Members of CARTA's bus drivers union were literally muzzled at a meeting of the CARTA board on Thursday.
Billy Nye, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union, said the drivers have been trying since November to be able to address the entire board.
Once again denied on Thursday, a number of members held signs and had blue painter's tape over their mouths.
Mr. Nye said longtime CARTA board chairman Steve Jett "wants us to go to the side and meet with him and the executive director (Lisa Maragnano). What we want is to be able to take our concerns to the entire board."
The CARTA board went behind closed doors prior to the start of the 10 a.m. meeting.
They held a short business meeting, then the chairman called an intermission.
At the meeting, Ms. Maragnano said both transit and shuttle ridership are down. For the year to date, transit has dropped from 963,493 to 938,470. The free electric shuttle is down from 461,486 to 397,509.
Mr. Nye said the bus drivers are overworked, and he said that presents a safety hazard for the public.
He said, "It needs to be known this forced overtime has been the norm at CARTA for the past three to four years. This is not a recent situation as Ms. Maragnano Implies. As a result CARTA has had more drivers out on long term sick leave, and new employee turnover is higher than it ever has been in CARTA history. Also, the morale of the employees of CARTA's biggest division is very low."
He also said, "CARTA management claims that safety and service to our customers is the top priority. What about the four bus routes that were not covered this past Nov. 6. Numerous passengers between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. were impacted because of this. These are people who need CARTA in order to get to their places of work.
"CARTA upper management has made several changes to our bus routes in the past two to three years and our ridership has dropped significantly. At the end of our last fiscal year our total ridership was down over 219,000 riders. So far this current fiscal year CARTA is down by thousands. Executive Director Lisa Maragnano has no plan to build it back up and we are worried as employees this will affect federal , state and local funding that may jeopardize Carta's ability to provide the service that it does now.
"If safety was a concern, CARTA would be more diligent at being better staffed with drivers beyond even what the DOT and TDOT considers unsafe hours behind the wheel. CARTA management is aware of constant maintenance issues with the buses and has not held the manager of maintenance accountable for these repeated issues. They keep putting these buses back out on the road only to have more road service calls, breakdowns and maintenance-related problems again and again with some of the same buses. On multiple times the buses are unable to make pull-out and trips or routes are entirely missed.
"We are not able to service the public that needs our services the most and, quite frankly, they have lost confidence in our service just like the employees have lost confidence in Executive Director Maragnano's leadership."