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UC union calls for transit upgrades

By Hank Sims, Daily Planet staff
Thursday November 15, 2001

A union representing clerical workers and librarians at UC Berkeley issued a strong condemnation of the university’s transportation policies on Wednesday. 

At a rally held above the jam-packed Dwinelle parking lot, the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) spoke, sang and gathered signatures on a petition calling for a “sustainable comprehensive transportation program” for university workers. 

Norah Foster, a university librarian and CUE member, said the university charges its employees $71 per month for parking – “the highest (rate) of any university in the country.” 

Even then, she said, the lots are oversubscribed, and employees have trouble finding parking spaces. 

Foster said scarce parking, and few other options, amounted to a transportation crisis for university employees. 

“UC is notorious for ignoring the needs of employees,” she said. “One of our needs, obviously, is to get to work every day. One would think that would be an issue.” 

CUE – which has received letters of endorsement from other campus unions – calls for free mass transit passes for employees, satellite parking and a “sliding scale” for on-campus parking fees. 

Foster said that the money the university earns from parking would be more than enough to subsidize such a program. She handed out a balance sheet for the university’s parking program. The sheet states that the campus made a profit of over $2.5 million on parking receipts in the fiscal year ending in July 2000.  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington spoke in favor of the union’s demands, and said that the university should follow in the city’s footsteps. 

“I’ve been working for two and a half years to provide free bus passes to city employees,” he said. “I’m pleased to announce that on Dec. 5, every city employee will receive a free bus pass.” 

Worthington said that the program will cost the city only $90,000 per year, and that the university could easily afford something similar for its employees. 

“One of the easiest and most painless solutions for the university is to provide free AC Transit passes for every UC employee,” Worthington said. “If UC can achieve that simple step, the city and the university could go to BART next year and work out a deal for both of us.” 

Worthington noted that such a program would do much to solve the city’s current parking crisis. 

“In the jurisdictions that have given free mass transit passes to city employees, parking in downtown areas has decreased between 7 and 21 percent,” he said. 

“Even a 7 percent reduction in parking in downtown Berkeley would alleviate many of the problems we see here.” 

Howard Chong, a student activist – better known as “the tent guy” for sleeping out in a tent to protest the university building a parking lot rather than housing in a large parcel south of campus – said that students and staff were both “shut out of the system.” 

“(In this petition) is a list of valid grievances that directly affect your lives,” he said. “But I see it more as the first step in getting users of transportation services involved in the decision-making process.” 

John Zupan, a member of another union, University Professional and Technical Employees, affirmed that his union supports CUE’s parking plan, and said that free transportation options would be an easy way of answering other employee grievances. 

“For most of the UC staff, $71 is something on the order of 2 or 3 percent of their incomes,” he said. “Free transportation would be a perfect way to effectively raise salaries on the UC campus without going to the governor or to the legislature or anything like that.” 

Foster said that CUE has gathered 1,500 signatures in support of its demands, and hopes to gather another 1,500 before presenting the petition to the university administration. 

Nadesan Permaul is the director of transportation at the university and says his department would be solidly behind a pass system, such as the students have, “if staff is prepared to pay.” 

At present, all students pay $18 per semester for the “class pass” and some of them sign up and use the unlimited bus service. Permaul warns that AC Transit is asking the students to vote on whether to continue the system, in which case the fees will be doubled. The system for staff would only work only if the entire staff paid the fees, Permaul said. 

While CUE is asking for lower parking fees, the city is asking for them to be raised, to pressure people to get out of their cars. The university charges more for more convenient parking and less for more distant parking, he said. If more parking is built, the university will have to raise rates even more to pay for it, he said. 

As for satellite parking, “It was tried in the 1980s and failed dismally,” he said. The problem is that it is not efficient. The only way it could become efficient would be to put bus-only lanes on major thoroughfares. This has been suggested in the city’s Transportation Management Demand Study and may be implemented. “We’re certainly open to it,” he said. 

Judith Scherr of the Daily Planet staff contributed to this story.