and many bus drivers who made the switch from Hamilton Tours to Laidlaw are upset-for themselves and for students.
“We went from dealing with a small company of two people, an owner and a manager who was there every day, to a major corporation,” said Tom Chase, a Miami Metro driver for the past nine years. “They’re the biggest in the country, and a lot of people here haven’t worked for big corporations.”
According to Chase, part of the problem with the transition was that the buses under Hamilton Tours had been working the “bugs” out of the system for years and had finally gotten the routes and timetables straightened out when contract ended.
“Then everything changed and went downhill, and ridership dropped 40 percent their first year coming in,” Chase said. “It’s very frustrating to us, and the students complain about the buses not being on time … but there’s nothing we can do about it, because we tell them who to call and then they don’t answer the phones.”
Laidlaw representatives were not available to comment on this issue.
Junior Stephanie Warner lives off-campus, and agreed that the buses always come either too early or too late.
“I ride the Metro because I don’t like to walk really far all the time,” Warner said. “But the buses are very unreliable.”
Other students choose not to ride the Metro because they are unsure of how the system works.
“Even though I live far away (from campus) this year, I still try to avoid (riding the Metro) because the scheduling is confusing and unreliable when I’m trying to cut it close to class time,” said senior Mark Mackey. “No one I know can understand it … no one really knows how it works and what all the colors mean.”
Chase said students need to understand that they are the ones in control of how the buses operate.
“They don’t realize it, but if (students) would organize and put their foot down things would change,” he said.
According to William Shawver, director of purchases and central services, Miami’s contract with Laidlaw is up for renewal Aug. 14, 2008. Miami has had this contract since August 2006. After 2008, it can be renewed every year for up to eight years.
Perry Gordon, assistant director of parking and transportation services, said if students have specific concerns, he needs to hear about them.
“We evaluate the routes each year,” Gordon said. “… I know the blue route has had some problems, but we’ve been working on the evaluations … If a student has an issue, I’d be more than happy to speak with them individually.”
When asked about drivers having complaints about Laidlaw, Gordon said that is out of the university’s direct control.
“The drivers’ issues with Laidlaw aren’t really in the realm of our department and university … If drivers aren’t happy, they need to speak with their managers,” he said.
Chase does believe that service to all of the apartment complexes in and around Oxford has improved. He said that it is students on campus who are no longer a part of the bus system, since services to Western Campus, East quad and South quad have gone downhill.
Warner, as an off-campus student, agreed that the Metro’s service this year has been better than last year overall.
“In the evenings it’s not that great, but in the mornings it’s usually on time,” she said.
As far as the drivers themselves are concerned, Chase said that many of them have been disappointed with the benefits and the buses are not as driver-friendly as they were with Hamilton Tours. And even though the buses are air-conditioned now and the riders are able to stay cool, the drivers are not.
“The only thing that’s better is that we do get overtime … we never used to get that,” Chase said. “But then they corrected that by hiring people to pick up the slack and work part time, so they cut out the overtime pay and it became a moot point, really.”
Nevertheless, Chase likes what he does and said that other Metro drivers feel the same.
“We just put up with it, that’s all,” he said. “We all like what we’re doing, we just don’t particularly care for who we’re working for. You’ll find that out in life.”
Laidlaw recently lost the Talawanda and Lakota school districts to other companies.
Laura Houser contributed to this report.