Dozens of Foothill Transit Buses Idled by Drivers Strike

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 150 bus drivers for Foothill Transit, the county's second-largest bus operator, walked off the job Thursday, causing longer waits and overcrowding on buses that ferry riders around the San Gabriel Valley and bring commuters to downtown Los Angeles.

"By the time I got to the bus stop, the lines were really long," said county worker Yolanda Del Valle, whose husband ended up driving her to work downtown from West Covina.

"Tonight's going to be an adventure," sighed Vincent Moreno, a Caltrans employee who didn't know what to expect on his commute home Thursday.

The same could be true in the days ahead. It was unclear when the dispute over pay and benefits will be settled.

Foothill rolled out only 37 buses--instead of the usual 104--from its Upland yard Thursday morning. Service was provided on all lines, but at a reduced level. The usual half-hour wait between buses became an hour.

The striking drivers, represented by Teamsters Local 848, work for a private bus company, Laidlaw Transit Services, which operates the blue-and-white Foothill coaches.

The drivers--most of whom are are paid between $8 and $10 an hour--are seeking an immediate $1-an-hour increase and health benefits, said Jim Santangelo, Local 848 secretary-treasurer.

Foothill was created as a more economical, privatized alternative to the old Southern California Rapid Transit District.

But Lou Ippolito, Local 848 business manager, said that health insurance is so costly for drivers that many can't afford it.

"Everybody who works here has to go to county facilities to get medical," he said. "Guess who pays for that? The taxpayers. They're really not saving anything."

Laidlaw officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Foothill operates 241 buses on 24 lines serving 45,000 daily riders, including commuter lines between the San Gabriel Valley and downtown Los Angeles. About half of the fleet is operated out of Upland, where the drivers walked out. The remaining buses are operated by other union drivers who reported to work, Foothill officials said.

Hardest hit by delays were about 16,000 riders in the Claremont, Pomona and Montclair areas. Commuters at the Eastland shopping center in West Covina hastily formed car pools with strangers.

Rachel Liegh, a Claremont High School junior, said his bus was half an hour late Thursday morning. When the bus arrived, the driver offered no explanation.

"He just said good morning," said Liegh, who did not know about the strike until friends at school told her. "I heard him tell another rider that it was his first day on the job."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority added buses in the San Gabriel Valley on Thursday and announced that it would honor Foothill passes on its buses. Metrolink commuter train service also is available between the San Gabriel Valley and downtown Los Angeles.

For Foothill bus information, call (818) 967-3147.

Times community correspondent Mayrav Saar contributed to this story.

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