Bus drivers strike, a first, leave riders out in the cold Nearly 5,000 daily commuters are left stranded

PITTSFIELD —For the first time in 15 years, Berkshire Regional Transit Authority drivers are on strike stranding most of its 5,000 daily riders. Some riders, who were unaware of the strike, spent time in the cold waiting for buses that did not come.

“BRTA has subcontracted with other chaircar vendors to perform essential paratransit trips. BRTA will operate limited fixed route service during the strike,” a statement from the company read.

A strike has been looming for some time now. On Nov. 5, the Teamsters 404, which represents the BRTA’s 15 paratransit drivers, rejected a contract offer and authorized a strike to occur on Nov. 16. That strike, however, was postponed and contract mediation began again after Thanksgiving.

On Nov. 30 after negotiations, many felt hopeful, but on Dec. 2, after being presented with the contract, the union voted to reject the offer. At 5 a.m. the next day, drivers were on strike, which left many riders literally waiting in the cold.

Without the staff to cover routes, the BRTA is doing what they can to ensure that the routes most in demand have coverage. Only Routes 1, 2, and 11 are in currently in operation, leaving Great Barrington, Williamstown, Stockbridge, and Sheffield without any coverage, as well as some areas in Pittsfield and North Adams.

On Nov. 15, the day before the potential strike authorized by the Teamsters, BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati said, “We are going under the assumption that the letter that we received stating that there would be a work stoppage on or around Nov. 16 is still in effect, and that’s what we have to go by. We’re planning for the worst, hoping for the best.”

At the beginning of the meeting, it was unclear whether buses would be in operation the next morning, but by the end of the meeting, the BRTA received word that buses would, in fact, be operating on Nov. 16, but were still uncertain about the future.

The BRTA got a lot of phone calls from concerned riders asking, “I rely on the bus, I need the bus, are they going to run tomorrow?” Malnati paraphrased. “I didn’t have an answer for them.”

Some riders have resorted to taking cabs, which is considerably more expensive.

It is currently unclear when the strike will end. A supervisor at the BRTA said that the strike will last at least until Dec. 7, and was unsure about the next week.

Unless an agreement is reached over the weekend, routes will remain limited within Pittsfield, and service to Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Sheffield Williamstown, and parts of North Adams and Pittsfield would remain shut down.

Representatives from the Teamsters  and administration at the BRTA could not be reached for comment.

A schedule of routes currently available appears on the BRTA’s website, as well as any updates the BRTA can provide at berkshirerta.com