It's time for BART to put the public first and seek a new labor negotiation process.
Just four months is all it took for BART to let down an entire region, which had created it four decades ago. The Bay Area quickly lost confidence in the agency it had grown to depend on, after a contentious labor contract negotiation.
As an elected member of the BART board of directors, it pained me to see the public used as pawns during two multiday employee strikes.
My voice mail and inbox filled with complaints from fed up constituents, angry about the months of uncertainty of having to go to sleep without knowing if the trains would be running in the morning.
BART let the region down despite both sides having worthy goals. The only way we can gain back the trust and confidence of the public is to make sure it never happens again.
The time has come to let the Bay Area decide if BART is an essential service like fire and police personnel who are banned from striking.
I want to allow voters in the three counties that make up the BART districts to send a message to lawmakers that the current must be changed. An advisory measure placed on the ballot by the BART Board would give voice to those who support reliable, sustainable public transportation and who believe that public transit work stoppages undermine the public's confidence in public transportation.
I am not interested in simply banning our workers from striking to help give the district a leg up in negotiations. Instead, I believe we need to move to a system of contract dispute resolution that prohibits work stoppages with some form of binding arbitration.
This encourages both sides to be more reasonable and to settle as many items as possible early on through collective bargaining. It's fair, it works, and it leaves the public out of it.
BART is the fifth largest transit agency in the United States, but we are an anomaly. The four larger agencies -- New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C. -- all ban strikes. Closer to home, San Francisco's city charter prohibits transit workers from striking. Why not BART and why not now? Only the Legislature can amend the BART Act.
I've been on the Board for two decades and I have never supported a ban on strikes at BART, until now. BART just went through the most tumultuous labor negotiations since the district was formed more than 40 years ago. The two strikes and the two tragic deaths just added to the already acrimonious relationship between the unions representing BART workers and management.
I've seen negotiations get progressively more difficult, leaving the public more angry, more disgusted and more exhausted. The media frenzy that pits one side against the other increases with each episode. Without changing the way labor disputes are resolved at BART, public confidence will erode further and the region's goals of reducing greenhouse emissions and encouraging the use of public transportation will be threatened.
We can't allow for business as usual, we need to end the cycle and move to a smarter system for the sake of the Bay Area. I will be presenting my idea for an advisory measure at a nighttime meeting of the BART board of directors, which starts at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Details can be found on www.bart.gov. The meeting is open to the public and I hope to hear from you on how BART can improve its labor negotiations process.
Joel Keller is the chairman of the BART board of directors.