After ten years behind the wheel, Terrence Dewberry is used to every squeak and metallic clank from the hulking carriage of the Number 7 bus. 

On Friday morning, his bus pulls out of the downtown GoRaleigh station at 5:45 sharp with just three passengers aboard. An hour later, it will return with more than twenty riders collected along the South Saunders Street route between South Raleigh and Garner, on their way to work or school or home from an overnight shift. 

It’s his second route of the day, and he’s been up since 2:30. Looking at him, you wouldn’t think he’s tired. “Let me know if it gets too hot or cold back there,” he says from the driver’s seat, his eyes fixed on the road.

He is tired, though. At fifty-six, Dewberry had grown accustomed to a consistent schedule, and he liked not working weekends, a benefit of his seniority. But now that’s gone. He works weekends. His shifts start at different times. His sleep schedule’s a mess. 

And, he says, this new inconsistency has made his job more dangerous. Knowing your route like the back of your hand, and seeing the same faces every day, offers an added layer of protection. He no longer has that. 

“We are creatures of habit,” Dewberry says. “When you have schedules that are inconsistent, that exposes you and the public to more danger.”

In January, the city overhauled its bus routes, an effort to make Raleigh’s fast-growing bus service more user-friendly. But the drivers’ union says Transdev Services Inc., the company the city has employed to manage the bus system since 1998, implemented those changes—and eliminated some assumed seniority benefits—with no consideration for their quality of life, leaving them with inconsistent schedules and untested routes. Worse, the union says, when employees voiced their concerns, Transdev retaliated, even trying to fire one employee. 

So on Tuesday evening—after the INDY goes to press—Dewberry, president of the Local 1328, plans to be among about one hundred drivers and allies who march down Hargett Street to City Hall, where they’ll demand that the city fire Transdev at a council meeting and a press conference. 

“[City officials] paint a beautiful picture of the Raleigh Transit [Authority], and they want the Raleigh Transit to be a model for the regional transit, but they’re not telling the whole story of how the bus operators are unhappy and how they are being treated,” says Dwight Spencer, a spokesman for the drivers. “The bus operators have lost faith. They have lost confidence in the management team. They must be replaced, starting with [Transdev] general manager Marie Parker.”

Parker, who has worked for Transdev for two decades but became general manager in 2016, says she’s disappointed to hear that the drivers are calling for her job. She denies many of the union’s claims, including the retaliation accusation, which she calls “unsubstantiated.”

The city spent nearly $10 million expanding the GoRaleigh system with routes connecting to Southeast and West Raleigh, the largest expansion the system has seen in a decade, according to a May 24 memo. 

But that plan led to new schedules for all bus drivers, whereas previous expansions only affected new drivers and those with less seniority. For Dewberry and other longtime drivers, that meant they could no longer count on weekends off, a benefit they’d taken for granted. 

Transdev denies that it eliminated benefits. The only seniority benefits in the contract the union signed in January 2018, Parker says, are route selection—the most senior driver chooses his or her favored route, then the second-most senior driver, and so on—and the order in which drivers can choose their days off or pick up extra shifts. Guaranteed weekends off weren’t part of the deal. 

“No processes for selection of schedules have changed at any time,” she says. 

Seniority might let you pick first, the drivers point out, but that doesn’t matter if there are no good choices. The union says the drivers weren’t told about the scheduling changes before they ratified the contract—afterword, Transdev declared the changes within the scope of the bargaining agreement—and they weren’t given a chance to weigh in before they went into effect. 

Parker says that’s simply not true. The drivers had plenty of opportunities to speak throughout 2018, she says, including at six safety meetings and the city’s monthly Ask a Planner sessions, which started in October. Transdev managers learned of their concerns about the route revisions in December, shortly before they went into effect.  

“Although the proposed routes were within the acceptable parameters per our collective bargaining agreement with the drivers,” she says, “the team decided to make schedule adjustments to address concerns. We were able to prepare and present revisions reflecting the driver preferences to the union as early as late February.”

Those tweaks weren’t enough, the union says. After a mechanic complained to the GoRaleigh board earlier this year, Transdev fired him over a minor, unrelated offense, Dewberry says. The union filed a grievance and the mechanic was allowed to return to work, according to the union, but the message was clear: Don’t cross us. 

Parker says she can’t comment on personnel matters, but she denies that any retaliation took place. “The progressive disciplinary process for accidents and/or other rule violations was followed properly in this case,” she says, adding that disputes regarding discipline go through a grievance procedure, as happened here. “Other employees have spoken at public meetings and there has never been any issue.”

Beyond scheduling, Parker says, Transdev hasn’t heard of other concerns from the union. The salary schedule negotiated in the contract, she says, is “extremely competitive for this industry and region.” Along with a pension match, on-site gym, and health and dental benefits, drivers earn between $15 and $23 an hour. The average salary for a full-time driver this past year was close to $50,000, she says, while the top 10 percent of drivers averaged about $75,000. (The math suggests that drivers work a lot of overtime.) 

And the public is happy with the expansion, Parker adds. “The positive feedback based on the new service has been overwhelming, as the service has proven to be very well utilized and was much needed by the citizens,” she says.  

But the drivers aren’t happy. They’re protesting Tuesday night, Dewberry says, because they have no other choice but to make their fight public. Transdev won’t give its veteran drivers the respect they’ve earned, he says. 

“They don’t see the point of view of the driver,” Dewberry says. “They didn’t care for the people who went through hard times. They try to cater their schedule to the people coming in, instead of the people who have been there, and that’s just morally wrong.”

Nathan Spencer, a Raleigh Transit Authority board member, says there’s plenty of blame to go around—including the authority itself. When the scheduling issues surfaced in December, GoRaleigh was stuck between a rock and a hard place—between the riders who needed better service and the drivers providing it. 

“GoRaleigh management probably could have done better across the board with the rollout,” he says. “I mean, this was a first experience for us on all ends. When I say management did a bad job of rolling this out, I mean that management worked in the dark to put this together and handed the drivers the info, and said, ‘Based on your contract, we have to hand this to you now.’ They weren’t let in on that process. The public was, the other parts of the city, other agencies were, but we didn’t include the drivers, and we should have.” 

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at 

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