CARTS expands bus routes as strike continues

LISBON – CARTS intends to gradually expand its routes next week and resume transporting some riders to and from their doctor’s appointments while the union drivers remain on strike.

CARTS is Columbiana County’s public transportation system, and its drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and office staff went on strike Wednesday over wages. Since then, staff from the Community Action Agency, which operates CARTS, and CARTS’ non-union employees have been doing the driving, with priority given to those needing dialysis treatments.

Quinten Melius, transportation director for CARTS, said they started with five mini-buses on Thursday, increasing to six on Friday, transporting people to their dialysis treatments and elderly residents to senior meal sites in Salem and Salineville. He said that was expanded on Friday to include trips to adult day care facilities in Salem and St. Clair Township.

Starting Tuesday, Melius said they are going to increase the number of mini-buses on the road to seven or eight so they can begin transporting people to their doctor’s appointments. He said they hope to accommodate 10 to 15 customers with previously scheduled local medical appointments and build from there.

“I’m hoping to get to that point,” he said, adding that limited medical trips would restore CARTS to about 20 percent-25 percent of its normal service.

The CAA board voted to hire replacement drivers, but Melius said that has yet to occur, although they expect to begin advertising next week.

CARTS voted to strike on May 17 after rejecting what the CAA said was its last and best offer. The stalemate is over wages, with the CAA offering a $1 per hour pay raise over three years, while the union is holding out for $1.50.

Striking workers have been picketing outside the CARTS garage and CAA offices during operating hours, and there have been no incidents so far. Melius said no talks have been scheduled.

“There’s been no movement or contact between the parties,” he said.

CARTS and the CAA are both funded with federal and state dollars.